Methods Devour Themselves: A Conversation

Methods Devour Themselves: A Conversation

by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, J. Moufawad-Paul

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785358265
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 08/31/2018
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 623,170
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.59(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

Benjanun Sriduangkaew is the author of novella Winterglass. She writes love letters to strange cities, beautiful bugs, and the future. She has been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the British SF Association Award. She lives in Hong Kong.

J. Moufawad-Paul lives in Toronto and works as casualized contract faculty at York University where he received his PhD in philosophy. He blogs regularly at MLM Mayhem, and he is the author of The Communist Necessity, Continuity and Rupture, and Austerity Apparatus.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

We Are All Wasteland On the Inside

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

She is dying, the old spymaster, when I visit her house. Spread all over the room: lethargic on the bed, a hand (thick, callused) pinned to the ceiling, a leg (long, shapely) dangling from a bookshelf. The rate of her decay has been rapid, toxins mating and making nations in her body, fighting wars and creating cultures and making history that expresses in the bioluminescence blotting her skin. It looks editorial, opal tones and swallowed sea-storms, and would have made her the star of a body-mod exhibit. Jellyfish chic, arising salt-thick and hungry from the deep.

But still she breathes and when she sees me, she says, "Help yourself."

The bar is fully stocked, red bottles and faceted cups. Clean stirrers, cleaner glassware. She has a housekeeper, some fresh-faced (as they eternally are) upsorn-sriha newly out of the forest: the sandals left at the door are telltale, delicate gold and shaped for hooves. For my drink I pick smoky wine and red petals that dissolve in the alcohol, giving up spice and salt and sour. I skip the coconut syrup that's supposed to go with the cocktail. Sweet things are not my province.

I settle on a chaise lounge. It's distracting, her collapse, the slow agony of a body pushing free of each other as though they are similarly polarized magnets. Phantom limbs have sprung from the sockets of her arm and leg. They curl about her, boneless, barely real in their pallor. Her torso is intact otherwise, the head still firmly joined to the rest. A pre-murder scene, avant-garde and carefully posed on sheets and headboard for maximum statement. She must be on anaesthetics, medulla oblongata sloshing in drugs, but her eyes are steady, her voice smooth and uninterrupted by intoxication.

"I'm your assigned legal executor." A sip: as hard-hitting as I expected. She has good taste and the means to satisfy it, though I can't imagine she has enjoyed anything lately. "We'll need your authorization to unseal your will, Khun Jutamat."

Her mouth pinches. A smile aborted late-term. "I don't have one."

That's news to me. I know she has close family and two ex-wives. "Your property will revert to the state."

"I'll be dead and money won't matter to me. I didn't ask for you specifically on account of your law degree. You worked with police."

"Yes, ma'am." I have worked in many things: theatre, accounting, a stint in forensics and vice. Mine is a timeline in disarray, but so are most people's. Much of life has become debris and dead skin after Himmapan, the convergence event.

Jutamat's poltergeist arm stretches unsteadily, the movements more like limp rubber than bone and muscle. Undulating, repulsive. "It's a good range of skills. Much more important than one's bank balance or where that balance goes after one expires. You and I, we'll solve my murder together before I go."

In Jutamat's garden there is a tree, old, its canopies dripping star-shaped leaves. Gold, green, tipped in stark white. It is heavy with a crop of makkalee fruits on the cusp of maturity and independence from the bough. I have never seen one of these trees; they don't grow just anywhere and resist attempts at cultivation. Only at the liminal edges do they flourish, where Himmapan hovers and seeps into city, black loam making sludge of asphalt, green radiance splattering traffic signs and sidewalks. Where birds fly too close to that border they disappear, the dirt-crusted pigeons and smoke-stained crows.

Accordingly there are no birds here or butterflies, no ants or amphibians. All is clean. Not a blade of grass is too long; no weeds or infestation of fungi touch the earth, no mark of worm or insect hunger on petals. Frangipani, lotuses — either Jutamat favours those, or no other flower would grow. Symbols of passing on and peace, respectively. Appropriate perhaps.

