Saturday, 28 June 2008

On Trepidation

'"Fright" is your son's weakness,' said my old headmaster Jackland to my father, according to my father's account for their tea-hour meeting that evening. 'An education in the old country would do him good.'

It was before I left Hong Kong for England when I was a teenager. Jackland knew me resonably well before I left DBS, because every Monday, I would need to bring him receipts I collected from the Chinese Music Society into that gargantuan colonial office for his signature. My school was one of the first Anglican schools that took their roots in the new colony in the 19th century, and it was built like a set of a David Lean film (I mean one of those 'Indian-Arabic' ones). During the occupation, the Japanese used the school as the governor's house (a certain corner of the football field was known to have a tree for hanging, and broken pieces of urns from the time when the Japanese military used the field as burial ground). The office was sparsely furnished with desks, armchairs and bookshelves made with solid wood, and in sizes of a time when the world population was still not a major concern in people's minds. While Jackland, like most of the school administrators at that time in Hong Kong, believed that subtropical heat built character, his room was always amply cool. Behind his desk, there stood a stand with five to six whips, each bearing the history of an old headmaster taming the hot-blooded temper of a boy, embodying the very violence that disciplines animal lives into proper citizenry.

Like a well-trained cat, I do fear authority. Very often, authority makes me shrink into the core of my being; but sometimes, it inspires me to raise my fist, slam someone's doors, or imagines myself spilling blood onto a church alter (not so much against the divine authority it represents, but against the political authority it instantiates). Of course, the same boy who had an issue with fright in Jackland's imperial office would tell two Oxford professors to fuck themselves two years later in the old country. That would be another story to recount. Authority always inspires fear, and fear eventually inspires violence. This is not even interesting to discuss.

What interests me is the fact that two days ago, my father inadvertantly 'quoted' Jackland's remark on the phone as we were discussing how I dealt with my own problems in teaching. He was in a very paternal mood that evening. Perhaps the prospect that I might seek work in Hong Kong induced his disciplinary aspirations. I know, and I wouldn't know; but a little Möbius strip was quite tightly knitted in this remark. My father obviouly wanted me to conquer my fear in order to act more 'manly' (he and Carlyle could have a good talk, while I could chat with Carlyle's wife over a dose of laudanum); but any good Freudian like myself could tell that what inspired such fear was my father himself (as a figura that transcends time, so to speak). The very speech that was supposed to build up my 'manliness' ironically performed the act of implanting the very fear that it aimed to conquer. This doesn't sound terribly holistic to me.

Nonetheless, the good Freudian in me also tells me that my father's accidental borrowing of Jackland's remark was absolutely (yes, and pathetically) prarapractic. In a way, an 'accidental' borrowing is a tiny memory slip, a way by which something one has always deliberately repressed returns to haunt her/him. 'No, my son wouldn't be a coward,' says my father's consciousness, fighting bravely against his dreamwork. What parapractical about it is that this 'slipped' memory simultaneously hides and reveals the very fear he has within himself, that he has been haunted by my grandfather (a frightful geezer who was personally trained by Cheng Kai-shek at Whampoa). Indeed, the remark negotiates a much deeper perturbation about the manliness that he has yet achieved, and the anxiety that his love is yet to be fulfiled.

To be honest, nonetheless, my father is quite a laissez-faire guy.

O Captain! my Captain!

No comments: