Imagine a body; tied and subjugated. One born so, just like its fore-bearers, and its bloodline as far as it can imagine time and history. The entirety of its life can be captured in one single unchanging frame; half bent, with a wooden structure inextricably tied to its arms and neck. Prevented from ever standing upright or bending completely, all the body ever does is drag the structure forward. This might not seem like the best way, but efficiency isn’t particularly a concern. Or perhaps it is a different kind of efficiency altogether. Given the limited visibility, the landscape in its vision changes constantly in movement, but never in character, form, beauty, or even promise.
One day, the body has had enough! It explodes in a burst of strength that shatters its wooden prison into pieces. As the splintered remains of the enslaver slides of the body, it rises up with a crackling sound unfamiliar to its own constitution. Its vision moves in the direction it has always wanted to; up and ahead. Upright for the first time, the eyes behold a landscape farther than they have ever seen, distances which seem infinite but attainable. Even as the back comes to term with a posture so fantastic and alien, the body’s resolution is set. It will move forward, but this time, on its own terms; towards the distant horizon. This is its promise, its future, its singular salvation. In time and space, it will be what it wants, what it never was.
As the newly liberated body takes its first step, it stumbles and falls. “It’s just the first step, the body is simply adjusting to the new conditions…” it thinks to itself. Unwavering in resolve and fixed vision, the body rises and moves forward. Only to fall again. As time passes, a new routine emerges; the path to progress and salvation becomes that of an upright and forward facing body, falling again and again. “The horizon must be where this stops! The horizon is where this atrocious despair will end! This body, at the horizon is the the promise. I can unmake all that I was, become new, tirelessly march on, towards a new horizon! Perhaps even rest! If only this dratted stumbling would stop, I’d reach faster. I am doing everything right anyway. Straight vision, focus, determination, and movement!!. The promise of my promise will not elude me!”, as its hands reach for the fast approaching earth to break the fall.
The falling continues. The seething sun and the rough terrain, earlier naturalized and discounted, now become impediments constantly assaulting the liberated body. Somewhere between where it started, the point of its liberation and the rupture from its forgotten past, and its failing movement towards nowhere, the body stops. We’d never quite know why it stopped. Presumably to catch a breath and continue on. Perhaps it was tired. Perhaps it lost hope. Or perhaps it was just a glitch in its internal circuitry causing it to halt for but a second. But in that brief moment of respite, the body became aware of itself, and looked down. And as the eyes beheld its own body, and micro-seconds later, so did its consciousness; the unyielding chains around its bloody legs became loud, heavy, and painful. The chains that never left it. The ones the body never remembered to shed, or even notice. Perhaps they couldn’t ever be shed. Not by lack of wanting, but somethings never can be.
The constant companion between your rupture with the past, and the future that is nowhere.
PS.: My flatmate suggested this could be something one could call the ‘Manacles of History’. I want to improve this metaphor. History and its manifestations expressed as a individual experience could be conceptually misleading. Perhaps the manacles are experienced differentially across space, time, and the social. Perhaps chains is not the best metaphor. But it is the one I thought of right now. I will work on it I guess. What got me thinking about this was the Angel of History.
There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair , to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.