by Φ

Excerpts from Taipei by Tao Lin

She was walking away, her long legs scissor-like in their little, orderly movements. It would take thousands of steps to get anywhere, but she would get there easily, and when she arrived, in the present, it would seem like it had been a single movement that brought her there. Did existence ever seemed worked for? One simply seemed to be here, less an accumulation of moments than a single arrangement continuously gifted from some inaccessible future.
As she became smaller, then out of view, he distantly sensed the implication, from his previous thoughts, which he’d mostly forgotten, that the universe in its entirety was a message, to itself, to not feel bad—an ever-elaborating message, to itself, to not feel bad—and he was troubled by this, suspecting that his thoughts and intentions, at some point, in April or May or years ago, in college or as a child, had been wrong, but he had continued in that wrongness, and was now distanced from some correct beginning to a degree that the universe (and himself, a part of the universe) was articulately against him.
In his tiredness and inattention these intuitions manifested as an uncomplicated feeling of bleakness—that he was in the center of something bad, whose confines were expanding, as he remained in the same place. Faintly he recognized in this a kind of humor, but mostly he was aware of the rain, continuous and everywhere as an incognizable information, as he crossed the magnified street, gleaming and blacker from wetness, to return to the party.

His inability to recognize anything began to feel like a failure of imagination, an inability to process information creatively. His conscious, helpless, ongoing lack of recognition—his shrinking, increasingly vague context—seemed exactly and boringly like how it would feel to die, or to have died. He felt like he was disappearing.

Whenever motionless and not asleep or sleepy, lying on carpet in sunlight, or in bed with eyes open, bristling with undirectionalized momentum, he would want to intensely sprint in all directions simultaneously, with one unit of striving, never stopping. He would blurrily anticipate this unimaginably worldward action, then burst off his bed to standing position, or make a loud noise and violently spasm, or jolt from the carpet into a sprint, flailing his arms, feeling always incompletely satisfied.

They sat facing hundred of the same type of four-story building, the expanse of which, in most directions, darkened dramatically, creating an illusion that one could see the Earth’s curvature, until blurring, in the distance, into a texture. Sometimes, looking at a city, especially a gray or brown one, at night, he would intuitively view it as a small and irreducible thing that arrived one summer and rapidly grew, showing patterns of color on its expanding surface, then was discolored by autumn and removed of its exterior and deadend by winter, in preparation for regrowth, in spring, but was unable, in its form, to enter the natural cycle, so continued growing, in a manner as it faceless and skinless, through summer, autumn, etc., less in belligerence or tyranny, or with some abstruse knowledge of its own rightness, than as a stranded thing, sightless and uninstructed, with an objectless sort of yearning. Seeing the streets and bridges and sidewalks, while living inside a building, locked in a room, one could forget that it was all a single, alien, seeking entity.

When he wanted to know what happened two days ago, or five hours ago, especially chronologically, he would sense an impasse, in the form a toll, which hadn’t been there before, payable by an amount of effort (not unlike that required in problem solving or essay writing) he increasingly felt unmotivated to exert. There were times when his memory, like an external harddrive that had been taken from him and hidden inside an unwieldy series of cardboard boxes, or placed at the end of a long and dark and messy corridor, required much more effort than he felt motivated to exert simply to locate, after which, he knew, more effort would be required to gain access. After two to five hours with no memory, some days, he would begin to view concrete reality as his memory—a place to explore idly, without concern, but somewhat pointlessly, aware that his actual existence was elsewhere, that he was, in a way, hiding here, away from where things actually happened, then were stored here, in his memory.
Having repeatedly learned from literature, poetry, philosophy, popular culture, his own experiences, more movies he’d seen, especially ones he likes, that it was desirable to “live in the present,” “not dwell in the past,” etc., he mostly viewed these new obstacles to his memory as friendly and, sometimes, momentarily believing in their viability as a form of Zen, exciting or at least interesting. Whenever he wanted to access his memory (usually to analyze or calmly replay a troubling social interaction) and sensed an impasse, which he almost always did, to some degree, or that his memory was currently missing, as we increasingly the case, he would allow himself to stop wanting, with an ease, not unlike dropping a leaf or stick while outdoors, he hadn’t felt before—and, partly because he’d quickly forgot what he’d wanted, without a sensation of loss or worry, only an acknowledgement of a different distribution of consciousness than if he’d focused on assembling and sustaining a memory—and passively continue with his ongoing sensory perception of concrete reality.

