Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond? (Barthes 1977: 32)
One of Chartvut Bunyarak’s greatest contributions to contemporary Thai fiction resides in his ability to string together a mode of writing in the language of images. If the reader is led to believe that these intertextual references spawn from a love of cinema or technological shifts in contemporary forms of communication, they soon discover Charvut’s critical negations of popular media culture. In “Rootless People” Chartvut critiques contemporary media through the voice of the short story’s sole narrator. “I attempt to flee the world of truth by wrapping myself up in the simulacra of film.”[i] The depressed character then criticizes novels, short stories, philosophy, and poetry as dream images ill-equipped to ground his contemporary “rootless” condition. Only death and its meditation are real.
Chartvut’s story reminds me of Jacques Rigaut, one of the French writers who signaled the end of Dadaism. Both are figures of the way endings extend toward new beginnings. Rigaut destroyed his writings even as he completed them, planned his own suicide, and consistently separated himself from contemporaneous political and artistic affiliations. Rigaut’s meditation on visuality resonates as a prelude to Chartvut’s suicidal impulse.
How could a man live when he had made himself only ‘the eye that looks at the eye that looks at the eye that looks’?[ii]
The line expresses the disillusionment of a writer increasingly aware of the ways their medium will fall into the captive grasp of newer mediums like film. Imagining a second life for Rigaut, the French “new wave” filmmaker Louis Malle screened a version of his life in the 1963 film The Fire Within. At the end of Malle’s version, the protagonist cannot write. He can only negate what he wants to express by crossing out sentences.
This kind of negation, of removing oneself from the discursive mediation of content, is emblematic Chartvut’s writing. From “The Final Tale” to “Rootless People” to “Taxi 2006” the author is tasked with a critical interrogation of truth, testimony, and the credibility of visual transmission. His procedure is negative in two ways. The reverse quality of a photographic image development is its archival negative. The colors of politics in Thailand are reversed, the seeping blood of a corpse spills into the streets as a pool of beauty. As parts of a cinematic strip, images sit in dustbins waiting to be brought back to life.
[i]. Chartvut Bunyarak, The Judgment Day of Red Ant, (Bangkok: Fat Penguin, 2004). 190.
[ii]. Robert Motherwill, ed. The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, (Boston: Wittenborn Art Books, 1981), Xxxii.