<title>THIS IS MY MANIFESTO.</title>
<!—BUT LET’S CALL A SPADE A SPADE
If code is a system you understand, you may, out of habit, focus only on its formal grammar, performing by rote the syntactic analysis we entrust to our machines
when we click through the web. You pause only at errors. You anticipate already
that so much of this is for the author’s eyes only, invisible to the browser, like a freight car of potatoes hiding one bright ripe mango.
Otherwise you may, out of habit as well, trade html for human words, roost in graphemes you can comprehend.
I am giving you this because I think their collision is a tragedy more elegant than any I have known. Like trains running off their track, there is a terrible beauty to routine gone awry, a precise geometric nature to the violation, if you get close enough to look. In Spain, in India, on TV for seconds before we change channels and join the morning crush on the subway trains,
the press of suits, my dark blazer,
on our way to work.
We say we still grieve.
<!– PRELUDE TO A CAR CRASH
This is your key to understanding.
I am giving it to you only once.
<dd>An island the shape of a tear on India’s southeast coast, cannibalized by civil strife for 25 years. Populated by a Sinhalese ethnic majority, a Tamil minority, a Muslim, Christian, Burgher demographic that’s even smaller.
My parents, both Tamil, were born there. I was not. I was born in New York, after Eelam War I was months underway, and so I grew up to be a writer and not a suicide bomber in braids, or a body raped postmortem, or passed out under a machete sawing off my breasts.
We didn’t go back for years. By the time we did my father’s village had been erased, dissidents and journalists vanished in the wake of white vans, and I had spent 20 years trying to tell a story I never lived, and so
I never had the words.
<dt>Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam</dt>
<dd>The rebel group that fought to free the Tamil people from Sinhalese oppression, a.k.a. Tamil Tigers, a.k.a. Tigers, a.k.a. LTTE.
Marxist, Leninist, secular.
Led by Vellupillai Prabhakaran, who died of a gunshot to the head when the war ended in 2009.
In July 1983, the year ethnic tensions erupted into war, the Tigers ambushed the Four Four Bravo patrol at Thirunelveli with mines and machine guns. It was a revenge attack, for the death of Prabhakaran’s closest friend.
They killed 13. Triggered a revenge craze across the country, until the Tamil dead approached 3,000, the homeless 150,000.
<dt>Sri Lanka Army</dt>
<dd>A.k.a. SLA, the national military, responsible for wartime operations and peacekeeping missions, but they did nothing for days in Black July, or in 1956 in Batticaloa, my mother’s birthplace, when a Sinhalese girl was allegedly raped and paraded naked through the streets. Lies. Over 100 Tamils were killed for this fictional girl. Or in 2009, when the war came to a close, and the SLA thought nothing of trapping at least 230,000 civilians in 2 square feet of land, indiscriminately shelling no-fire-zones, defending their actions by claiming the Tigers’ terrorism had to stopped, no matter what the cost.</dd>
<dd>According to my shrink, it is survivor’s guilt, the posttraumatic stress of someone who was never there.</dd>
<dd>A systemic chronic pain syndrome with no underlying cause. My systemic pain syndrome. The answer to my seeming immunity to sudden accidental death.</dd>
<dd>You are the variable. You are the audience. You are the friend, the lover, the traitor, the one who masturbated at my back but professed to be straight, the one who outfitted me in spandex to drool over my tits, the one who saved me from drowning or clasped my hands when my wet wrists bled and let me cry, my forehead to yours, and promised you would always be there.
You never mean it. And I can never let you go.</dd>
<dd>Machine, natural, visual, verbal, it is always an act of representation. Whoever controls representation controls the fate of those represented. In 1956 legislation made Sinhala the only official language. Riots began. Rumors spread. People died. I was born, far away, and I am still alive.</dd>
I am looking for the language in which to say it, finally, so that when “HELLO WORLD” loads up on your screen you will know me as more than the total result of my given name
plugged into Internet search engines;
you will know me by my other names, “narakal,” a Tamil word for the unspeakably repulsive, and especially
“Kira,” the name of a manga character who is also the Devil. The story goes that Lucifer wanted to walk the earth, and came across the scene of a hit-and-run: a dead mother clutching the hand of her dying son. The boy was Kira Sakuya, that would read first-name-last, he was maybe 7 or 8, bookish, filled with a longing to learn.