Increasingly, as his memory occupied less of his consciousness, the past four to six months, whenever he sensed familiarity in the beginnings of a thought or feeling he would passively focus on intuiting it in entirety, predicting its elaboration and rhetoric in the presence of logic and worldview like a ball’s trajectory and destination in the presence of gravity and weather. If he recognized the thought or feeling, and didn’t want it repeated, he’d end its formation by focusing elsewhere, like how someone searching for a lost dog on a field at night wouldn’t approach the silhouette of a tree.

Technology was no longer a source of wonderment and possibility. Technology had begun for him to mostly only indicate the inevitability and vicinity of nothingness. Instead of postponing death by releasing nanobots into the bloodstream to fix things faster than they deteriorated, implanting little computers in people’s brains, or other methods he had probably read about on Wikipedia, until it became the distant, shrinking, nearly nonexistent somethingness that was currently life—and life, for immortal humans, became the predominate distraction that was currently death—technology seemed more likely to permanently eliminate life by uncontrollably fulfilling its only function: to indiscriminately convert matter, animate or inanimate, into computerized matter, for the sole purpose, it seemed, of increased functioning, until the universe was one computer. Technology, an abstraction, undetectable in concrete reality, was accomplishing its concrete task, he dimly intuited while idly petter her hair, by way of an increasingly committed and multiplying workforce of humans, who receive, over hundreds of generations, a certain kind of advancement (from feet to bicycles to cars, faces to bulletin boards to the internet) in exchange for converting a sufficient amount of matter into computerized matter for computers to be able to build themselves.
He felt like he could almost sense the computerization of everything that was happening in this area of the universe, on Earth—could imagine the three- or four-minute simulation, in a documentary that probably existed, of occurrence and eventual, omnidirectional expansion, converting asteroids and rays and stars, then galaxies and clusters of galaxies, as they became elapsed in space, into more of itself.
He patted his lap and she lay there again. He asked if she could think of a newer work for “computer” than “computer,” which seemed outdated and, in still being used, suspicious in some way, like maybe the word itself was intelligent and had manipulated culture in its favor, perpetuating its usage.
“I’m still thinking,” she said after a few minutes.
“I don’t think my question made sense,” he said. “There can’t be a newer word … for the same word.”

“I feel like this is the most drugs I’ve ever done in a period of life,” she said. “But it’s also the healthiest I’ve been, in life.”
“I think it’s sustainable, as long as I’m healthy. Or I think if I’m really healthy I’ll be better off than someone who isn’t healthy and doesn’t do drugs. And doing drugs encourages me to be healthy, which increases productivity, which seems good.”
“In some relationships I would use food to console myself.”
“Me too.”
“There’s not that, with us, so that’s good.”
“I’ve done that alot. Eating a ton of shitty food. Being excited with the other person about food… seems depressing now. We also don’t drink alcohol, which seems good.”
“When you and I started hanging out, but not romantically, I was eating sushi and whats-his-name got something fried and was like ‘don’t you just want to eat unhealthy things and bond over that?'”

