"Trauma structures us, so hold on to it."
Avital Ronell to Jeremy Fernando.
In the mandarin language, every word is a drawing, a description of an object, a thought, a feeling. By extension, the naming of a newborn child is a describing, parents' (or parent's) mental projection of the child's possibility. Even simple names like 强qiáng (strength), 如莲 rú lián (like a lotus), 明 míng (bright), reveal their sense of hope for a child, a metaphor as a gift, wishing that (s)he will be strong, or have attributes of a lotus, or intelligent and jolly. With all affectionate things, we name them, and then call them out so that they reveal our hopes and dreams with their appearance. The naming can come after the child is born, or before the child is born, or right while it is happening. The act of naming is thus independent of the birth of this child. In all likelihood, the death of the name is also independent of the death of this same person.
In chapter 3.5 Requiem for a name, Jeremy Fernando posits "Identities are hinged on the existence of a name: the name acts like an axiom on which an identity is then built around." If a name is independent of the birth of the child, what then is the identity of the child before the naming it self? Maybe it had another name, maybe it doesn't, maybe it was only called "child" as a description of what it is. "Death" is a description of the unknowable state of death, is a name of that realm we cannot hope to understand while being alive. It exists, regardless of whether we name it thus, or not. The child exists, even if it does not have a name. Sometimes, as with imaginary friends, they exist even if they are not physically present- they exist because of their names given to them. If names are, in a sense, a description of the aspirations of others on the object it describes, then name-change-from Norma Jean to Marilyn Monroe, from Karol Wojtyla to Pope John Paul II-is just a change of description, a different set of aspirations ascribed to this same person or object.
Naming my vacuum cleaner "Jeremy", didn't change the fact that it was a vacuum cleaner, but only revealed the closing of distances between the namer and the named. What the vacuum cleaner thought, I shall never know.
By calling this change as death, or any change as a death of the previous state, is to describe all changes as "death". There lies a paradox: to describe, to put things in a category, is to totalize. And with totalizing, we kill all other possibilities. How then are we to speak about things without giving them a name, changing them, killing them, from one state to another?
And if all moments in time are singular, then isn't every moment in time a death. A second-to-second death, a nanosecond-to-nanosecond death. By living, are we not also slowly dying?
Budai (布袋which literally means "cloth sack"), nicknamed the Laughing Buddha, is a common figure found in Singaporean Chinese temples. His large smile, ponderous belly, and cheerful demeanor is iconic, and cannot help but be inspired to laugh when one sees such an overt display of jolliness. As a form of Maitreya (the future Buddha), the sentiment explained by fellow Singaporeans is that he is the bringer of luck and good fortune for a future unbeknownst to us. Who can say no to a laugh like that?
"So what exactly is your critique of Jeremy Fernando's book?"
And this is where the problem begins, that imperative to answer, to critique, to demand; the terrifying need for answers. Can we know what we know?
Thus, I recommend, as one approaches this 260 pages of terror, to always use a half-closed, side-way gaze, a floating vessel, and an image of Budai's chuckle.
At this point, can we do anything but chuckle?