He must have understood that he was dying. When Lucifer asked
to use his body, promising anything, Sakuya asked this: “Would you read every book in the world for me?”
Most would laugh. Lucifer was grave when he agreed and entered Sakuya’s body as the boy’s soul departed, likely to Heaven. His body under Lucifer’s command
grew into adolescence, and misbehavior, went by “Kira,” and mocked its aging father who still wept
for the dead mother, still called it “Sakuya-kun.” Grief, never gotten over.
Kira is dark-haired. Wears glasses. Like me.
There is never a scene with him in it where he is not carrying a book, and even though he is just fulfilling his promise, I can’t help but think that what it really means is even Lucifer has to turn to stories to understand the tragedy that has plagued his life.
<!– PIGEON TONGUE.
This is how drafts begin to be written.
<img src=”pigeon.jpg” title=”Sidewalk Pigeon” alt=”A pigeon I passed on the way to the 1 train, this morning going to work. Look how people reflect in its eyes. How it doesn’t seem to see anyone at all, its kind is so used to us that it no longer believes we exist.”>
A pigeon’s tongue is gray pink, the color of bad meat. Pigeons are bad meat themselves, equipped with a loose outer layer of foul feathers, to ward off predators who leap for a bite only to come away shaking their mouths, dirty plumage stuck between their teeth. The taste is rumored to be disgusting. Underneath that the pigeon remains no more or less than what it is.
We call hybrid language *pidgin*, pronounced the same way. Online, it is text, layouts, graphics, all the attributes we are allowed to see. But we miss the integrity of code itself, and comments, opened with <!–, invisible on the published page.
That is: there is meaning to be found in symbols too.
Code, more so than natural language, is a display of thinking. In it, the unbeautiful seams always show, making clear how the corpse is assembled.
If you don’t already know, HELLO WORLD is the phrase we use to test our code, asking the world if we do in fact exist.
We have always asked this question.
“So it is, and so it has been, and so it will be, time out of mind.”
<!– SHE TOLD HER FRIENDS TO CALL HER VINCENT, WHICH I THINK IS SEXY BEYOND BELIEF.
It’s possible this is a misquote, but I think it’s from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music.” It was always my first thought on reading her work that she was beautiful.
She probably went to hell for being bisexual, like Alan Turing for being gay
and for committing suicide, despite all the elegant code he brought into the world. Laying brickwork for computers and artificial intelligence, though at the time
the idea of playing god with the wires
was probably condemnable too.
I have to say
that I think Lucifer must regret the loss of God
but as compensation he gets to live with all who are beautiful and intelligent and damned,
as though suffering can be mitigated by the suffering of those who also deserve it, if such judgment can be passed with impunity.
It’s enough for me to say,
“All right, then,
I’ll go to hell.”
His reasons are a damn sight better than mine.
<!– AND SO 11 IS THE NUMBER OF THE MARTYRDOM, THE TESTIMONY, AND THE PROPHECY.
<dt>When I was 11:</dt>
<dd>I loved you and lacked the vocabulary to tell you
the day you saved me from drowning. Your ropy arm hugged my chest so hard it hurt. Your braid met my mouth. You were chlorine personified. I would have happily died drinking you,
given half the chance. Death after all was a familiar refrain. I used to trap ants in loosely folded Scotch tape that I could stick to the inside of my lamp so that they roasted, slowly, alive.
Like an uncle I never knew. And still
I wonder why I am haunted by the death spiral, which is what they call the horrifying inward turning of army ants, blindly following their blind leader, incapable of autonomous redirection.</dd>
When I was 11 we took a trip to D.C. and I craved distance and walked ahead as we crossed the street and my mother’s voice behind me screamed to “Run, run!” and I didn’t run, I stopped, as the red car sped past me, its tires whipping the toes of my Reeboks, the rearview mirror almost slapping my arm.