He began to leverage himself above her, as she would roll onto her back, or remain on her side, loosely enclosed by his arms to either side, as he stared vertically down at her with fixed, impractical, “scary” expressions.
She laugh and, the first two times, complimented his effort, then told him to stop, after which he did it again, and thought he wouldn’t anymore, then did again, five minutes later on an impulse, almost uncontrollably—hovering low, with bent elbows, feeling both insane and, in the private room behind the one-way mirror of his exaggeratedly happy expression, like an experimental psychologist—and she began crying in a helpless and cowering manner, which he, to some degree, thought was feigned, so remained motionless, for two seconds, during which her face appeared unrecognizable, like the irreducible somethingness of her, in the form of a coded overlay, or invisible mask, had abruptly left, revealing the frightening activity—the arbitrarily reconfiguring, lookless chaos—of a personless face. He hugged her so she could see his face and repeatedly said he was sorry and variations of “it’s me” and “it’s okay.” Her eyes appeared strangely collapsed beyond all closure, like rubberbands overlapping themselves, for a few seconds, after she stopped crying. “It’s just that my car is broken,” she said earnestly. “I can’t get away.”
“I would have stopped if I knew you were this scared,” he said, confused by what she’s been thinking to have imagined escaping in a car.

On his mattress, on their sides, holding her from behind, he thought he wouldn’t end the relationship now, or at any time while her face looked like it had been recently stung by eight to twelve bees, was still healing, even if he knew he wanted to, which he didn’t.
But he wouldn’t not end the relationship now, if he knew he wanted to, because it would be pitying and misleading, which she wouldn’t want, based on what he knew, but maybe she wouldn’t care, if she didn’t know, which she wouldn’t. He thought that he would stop thinking about himself and focus on her, but instead, almost reflexively, as a method of therapy, began thinking about suicide, then became aware of himself, a few minutes later, earnestly considering—or maybe only imagining—trying to convince her that they should commit suicide together. After an initial, default “open-mindedness” they could easily become fixated, then would want to do it quickly, while it made sense. They would find information on the internet and hurry to a subway station, or wherever, collaborating intimately again, looking out at the world from a new and shared perspective. He began to feel, in a way he hadn’t before, like he comprehended double suicide—the free and mysterious activity of it, like a rollercoaster descending only into darkness, but accessible from anywhere, on the theme park of Earth, always open.
He sensed his vicinity to a worldview—or a temporary configuration of preferences, two or three ideas introduced to a mood—in which double suicide would be as difficult as illogical, to resist as a new sushi restaurant to a couple that likes sushi and trying new restaurants. He felt scared, and to distance himself from what he might accidentally engage in, or be absorbed by, in a moment of inattention or daydreaming, he opened his eyes and leveraged himself and looked over her shoulder with an extremely troubled expression. To his surprise—and self-consciously private confusion, relocated immediately away from the front of the face, to study later—she looked serene and was smiling a little, it seemed.

“We’re choosing not to talk, which itself is a communication, which seems good,” he thought holding her. “I’ll continue communicating in this manner, by not.” His steady controlled petting of one of her vertebra with the cuticle of his right index finger gradually felt like his only method of remaining in concrete reality, where he & she, and other people, shared a world. Sometimes, forgetting what he was doing, his finger would slow or stop and he would become aware of a drifting sensation and realize he was being absorbed—from an indiscernible distance, beyond which he wouldn’t know how to return—and, with some urgency, move his body or open his eyes, seeing grid-like overlays on the walls and holograms of graph paper in the air, to interrupt his being taken. The effort became gradually smaller and more unconscious and, as if for something to do, in place of what was now automatic, he began to discern his rhythmic petting as a continuous striving to elicit certain information from her by responding or not responding to her rhythms, in a cycle whose goal was to produce momentary equilibriums. He felt increasingly attuned to the speed and quality of her breathing and heart rate, until he felt able to instantly discern changes in her physiology, which in entirety began to seem like an inconstant unit of unique, irreducible information (an ever-changing display of only prime numbers) that was continuously expressed and that bypassed the parts of them that allowed for deliberation or perception or intuition, beginning and ending in the only place where they were exactly together, undifferentiated and unkowable, but couldn’t, in their present form, ever reach, like a thing communicating directly with itself, rendering them both irrelevant.
He began to laugh uncontrollably, with his face at the back of her neck, unsure what was funny, and seemed, as if hidden, to not be thinking of anything.