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  • Writer's pictureDang N.

On the dispersal of the self


Saigon, National Day weekend 2023



I’ve been thinking about how you could be sad without realising that you are sad, how I feel everything so intensely whenever I’m in Saigon. How Saigon doesn’t lend itself to cultural pessimism because here life has only just begun, how comfort feels like a society in decline. How the days are longer, how time comes in bounty when people hide from the sun waiting for the evening breeze to arrive. How Saigon will never be enough, and neither will anywhere else.




Life is long; I wonder what people feel when they come to realise the truth in this maxim. The lesson from living life, I suppose, is in the interval. Every now and then, the weight of existence sneaks up on you. I was just there, and now suddenly I’m here. Soon enough, I will be elsewhere. Despite everything, there is so much life to live. Nothing is everything, and everything soon turns into not much at all. Lessons learned from places are not portable; you can’t really bring them anywhere. Places are already party to everything that can be lived; even as words travel, their meanings are anchored in the instance of their utterance.


To love a place is to love who you have become despite what it has done to you. Home is a source of strength; home is a wellspring of inspiration. Home grounds you so other places can pull you away. When you are no longer bounded by home, anything is possible. When home becomes multiple, its weight disperses. Coming out of a pandemic, it is almost impossible to think you can ever be this way again. It no longer shocks me how much people forget: a war, a plague, a betrayal. It still shocks me how much people remember: a heartbreak, who someone used to be, who someone wanted you to be.



Saigon, early morning, September 2023



I’ve been thinking about how you could forget to feel happy even when you have every reason to be happy, how counting your blessings must have been impossible before there were numbers. Audit regimes rely on inscriptions, not jubilation. If you forget to write down how happy you might be feeling, you might forget that happiness has always been an option. If you’re too awkward to dictate to your phone recorder how happy you might be feeling, you might realise that the written word sends forth as much as it pulls back. How sound vanishes into thin air, how words contain multiple thoughts at the same time. How when someone loves not with words but with the things they do, words cede all their importance. Words are a trade, but words are not a barter. In exchange for: prestige, power, and privilege, words are a currency. In pursuit of: the need to be seen and heard, the ability to tell a story, the respect from your own community, words are a liability. In the absence of words, people assume raucous noise. At the limits of notation lies not complexity, but convolution.





If I ever stopped writing, it would mean that self-pity has taken over, filling the room with this uncontrollable strangeness, rendering writing futile. It is usually time to go and touch some grass when that happens. There are two ways to look at sickness: either as maladies that already dwell within you, or as an infliction from without. That there might be something wrong with you is no longer a fashionable thing to think; we now see the self alongside the structural and the societal. In other words, we finally understand how we are implicated in places. What we need now is to remember that we carry places within us. Mementos are but a reminder of mortality. Because the self is ephemeral, places are transitory. There is no destination except for the one we’ve always dreaded. Tomorrow, I wake up and do this all over again. Words on the screen, commotion in my heart. Words on the screen, commotion in my heart.

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