Myth tells that makkalee fruits are alluring and sweetly scented. Reality is less glamorous. They smell faintly vegetal rather than like palm sugar, jasmines, or some heavenly blossom. On the ground one of them lies fallen and premature, ivory skin bruised from impact and seeping blue sap. I turn it in my palm, tracing the contours of full breasts and small waist, flared hips and thick thighs. The face is rough, a work in progress, but there is already a nose and mouth defined, eye sockets deepening. The ones on the bough are shaped similarly. All makkalee fruits from the same tree look alike, replicated over and over in some internal mould, the way dolls emerge from a factory.

"Have you ever met one of them full grown?"

I put the fruit down. Jutamat's wheelchair labours, for all that her mass can't weigh that much anymore. Shreds of her ghost leg get stuck in mechanism, between joints. "Can't say I have, ma'am."

"Poor conversationalists. They only think of the soil and the air, rain and sun. Not much else; I can't imagine what hermits in legends see. But then, mythical hermits tend to be ugly and desperate." She wheels forward. It continues to be a struggle, looking at her directly. The eye protests. Optic nerves flinch. The mind attempts to reconstitute what is there and fails. "Rumour has it that eating makkalee will cure any ill. Incorrect, of course. My housekeeper planted this, by the way, to keep her company — not many Himmapan natives live in the neighbourhood. Would you like a bite? Think of it like moulded chocolate or marzipan."

"I will pass, thank you." I don't consider myself squeamish. But still they look humanlike and, given time to ripen, they will talk like humans too. Pastiche personhood. "I don't think I am the person you want for this." A simple arrangement of paperwork, what will go where, a list of beneficiaries and then a cut for the tax collectors. That is what it should have been.

"I'll be the judge of that. You were police, more or less."

"Less rather than more." With effort I focus on the banal details: her thinning hair, the indented scar on her chin. "What makes you think there's a crime to figure out, a perpetrator to bring to justice?"

"Justice has nothing to do with it, Khun Oraphin. I seek satisfaction and, from your records with forensics, you seem to have a nose for the strange. When you were very young, you were lost in Himmapan for a day, I understand."

A day to my parents; a month to me. It wasn't a bad month — Himmapan is kind to children, and I was twelve going on thirteen, sufficiently young and sufficiently pure — but I returned changed, one of the first to have made the crossing before true convergence. No one believed me, at first, until the parents of another child went on air. Talk shows, taken seriously by nobody, and then a handful of lost children grew to a dozen, a score. We became a generation. Himmapan, the domain of many things, but foremost among them the eagle and the serpent. When I open my hand I half-expect to be clutching a feather the colour of clear night, the colour of polished cobalt. This is a hallucination that's seated itself deep inside me, parasitic, cancerous.

"I suppose I was, ma'am." I never say anything else. Not the details. Not anything.

"Stop calling me that. You aren't my servant." Her flesh leg twitches; she is trying to cross it, but the other one is insubstantial and does not obey. I wonder if the amputated leg, alone in that room, flexes and pulls with effort. "I was one of the people poring over your case file, back then. It all looked like a threat to national security at the time."

Sixteen years ago. "What'd you like me to do, Khun Jutamat?"

"Help me figure this out," she says. "My fortune isn't going anywhere. It's not inconsiderable — you would know. It would serve a dead woman poorly, but you're alive and prone to stay that way for decades yet. Sort this out and I'll sign it all to you."

Her assets are significant, no denying that. My thoughts dart — avarice is so magnetic — to the possibilities, the fantasies, the horizons out of reach. Money is not all, especially in the changed world, but it is still much. Humanity does not function without a currency. We've knotted ourselves too tight to go back to barter and an exchange of labour, to discard the coins and the notes and the cheques. Even those of the forest are becoming like us in that way. "Your family isn't going to be happy with me."

She issues a low chuckle, a sound of paper rustling on wood. "What does it matter, whether they are happy? Come, I'm not dying any slower. The sooner we get started, the better."

