We are accustomed
to think that there is a proper time to ask questions and a proper place
to answer them. For example, we ask questions when we suppose there
is someone to reply to them, and we expect to receive replies on the
dotted line. Consultation scratches the surface of such proprieties
and wonders if there is something beneath: whether there are stories
that we have forgotten how to respond to.
If I were to pick a turning point, so-called, in Consultation, it was when Rae asked my opinion of graffiti: whether I had seen any of it in Singapore and whether I thought people take notice of such impermissible writing. After I had recounted my experiences of graffiti, Rae revealed his. Apparently, there is a trail of graffiti that he has been following around the vicinity where he works, capturing it with his digital camera. It consists of writing, mostly in English and partly in Chinese, scribbled in white or black markers on faded posters and on the surfaces of those ubiquitous electrical boxes which power our island.
There is nothing vulgar or even spectacular about these writings. They merely tell of Singapore, of the people who came to this island only to escape to another, of the beaches at Ubin, of the foreign workers and fake branded goods along Beach Road and especially at Golden Mile. Despite how ordinary and mild a story the graffiti tells, apparently someone found these scribblings irritating and wrote back rather furiously, "f***-off nonsense". Perhaps this respondent found the graffiti's subject matter too familiar, too ordinary, and therefore offensive. Consultation was in no position to judge, however, for it too felt the urge to write. As our session drew to a close, Paul requested from me a prescription - anything that I thought would best allow him to respond to the symptoms the graffiti and its defacement represented. He noted, "The graffiti is symptomatic of something that is unwell in this island and, clearly, you share some of it too" and he passed me a piece of white paper. Facing this paper, this blankness that had been handed to me and was therefore a "proper" place for expression, I did not quite know what to do. I admitted that I was uncomfortable "prescribing", reacting to a problem which, however abstract, was shared by a nameless crowd. Nor was I exactly proud of my indifference. Perhaps after Consultation revealed to me the sense of foreignness I had towards my own memory, I too needed an impermissible, improper space to scribble on.
By asking each participant to respond to the photographed graffiti, the subject matter of Consultation was at the same time its method. It is possible that we all share more or less the same problem as the anonymous graffiti artist in that, sometimes, we simply do not know what to do with our memories and received experiences. And when we finally find a way to deal with them - by writing or otherwise recording them - we can only be "respondents", absent to the actual events and places. If there is any difference between me and the graffitist, it is that while the graffiti artist chooses to inscribe his experiences on surfaces not meant for writing, I made my mark by participating in Consultation, and I eventually had the privilege of re-inscribing them here in this review.
But should my writing be considered more "legal" and so more acceptable than the graffiti? Yes, I did eventually write something on the prescription paper - and the only detail I would like to disclose about my prescription was how I paused over the correct spelling of the word "graffiti" and had to ask Rae how to spell it. But when I finally returned my prescription - misspelled, inadequate - I realised that the acknowledgment of impropriety, whether of time, space or word, is an inevitable condition of any response; and Consultation embodied this condition. (As it turned out, Rae too was not quite sure how to spell graffiti either.)
If each session of Consultation varied according to its participant, such variety can not be a shortcoming but only a strength. After all, it was able to cater to my idiosyncracies and my perverse interest in reflecting on them. Although Consultation had a prepared set of questions, more importantly, each session had to negotiate with different participants whose responses could not possibly be anticipated. I cannot conceive of any other "treatment" where both counselor and counseled are "patients" whose "prescriptions" are symptomatic of the problem of memory and of the duty to remember. If there is one best solution to this issue, Consultation did not pretend to know it. Instead, it only pulled the rug of propriety from right underneath memory's feet.
Ratings out of 5, based on
Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent /