Friday, August 17, 2012

No More

Scott Bradley

"And then Chen Jen was no more — just as he had never been."

This, the final line in the Book of Chen Jen, is one of my favorites. I can't know how it affects the reader (if at all), but it challenges me in many ways.

Of course he had never been; I made him up, after all. But are we not all in some sense made up? Are not the life and death of a fictional character ever much as real (or unreal) as our own?

I struggle(d) with whether to include an "if": "just as if he had never been". If he had been 'real', wouldn't it have been too definitive a statement to say he had never been? "If" adds a necessary ambiguity. In the end, I decided that the "if" could be implied by those who would read it thus.

But have any of us ever truly been — do any of us ever exist?

One thing that intrigues me about death is how the dead are so quickly and completely forgotten. How many billions have been plowed under without a trace? Cavemen, Egyptians, Assyrians, Phrygians,...your great, great grandmother. "Count me among the dead / so long forgotten / as to have never been." I shared this slice of a 'poem' with a friend steeped in Zen, and he said, "What's to count?" But that's the point.

Since I have presumed to quote from Chen Jen, it might be appropriate to add that, though I was greatly inspired through the writing, and still find in it much that continues to inspire, I also find much of it embarrassing. It is largely amateurish and trite. But then, like these posts, it was just an exercise, and not intended as an end in itself.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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