To trace any curse, the most obvious and essential first step is to examine the site of its effect, in this case Jutamat's body parts. There will be a piece of buffalo hide, a fragment of tooth or finger-bone, as vector for malice. I imagine the housekeeper on her dainty deer hooves dusting the celadon and polishing the teak floor, precise steps as she cleans around these lost limbs. Not everyone can afford upsorn-sriha staff, hard workers as well as supreme ornaments. All the rage in any establishment of class and currency, any household of taste and opulence. For myself I can't stand those quiet hooved girls, but I am no tastemaker.

With gloves on — best practice must be followed — I pull down the detached limbs. The hand is first and hardest, speared in place by a reptilian tongue of glistening iron. It bleeds when I bring it down, though Jutamat evinces no reaction save mild amusement. The leg — it is a whole leg, complete, from thigh to tiptoes. Fetching it is simple; handling it less so. The weight of the limb is hot and heavy, confrontational in its gross mortality, the bones and muscles and wrinkled skin at the knees. I seize it around the ankle at first, then reverse my grip when I realize that the position would put the thigh much too close to my face. Manoeuvring it awkwardly to a sofa I put it down and try not to think on the intimacy of this. The detachment happened right at the point where it joined the groin, clean.

The leg smells faintly of shower cream, not the cheap type: this is essential oils, bergamot and frankincense, an underlying note of subtle fruits. The poison must have preserved the parts entirely, suspended them in the moment of amputation. "What were you doing when this happened?"

"I'd just come out of a bath. That was the first one." Her voice falters, only just, then resumes smooth: lifetime-practised control sanding off the edge of trauma. "How does it end?"

"Your head." Not that I have seen it in action but there are reports and studies. Few ailments of supernatural sources have not been catalogued, compared, cross-referenced into mundanity. We forge the changed earth through empiricism and remorseless analysis. The poets and dreamers thought they would be ascendant, but after all it's people like me and Jutamat who thrive. Pragmatists who know how to move through the world, and know how to move it in turn by levers and hand-wheels. "It's mostly painless. As far as I know, ma'am."

Jutamat makes a noise through her teeth, strained and thin and high: distilled panic. "Two to five months, though they say it escalates toward the final stage."

"Do you have enemies?"

"In my profession, at my age, who does not? Unless one is devoted to nothing but pushing pens and shuffling papers. Any number of people, domestic and foreign, would want me gone." She sips from a glass of anchan tea so cold it radiates, mentholated and lambent. "After sixty I'd have thought they would leave me alone to die naturally. I guess not. Should've smoked and drunk more."

The past doesn't relent and deeds like hers don't fade, not that she needs reminding. When I open her detached hand it feels exhibitionist — perhaps voyeuristic? — to be caressing, touching, playing with an older stranger's appendage. Her palm is empty: I'd expected a sliver, a thorn, the swell of a small tooth hiding under skin. The obvious carrier of a curse. If only, for once, existence would oblige by being simple. "Have you been having dreams?" Sleep paralysis, a ghostly face greenly lit. The paranormal is predictable in its symptoms, easier than viruses and cancer to diagnose, more straightforward by far than the caprices of human flesh.

"No dreams. No, that's not quite true. One dream. A khrut. Young. Female. Four arms. She's sitting on a chair. Blue like her feathers." Her expression pinches: this is not a woman used to sharing her dreams. "She's singing, I suppose, but there is no sound. Like you are receiving faulty signal, visual without auditory."

I look at the leg, perfunctory, pushing at the skin and peering behind the knee. "I will need to consult."

"Who, a shaman?"

"No." The leg falls from my hand and rests, limp, on the table. It will leave smudges on the glass and the housekeeper will have to wipe that away. She will have to put the limbs somewhere, too, arrange them in neat order. Maybe a mannequin, custom-made to Jutamat's build. "I will get back to you as soon as possible."

Throughout all this, she has not asked how to stop the toxin of unmaking. Some curses are like the common flu. Others are cousin to genetic defects, unliftable, incurable. It sits there inside, cystic slag hardening to fossil, a seismic fault-line in the soul. The only answer is passage into the next life.

Reincarnation is the true panacea.

