À la recherche du temps perdu

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Quotes from Testaments Betrayed

Try to reconstruct a dialogue from your own life, the dialogue of a quarrel or a dialogue of love. The most precious, the most important situations are utterly gone. Their abstract sense remains (I took this point of view, he took that one, I was aggressive, he was defensive), perhaps a detail or two, but the acousticovisual concreteness of the situation in all its continuity is lost.

And not only is it lost but we do not even wonder at this loss. We are resigned to losing the concreteness of the present. We immediately transform the present moment into its abstraction. We need only recount an episode we experienced a few hours ago: the dialogue contracts to a brief summary, the setting to a few general features. This applies to even the strongest memories, which affect the mind deeply, like a trauma: we are so dazzled by their potency that we don’t realize how schematic and meager their content is.

When we study, discuss, analyze a reality, we analyze it as it appears in our mind, in our memory. We know reality only in the past tense. We do not know it as it is in the present, in the moment when it’s happening, when it is. The present moment is unlike the memory of it. Remembering is not the negative of forgetting. Remembering is a form of forgetting.

We can assiduously keep a diary and note every event. Rereading the entries one day, we will see that they cannot evoke a single concrete image. And still worse: that the imagination is unable to help our memory along and reconstruct what has been forgotten. The present – the concreteness of the present – as a phenomenon to consider, as a structure, is for us an unknown planet; so we can neither hold on to it in our memory nor reconstruct it through imagination. We die without knowing what have lived.

—- Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts, Milan Kundera

Karenin’s Smile

Was reading the passage about Tereza and Karenin, where Milan Kundera wrote that our love for animals was our link to paradise, where everything was pure, including love. Then I was suddenly reminded of an early episode in my life and was seized by an enormous remorse. The remorse was so great I could not believe I had buried it in my heart among all the other insignificant memories. It concerned the first guinea pig we had. I was probably seven or eight. We were so excited by this little creature we kept grabbing it and throwing the poor thing about with our gloved hands, laughing and screaming all the while. The same evening it was dead. My mother just dumped it together with the other household garbage, its lifeless body out-stretched and half visible through the white garbage bag. We could have at least given it a decent burial, but instead it was just there, cramped together with the leftover of our dinner, its white belly pressed against the plastic film. The worst part of the remorse was that I could not recall my feeling remorse for killing a life. The next guinea pig lived a long life with us, if that was any kind of consolation.

Maxims, La Rochefoucald

We have no more say in the duration of our passions than in that of our lives.

Our self-esteem is more inclined to resent criticism of our tastes than of our opinions.

The steadfastness of the wise is but the art of keeping their agitation locked in their hearts.

Greater virtues are needed to bear good fortune than bad.

We have more strength than will-power, and when we imagine things are impossible we are trying to make excuses to ourselves.

If we had no faults we should not find so much enjoyment in seeing faults in others.

Pride plays a greater part than kindness in the reprimands we address to wrongdoers; we reprove them not so much to reform them as to make them believe that we are free from their faults.

People too much taken up with little things usually become incapable of big ones.

We are never as fortunate or as unfortunate as we suppose.

People with a high opinion of their own merit make it a point of honour to be unhappy so as to convince others as well as themselves that they are worthy victims of the buffetings of fate.

The scorn for riches displayed by the philosophers was a secret desire to recompense their own merit for the injustice of Fortune by scorning those very benefits she had denied them; it was a private way of remaining unsullied by poverty, a devious path towards the high respect they could not command by wealth.

Sincerity is openness of heart. It is found in very few, and what is usually seen is subtle dissimulation designed to draw the confidence of others.

There are few people who, when their love for each other is dead, are not ashamed of that love.

Reconciliation with our enemies is nothing more than the desire to improve our position, war-weariness, or fear of some unlucky turn of events.

What men have called friendship is merely association, respect for each other’s interests, and exchange of good offices, in fact nothing more than a business arrangement from which self-love is always out to draw some profit.

Our self-esteem magnifies or minimises the good qualities of our friends according to how pleased we are with them, and we measure their worth by the way they get on with us.

Old people are fond of giving good advice; it consoles them for no longer being capable of setting a bad example.

A man’s ingratitude may be less reprehensible than the motives of his benefactor.

Nothing is less sincere that the way people ask and give advice. The asker appears to have deferential respect for his friend’s sentiments, although his sole object is to get his own approved and transfer responsibility for his conduct; whereas the giver repays with tireless and disinterested energy that confidence that has been placed in him, although most often the advice he gives is calculated to further his own interests or reputation alone.

We often do good so that we can do evil with impunity.

When we resist passions it is more on account of their weakness than our strength.

One of the reasons why so few people are to be found who seem sensible and pleasant in conversation is that almost everybody is thinking about what he wants to say himself rather than answering clearly what is being said to him. The more clever and polite think it enough simply to put on an attentive expression, while all the time you can see in their eyes and train of thought that they are far removed from what you are saying and anxious to get back to what they want to say. They ought, on the contrary, to reflect that such keenness to please oneself is a bad way of pleasing or persuading others, and that to listen well and answer to the point is one of the most perfect qualities one can have in conversation.

The glory of great men must always be measured against the means they have used to acquire it.

Our real worth earns the respect of knowledgeable people, luck that of the public.

We are held to our duty by laziness and timidity, but often our virtue gets all the credit.

Repentance is not so much regret for the evil we have done as fear of the evil that may befall us as a result.

We own up to our failings so that our honesty may repair the damage those failings do us in other men’s eyes.

We do not despise all those with vices, but we do despise all those without a single virtue.

Our misdeeds are easily forgotten when they are known only to ourselves.

Virtue would not go so far without vanity to bear it company.

Gratitude is like commercial good faith; it keeps trade going, and we pay up, not because it is right to settle our account but so that people will be more willing to extend us credit.

The deficit in the amount of gratitude we expect for kindnesses done is due to the pride of both giver and receiver, for they fail to agree upon the value of the kindness.

Over-eagerness to repay a debt is in itself a kind of ingratitude.

Afflictions give rise to various kinds of hypocrisy: in one, pretending to weep over the loss of someone dear to us we really weep for ourselves, since we miss that person’s good opinion of us or deplore some curtailment of our wealth, pleasure, or position. The dead, therefore, are honoured by tears shed for the living alone. I call this a kind of hypocrisy because in afflictions of this sort we deceive ourselves. There is another hypocrisy, less innocent because aimed at the world at large: the affliction of certain persons who aspire to the glory of a beautiful, immortal sorrow. Time, the universal destroyer, has taken away the grief they really felt, but still they obstinately go on weeping, wailing, and sighing; they are acting a mournful part and striving to make all their actions prove that their distress will only end with their lives. This miserable and tiresome vanity is usually found in ambitious women, for as their sex precludes them from all the roads to glory they seek celebrity by a display of inconsolable affliction. There is yet another kind of tears that rise from shallow springs and flow or dry up at will: people shed them so as to have a reputation for being tender-hearted, so as to be pitied or wept over, or, finally, to avoid the disgrace of not weeping.

Those who obstinately oppose the most widely-held opinions more often do so because of pride than lack of intelligence. They find the best places in the right set already taken, and they do not want back seats.

In every walk of life each man puts on a personality and outward appearance so as to look what he wants to be thought: in fact you might say that society is entirely made up of assumed personalities.

Civility is a desire to be repaid with civility, and also to be considered well bred.

Pity is often feeling our own sufferings in those of others, a shrewd precaution against misfortunes that may befall us. We give help to others so that they have to do the same for us on similar occasions, and these kindnesses we do them are, to put it plainly, gifts we bestow on ourselves in advance.

Readiness to believe the worst without adequate examination comes from pride and laziness: we want to find culprits but cannot be bothered to investigate the crimes.

Absence lessens moderate passions and intensifies great ones, as the wind blows out a candle but fans up a fire.

We own up to minor failings, but only so as to convince others that we have no major ones.

Commonplace minds usually condemn whatever is beyond their powers.

Most friends give one a distaste for friendship, and most of the pious a distaste for piety.

Decorum is the least important of all laws, but the best observed.

The very pride that makes us condemn failings from which we think we are exempt leads us to despise good qualities we do not possess.

Those who have known great passions remain all through their lives both glad and sorry they have recovered.

Moderation in times of good fortune is merely dread of the humiliating aftermath of excess, or fear of losing what one has.

Each one of us finds in others the very faults other finds in us.

When you cannot find your peace in yourself it is useless to look for it elsewhere.

As man is never free to love or cease loving, a lover has no right to complain of his mistress’s inconstancy, nor she of his fickleness.

We do not always regret the loss of our friends because of their worth, but because of our own needs and the flattering opinion they had of us.

