Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Nightlife in The Forbidden City

The number of rooms is given at 9999. But this is a mistranslation, or a euphemism. The number is, in fact, infinite. The Emperors never died. The Dynasties never vanished. They never even moved away, but still persist, in some farther courtyard, some older wing. All of China’s history recurs, eternally, simultaneously in the infinite space of the Forbidden City. From the perspective of the window farthest to the east, the Great Wall is still being constructed. From the farthest west, it has already crumbled, as have the pyramids and the last of the new glaciers. From the farthest south, the Great Wall has not yet even been conceived of. From the north, it cannot even be concieved.

For this reason, the wisest of Emperors have always kept birds and creatues with finest senses, who can catch the most distant scent of gunpowder or trechery, burning silk, from chambers yet to be inhabited. It is in this sense it is completely accurate to say that the Forbidden City is haunted: but haunted only by the present.

The business of the the great Celestial City is the same as in the heavens in whose pattern it is cast: a series of messages sent across its infinite expanse, from one gallery to another. But the messages take so long to travel that they are invariably misunderstood, beyond all hearing, their authors long vanished, their addressees faded into the palimsest of the Middle Kingdom itself.

The gift shop is also infinite and features and amusing puzzle that allows you to build a scale replica of the Forbbidden City at home. The replica is also infinite and consists of an infinite series of identical unique pieces that are each used only once and can occupy only one and only one place in the structure. Each piece is effectively a hologram containing all the information present in all the other pieces. As the model is itself infinite, the souvenir has an added shelter value as it is possible to live in it. It is also quite possible to get lost.

So when touring the Forbidden City, if you get seperated from your tour group and know the short cuts -if you can walk a little farther and faster than the rest -quite a bit faster, but only a little faster than your own relection, you may yet overtake Marco Polo, himself awaiting his first exaggeration. If you run, you can escape the time of the Mongols entirely, though you should slow down and catch your breath before you run through the pearl curtain, for great and subltle events are attended by the First Emperors: here, the first presentation of the novelty of tea. To entirely unjaded ears the first notes of music. To unreading eyes, the first brushstrokes of writing.

But the true function of the Forbidden City is its nightlife; this is the only time the palace appears to everyone as it actually is, infinite. For just as the palace was constructed on the patterns eternally sketched in the constellations above, so too, was it built for the same purpose: as the setting for desire, forgetting.

My Game with Lo Pan

The SS Blessed Pensioner, having made an unscheduled detour into Drinking Horse Gorge, is compelled to make a further unscheduled stop

-Lo Pan, most wise and most generous, when will the people be free?

-Freedom is not possible as long as belief in individuals or collectivities exist.

-No, I mean the hostages, when will you let them go?

-If neither individuals, nor collectivities exist who can I be said to be holding? If freedom is not an impossibility, and there is no reason it should not exist, how can things be other than free?

-I mean the hostages from the boat. Is it your plan to eventually let them go?

-Chance and design are simply words we use to describe the same thing depending on how we are feeling. So it makes no difference whether I make the wisest choice, the kindest choice, the most appropriate choice, or if we were to throw dice for the souls on the boat, like in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

-These dice are labeled in Chinese.

-Yes, I know. Oh, look: today you are not lucky.

And a thousand slimy things
Lived on;and so did I