There's nothing magical about Krungthep. The writers and artists were wrong, and what once resided within their fantasias and imagination are now everyday — everywhere.

Metaphor and allegory no longer serve, having turned literal overnight. Even the statues and stencils in Suvarnaphum have come alive, adopted as vessels for the creatures they once depicted as fictional. What is the point of words on pages, or nielloware etchings or delicate carved ivory, when the genuine articles are full of voice and viscera?

It's strange: others who have wandered into Himmapan as children, the ones I know, none of them turned to art when they grew up. Not painting or sculpting, not the piano or the jakhe, neither verse nor prose. Those from the forest make better images and music than we do in any case. Maybe we are meant for brute industry and surgical calculation while they are built for the rest, including philosophy.

Every time need summons me to Suvarnaphum, I bring vast quantities of food. They trend red, a menu selected for the carnivore's palate. The giants can eat fruits and vegetables like anyone else, but they enjoy those no more than a child, and unlike a child they don't need to worry about cavities, caloric intake, diabetic futures. Himmapan beings can eat as much as they like, gobbling up carcinogens and cholesterol with no cost or effect.

The giants make their home where first-class passengers used to check into Thai Airways, under a pavilion of banana leaves that never brown. Few travellers venture near for fear of the giants' appetite, and not without reason. There have been disappearances, though never remains. There have been questions, though never investigations. I do know for a fact that the giants are tremendous eaters and that they leave no bones.

All three are home today, reclining on cushions made from hammered bronze and holding plates made from black nacre. Empty. Around them, the walls gleam with tableaus of holiness. Prince Siddhartha stepping on the lotuses of his birth; Prince Siddhartha forsaking his palace to seek the ascetic's path; Prince Siddhartha triumphing over demonic temptation.

As one the giants look at me, or at least turn their attention. Each of them has four faces apiece with eyes to match, their gazes reading existence in compound. Their faces are theatrical masks, red and blue and green, bristling tusks like machetes. Wood and acrylic transmuted to sinew and iron. I've asked them why they don't wear their own flesh and get answers in verse that leave me no more enlightened. They have an abiding love of Sanskrit, which I never bothered learning (does anyone, who was once spirited away?); that is the province of a government liaison (I avoid that entire division — too many fetishists).

"Child," one of them says, "you did not come empty-handed; we can smell."

This is a ritual — they don't talk without a bribe. The Styrofoam boxes I brought are damp with blood and grease: cartilage flavoured hot and sour, dripping meat just barely rare, plastic jars of namprik and dry chili. Pork, beef, the animal is nearly moot. As long as it is flesh that once belonged to a walking creature, flesh that once housed cardiac muscles the size of a fist. I don't think much of vegetarianism, but if anything could turn me herbivorous it would be them, not religion or even health problems.

Once they have filled their plates, the blue one says, "You look in want of a tale."

The green one chuckles, a sound like a landslide about to begin. "We tell stories not to excite or intrigue, but to harden their truth."

(Don't you have names? I asked. The crunch of femur and the slide of tongue on new guts, they said. I didn't ask again. You could call them Morrakot, Tuptim, and Pailin, but those are such soft names next to their predator might.)

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Methods Devour Themselves"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Benjanun Sriduangkaew & J. Moufawad-Paul.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword - Analogical Assemblages J. Moufawad-Paul 1

Chapter 1 We Are All Wasteland On the Inside Benjanun Sriduangkaew 12

Chapter 2 Debris and Dead Skin: the capitalist imaginary and the atrophy of thought J. Moufawad-Paul 27

Chapter 3 Krungthep is an Onomatopoeia Benjanun Sriduangkaew 46

Chapter 4 Living in Amber: on history as a weapon J. Moufawad-Paul 64

Chapter 5 That Rough-Hewn Sun Benjanun Sriduangkaew 82

Chapter 6 An Envelope of Futures: necessity and freedom J. Moufawad-Paul 113

Afterword - Authorial Intentionality Benjanun Sriduangkaew 131

Endnotes 134

Works Cited 139

Acknowledgments 140

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