2016: 我的 turtledove

開始失去時間感,直至臉書開始出現年尾回顧:有人寫年度電影年度書籍,號外四十週年特刊有以社會時事藝術文學等界別整合一種集體回憶,這才想起自己每年總要做一次,卻又有感這年彷彿無事可記,未免有點悵惘。昨夜無眠翻看Home Alone 2,竟見到Donald Trump 驀忽間在螢幕上閃現,背上一陣涼意,馬上想起那天在Things 忙着準備傍晚一個演出時接到下任美國總統選舉結果的日月天地錯置的感覺,世上最驚慄荒誕的黑色喜劇。2016年又怎麼會沒事可記,每天我們都被數以百計的突發事件新聞資訊轟炸感官記憶,為了盛載更多我們只有把錄影帶回帶又回帶,新舊記憶彼此重疊到失去輪廓和温度。片尾麥哥里高堅送了一只鴿子裝飾給公園裡的餵鴿女人,說他永不會忘記她時,我竟然哭了:因為我已經跟那久經人情世故的餵鴿女人一樣,不再相信永恆的記憶和思念了(畢竟我連這一年發生的事都記不起)。但又浪漫的想:只要我仍手持那一只turtledove ,就仍能跟我的回憶接軌吧。

承接2015年尾的棚仔花生騷,2016年迎來了很多的思想衝擊。那種派對高潮後的失落、無法避免的熱情冷卻或前路茫茫之感,加上開始質疑自己的私慾和動機、對社會運動的本質的缺乏經驗和理解,無力感和精神肉體上的疲憊等等,導致了一段長時間的低潮。二月中發生了一件事,受到了一些刺激和傷害,自此好幾個月沒有再踏足棚仔,也沒有再參與任何事務。花了很久調整心態,從新定位自己的角色,也算是從某種創傷復原。其間,隊友們也各自經歷人生上的重大事件,叫我明白在拯救世界前我們都應學會照顧自己和身邊的人。一方面又怕被人覺得自己半途而廢或根本只是抽水,在種種自責和愧疚下,誠遑誠恐的來到了12月27日--棚仔花生騷的一週年。太多的愧疚讓我完全忘記一年前的熱血澎湃,也忘了要叫當時的朋友們一同出來聚舊,只是靜悄悄的來到了關注組搞的市集,當是支持一下。結果遇上幾個花生騷的朋友們,跟布販們和關注組再度接觸,我覺得我終於也可以放下了,甚麼不滿不平也已沒所謂了,我已經找到了心安的歸處。這麼一看,這一年也算是來了一個full circle了。

這一年繼續思考很多關於社區和藝術的問題。最爆的莫過於阿珏跟HKWalls 的罵戰,直接間接令我也得失了朋友,但又因此認識了一些新人新事,都是長知識的過程。身份的曖昧和矛盾隨着這種種討論、團隊價值觀的分歧和落差和突然出現的身份讓人尷尬的鄰居變得越益舉步為艱。縱使腦裡有很多計劃實驗很想試行,但總因各種阻力未能成行,為此我又學會了等待和接受,但也因為種種無力和無所事事,令我開始覺得這個地方根本是個咩事都做唔到的地方,並重新祈盼遠行。



如是想起擱了兩年多的日本遊記;在下一趟旅程之前,實在需要好好整理一下。另外寫了兩年多的小說仍是膠着狀態,我自覺自己沒有那個才能,說不好真的如多年前也斯老師所說的我是比較適合做編輯?只是不理會出版與否、是否選擇寫作一途,也覺得有必要將之完成,算是對自己一個交代,也是在記憶喪失之前的一場寧靜的抵抗。一只麥哥里高堅的turtledove。(雖然都不敢把它當New Year’s Resolution,因為不能保證它不會成為之後每一年的New Year’s Resolution⋯⋯)




馬上想起那些忘掉了聖誕的真締是愛的荷李活聖誕檔期爛片橋段(始作俑者應該是Charles Dickens的A Christmas Carol,不過此文非藝評,暫此作罷)。




除此以外,為了貫徹他的理念,婚禮一切從簡:不幫趁財團、支持環保、禮服是價值幾英鎊的二手貨、酒水食物拍片影相化妝整頭司儀全由朋友親手包辦不用wedding planner、人情全數捐給深水埗明哥的北河同行等等等等,都不用多講了。








On charity & compassion

I have just received a Whatsapp message from a friend asking me to support her cause by sponsoring a fundraising walkathon for children with heart diseases and disorders. My first voluntary reaction,  I am honest to say, was irritation.

I do not profess to be a particularly kind or sympathetic person, but I know my reasons for my aversion against such appeals to donation, and I want to relate them here, since the incident has started off a chain of internal reasoning.

Firstly, I have nothing against charitable acts. I myself have kept a sponsored child in Laos through World Vision for 10 years. Sometimes I contribute a few coins on flag selling day. I work in charity organisations and have a deep respect for people in the field. I do believe that in a world of dysfunctional politics and unchecked neoliberalism, only kindness to one another can save humanity.

But what made me irritated was that this friend of mine, who is years my senior and runs a quite well-to-do structure marketing firm, should ask me, who, at 33 and still earning less than 150K per month, to support her charitable cause.

