A Bottle, a Corpse and a Befuddled Mind
By Leon Kukkuk
And God made him die during the course of a hundred years and then He revived him and said: “How long have you been here?”
“A day, or part of a day,” he replied. (The Koran)
Some things are connected with certain experiences which appear trivial yet are so fundamental that they cannot be explained. They are too subtle to be compared to anything. There is nothing for thought or imagination to cling to. Yet they are more real than anything that we can see, taste, hear, smell or feel. Although they encompass the senses they cannot be identified with any of them.
It is difficult for me to describe exactly what happened.
There was a power failure as usual, and with nothing to do, as usual, I had spent the evening on the veranda with a bottle. Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the distance, people tended to stay at home. I had come here to this place, and at this time, simply to record events as they unfolded. Bringing with me not much more than my cameras, I had rented a small apartment in a rundown building and minded my own business for the most part in this uneventful and violent city. It was a place of dirty and deadly politics, ominous hints of a pending civil war; a place where the stability of a brutal order was giving away to the forces of freedom and progress. I was not connected to the events here, and remained steadfastly unconnected; an anarchist that did not get involved. The protagonists of the pictures I took lived their lives as candle flames- now leaping, now falling, now dying. Without fail they were starkly unheroic - losers, liars, killers, occasionally men in positions of power and trust whose bland features and innocent utterances hid seriously demented psyches, their lives but bleak parables of post-cold war desolation and despair.
The bottle came to an end and I went to bed. Endings can be exciting, promising times filled with the prospects of renewed freedom and opportunity.
The beeper sounded with anxious urgency. I sat up suddenly in my bed, startled, confused, drawn out of that prehistoric world where we fetch our dreams. Reality, which had retreated before my sudden rise, slowly started to flow back through my senses. I searched around for the switch, and, when I found it, tried to turn on the light without success. Yet this darkness was filled with colours of dazzling hue and grotesque patterns in which I could forget its darkness and focus instead on the mere idea of light.
Things can change suddenly. Life is a spectrum of interactions between many independent influences. Forces combine to influence our moods in such a manner as to lead to discontinuous jumps, changes of a sudden catastrophic nature.
It was two a.m. in the morning. I had been asleep for just over an hour. Exhaustion, and the effects of the bottle, threatened to overwhelm me and pin me down. The warmth, the genial and abounding goodwill exuded by the bottle such a short while ago remained now only as a sour taste in the back of my throat. Nevertheless, I got out of bed, made a phone call, then got dressed in the dark and bland bedroom and left the apartment, going down the stairs with something between a skip and a hobble, burdened by the paraphernalia of my profession.
Something had happened.
Catastrophe. The word comes from Greek tragic drama and refers to sudden twists in the plot - that unexpected point where we turn from lovers to haters, destroyers to creators, outsiders to insiders.
Catastrophe destroys. Bakunin said that we have to destroy in order to create.
A driver came to collect me and we drove through dark, abandoned, and potholed streets, strewn with rubble. My head was thick and fussy; full of that random jumble of thoughts, which we usually call a blank mind.
I thought about Bakunin, that bearded, manic Russian aristocrat, the father of Anarchism, who ran from Paris to Italy to Prussia to scream his message from the barricades and who died disillusioned in his bed. I had slowly moved away from Anarchism, not because of the way that Bakunin had written it down in his chaotic, incoherent way, but because he had written it down. Because it was written down all Anarchists felt that it was only that form of Anarchism that could be followed. Anarchism means no ruler but the Anarchists in Germany and Spain in the 1930´s were subjected to brutal subscription to specific codes of conduct and rules, treating their followers with the same brutality as would eventually be meted out to them by Communists and Fascists.
We arrived near the centre of town, an area where there was still electricity and some sort of movement at night, a thin and fragile façade of normality.
She lay in the full glare of a lone spotlight near a police control point.
There were several small groups of quiet people standing around in the early morning darkness. A battered police-van was parked nearby and three policemen were talking to a group of people. Two soldiers in full combat dress - camouflage uniforms, boots, helmets, bulletproof vests, radios, and machine guns - paced up and down; their patriotic hearts never missing a single sonorous beat. They looked alert and dangerous in spite of the fact that one of the soldiers carried his gun as a limp extension of his arm, pointing towards the ground.
A young woman, returning from work or a meeting, I think, had driven up to the control point just before curfew. Here she ran into a group of youths returning from a political gathering, or something similar. Maybe something was said, perhaps somebody did not look right, or did not have the correct attitude; whatever the case, there was a spark of violence. She was then dragged from her car, pushed around and then somebody threw a stone. That is apparently what one of the few witnesses saw. Nobody seems to have seen a thing, yet she was now dead.
She lay in the full glare of a lone spotlight near a police control point.
An act of random violence? There was no point to all of this.
What is a point?
A point is a dot, a period, a full stop. It denotes the end of sentences. It has no dimensions yet occupies space.
I moved closer, sunk to my knees and started taking photographs, making my living. It was difficult, partly because my body was so light that I had trouble keeping my feet on the ground, partly because the scene did not reflect any sort of reality that I could capture. I realised that it is only through art that many experiences can be hinted at. Artistic symbolism are not invented arbitrarily, they are spontaneous expressions breaking through the deepest regions of the human mind.
She was lying on her side. She was wearing a pretty, frivolous, flowery dress that was now pulled up over her chest. She wore fine white underwear. She looked at peace. It was almost impossible to capture her real fate on film. She looked so at peace, so carelessly asleep with her long blond hair fanned out around her head.
Fate certainly is a strange thing. Fate is like a randomly meandering coastline, which, no matter how closely you examine it, always contain finer levels of structure, and is consequently impossible to capture in any finite sort of way.
She was (and at that moment still were) an astonishingly beautiful young woman. It was almost as if one could reach out and wake her gently. Only a thin trickle of blood, half hidden by her hair, belied the truth.
I felt deeply affected by these strangely entangled elements of eroticism and tragedy.
Feeling guilty, I retreated, went to stand over by a group of foreign journalists. We only vaguely knew one another and, although we said nothing - there was nothing to be said - there was an almost supra experiential acknowledgement that we are all being touched by insanity.
There was nothing to bring us together here in this uneventful and violent city but an anonymous corpse in a nameless place.
There is some moment of insanity in every second of every day of every year throughout every century. It flashes by our lives, mostly out of sight and unmentioned, unnoticed for most of the time and scares us deeply when we confront it face to face.
I took my tobacco out of my pocket and rolled myself a cigarette. Lighting it, the pungent smell of cheap tobacco in the fresh morning air stung my eyes and nostrils.
A small group of people are standing in a circle a small way away. An ambulance is parked near the group and occasionally I can vaguely make out a snatch of uniforms moving about.
© Leon Kukkuk