Happy New Years from Taiwan! In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, we heard a lot of buzz here that the Taipei 101 fireworks display would be awe-inspiring. According to my friend Chris, the government spent the most money it ever has on the fireworks this year in order to celebrate Taiwan’s centenary. Usually the downer when it comes to big celebrations, I reluctantly agreed to go to Taipei 101 to see the show. I went mainly because, recently, I’ve been feeling a tender urgency to be around the people who have made Taiwan feel like a home to me (you know who you are). And, of course, in part to indulge my perverse curiosity to see fire-works exploding from the gigantic phallus looming in the horizon that frames our daily comings and goings.
The fireworks were indeed moving, but often we are moved in ways we don’t expect, and what moves us perhaps is precisely this element of being surprised, and overtaken by a feeling at once familiar as much as it is strange. For me, this NYE’s fireworks display provided an experience of what Freud called the “uncanny” or in German, “unheimlich.” In German, heimlich means “home”- in a sense that is richer in meaning than a physical dwelling – it connotes a place that is also warm, recognizable, and familiar. The prefix “un” interjects distance and strangeness into the intimate. When the fireworks began, and the smoke shrouded the building obscuring (for the most part) the dazzling pyrotechnics of the show, I could not help but imagine that I was witnessing 9-11, for the first, but also for the millionth time.
However, this time, it was a 9/11 absent the hatred, terror, and retributive wars in which so much more than two skyscrapers burned into cinders…..
Later, I spoke with my friends, and we all hesitantly broached the issue. ”Did you think the Taipei 101 looked like …..” a long pause…. “9-11…?” ”yes, me too….” accompanied by a sigh of relief that other people shared the same aesthetic unconscious as I did, and it was not merely my morbid imagination alone imposing a scene of catastrophe on a mundane annual celebration.
So, what happened that blurred the line between disaster and enjoyment? I would not dream of calling what I experienced a PTSD recollection, because, for one, I was not directly affected by 9-11, as a survivor, rescuer, new york resident, or person whose loved ones were among its causalities. Instead, I can frankly say, that the firey glow of Taipei 101 made me feel strangely calm. I knew everything would be alright. It was only a spectacle staged for entertainment. I enjoyed a benign sense of annihilation with the knowledge that life would continue.
I am not exactly sure how to analyze or name this feeling. Maybe I should go read more Baudrillard. But, at times, reading can be a way of avoiding this uneasy inability to name. I guess this blog is a space for thinking about feelings that have pushed themselves into my awareness, without politely declaring their identity, and obediently sitting in their proper place.