Now poverty is not an excuse for being uncharitable. But it is a fact I have less resources I can devote to charity, than a CEO earning four or five times my salary. And with that I have to be careful and only choose the causes most important to me. Of course I am happy someone is doing something for children with heart diseases and disorders, but please do not put that moral obligation on me and take it for granted that I will support because I work in a charity and look like a charitable person. At the very least, explain to me why it is important, convince me as to why I should join in the cause, instead of just sending me a Whatsapp message asking me for money.

Which reminds me of a recent article I read about western travellers asking for travel money on the streets from locals in Asian countries. The writer of the article, an Southeast Asian living in Hong Kong, criticised vehemently the insensibility and immorality of this practice. Her point is basically that historically most Asian countries have been, and probably still are, victims of western imperialism and colonialism, and it is utterly immoral that western travellers should ask money from Asians to fulfill their own selfish romantic dreams of travelling the world. If you want to do it, use your own money. Nobody is obliged to fulfill your dreams. If travelling does not make you more considerate and take you out of your Euro-centric mindset, then it is better you go back to your own country and not travel at all.

But I digress. What I want to say is that being kind and sympathetic and righteous (which apparently my friend thinks I am) does not mean that one is obliged to answer all charitable causes, and that if one refuses ones necessarily becomes a stingy, cold-hearted person. What I want to say is that, if you ask for money, ask someone with more resources and who are too busy keeping their million dollar jobs and are only too happy to support charities the easy way – giving money that they can easily spare in exchange for a clear conscience.

Do not mistake me here, I have no problem with the easy way – my sponsored child is one such gesture – a monthly donation (sent through auto-pay so you can even totally forget about it), perhaps a letter every two months if you feel like it, the greatest moral satisfaction at the least cost (and you enjoy charity tax deduction too). I share news and messages on certain issues and causes through Facebook and I sign online petitions, sometimes not having read through everything before I click. When it is easy, more people are likely to support a charity or a cause. Sad or not, it is in our lazy human instinct to prefer the easy over the difficult.

With me, charity, or compassion for that matter, is not the total sum of money you donate (to whatever cause) or the readiness to give money (to whatever cause). It is understanding the problems of the world, feeling keenly about them, and seeking the best solutions to them. There are both an intellectual and a passionate side to it. It is action, a way of life. So as there are ways of life, there are definitely distinctions between how one feels, thinks and acts regarding different causes.

Through a cash donation I support World Vision, dedicated to the wellbeing and education of children around the world, because I believe in the importance in education in the betterment of the world, and I believe that this organisation is one of the most christian of christian charities: always humble and ready to serve the least among us. I work in charities and non-profits in the arts not just for the petty wages that barely sustain me but because as a cultural practitioner, I strongly believe in the role of art and culture in human society. Instead of making a lot of money in some “immaterial” fields then giving the money to charities, I much prefer to engage in “material” fields and do “concrete” work. Because to me, money making businesses are much less material/concrete than the “conceptual” world of art and culture. Money is just a meaningless number, a means often mistaken as the ends;  but art is invaluable, and is the ends itself. Then occasionally, with what is left of my time and resources, I involve myself in direct actions and social interventions, concerning issues of human rights, civic rights such as freedom of expression, preservation of cultural heritage – all these, including the aforementioned, are the core values that make up my whole belief system. My charity and compassion may be limited, but are consistent and true to my beliefs.

I hope my friend who sees this will not be offended: it is not a criticism of your cause. I simply mean that with all due respect, yours is a charitable act. Just that it is not mine. And if I were to give support, I cannot do it unthinkingly and then feel good about doing a good deed. Hong Kong people are champions of charity donations, and we are too used to solving problems just by a simple click and think that we are charitable when we do not even understand what is at stake. But not me, I cannot afford this kind of indiscriminate compassion.

Quote from Jean-Paul Satre’s “Nausea”

The best thing would be to write down everything that happens from day to day. To keep a diary in order to understand. To neglect no nuances or little details, even if they seem unimportant, and above all to classify them. I must say how I see this table, the street, people, my packet of tobacco, since these are the things which have changed. I must fix the exact extent and nature of this change.

…… That’s what I must avoid: I mustn’t put strangeness where there’s nothing. I think that is the danger of keeping a diary: you exaggerate everything, you are on the look-out, and you continually stretch the truth. On the other hand, it is certain that from one moment to the next – and precisely in connexion with this box or any other object – I may recapture this impression of the day before yesterday. I must always be prepared, or else it might slip through my fingers again. I must never – * anything but note down carefully and in the greatest detail everything that happens.

—- Nausea, Jean-Paul Satre, p.9