The driver was a caricature. White, wore sunglasses, a tight black shirt, his hair slicked back,
it was a Mustang he was driving, or possibly a Camaro. My mother grabbed me and cried like she was laughing, and an old white man who had been walking ahead of me stopped to say, incensed, “Good God, he could have killed you, running the light like that! He was driving like a lunatic! Did anyone get his license?”
I did not die.
This is the significance of the number 11.
If I had, if I’d seen Lucifer approaching my corpse, I would have asked if he was in fact the driving force behind all we accuse him of, if in the time he knelt subservient
he ever thought his life would turn out this way.
I would have asked him to write one page for me, saying, “Hello, world. Your details have opened me in ways I can’t describe.” I would have asked him to write all the novels I have in me. I would have let him come in.
<!– THE EXPLOSION MUST CLEANLY SEVER THE HEAD, IF YOU WANT TO BE A PROPER MARTYR.
<img src=”head.jpg” alt=”suicide bombing, 2002, the year I entered Sri Lanka for the first time and that girl disappeared two streets down; probably this isn’t her but I can’t help but wonder when I see it, was it her, was she holding it inside her when it went off” title=”The head of a suicide bomber. Can you tell she was a girl?”>
The most common response this elicits is “ohmygod,” in one breath, just like that. We can’t give it space
to let ourselves feel it,
to imagine what it might have been like.
Like you said to me once,
“I don’t want to know. Not everyone is like you.”
<!– NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT.
Was it Goethe’s or Marlowe’s “Faust” that portrayed Lucifer as wronged and lonely? In both versions, Faust sells his soul for all the knowledge in the mortal world and beyond. Lucifer is named “Mephistopheles,” more wicked than romantic. Whether Faust lives or dies, he always comes to collect.
There is a myth that, because the eyes are a window to the soul, the image of your killer
will remain frozen there after your death.
Some versions say it will be the last thing you see in life, even if you survive.
So what about the man who gives life back to you? God or Devil or medical intern, in that moment does it matter that he is not human, that he is not good,
that he is no better or worse than any other man?
Marlowe’s version, I think, was the one where Faust died. His limbs rent by the hand of death. Little left of his mangled body to bury.
It’s only because it didn’t happen to me that I can write about losing my limbs to rioters’ knives,
or breaking my hymen with a live grenade,
or waiting for the whistle of the next shell, unable even
to drag my father’s body into the trench
to protect it from the next explosion.
This was amateur footage, from 2009, when the war concluded in a media blackout. What we can also call a culture of impunity, in which the perpetrators are protected and go unpunished.
By 2009, over 100,000 Sri Lankans had died.
Meanwhile I was safe in New York, my only complaint
that I lacked a course of treatment. For years it had been you,
escorting me to neurologists, psychiatrists,
grabbing my shirt to stop me from walking blindly into the street, seeking a death I could call accidentally-on-purpose and thereby evade responsibility.
When they wrongly diagnosed me with a brain tumor, you had a panic attack on the sidewalk and I was embarrassed for you, or for myself, by your apparent love.
What I have learned:
<li>Pain is dismissible unless it can be quantified.</li>
<li>You, also, were not “like me.”</li>
Science offers no excuses unless the research results have been written up, in the news, or qualified journals of medicine, peer-reviewed and double-blind. Doctors would say,
“But you look so well,
there can’t be anything wrong with you.” Patronizing in their choice to avoid “hypochondria,” while I watched the grinning deities
engorge the woodwork behind them.
Fibromyalgia may be a diagnosis of exclusion, but I can clinically correlate my symptoms to the escalation of Eelam War IV. Trigeminal neuralgia: the use of human shields in Vaharai. Increased trigger points: Colonel Karuna and his white vans. Limb paralysis: 300,000 Tamil civilians trapped in a shrinking war zone. Memory loss, as both sides blamed each other, both sides equally to blame.
You blame me.
Pigeons’ feathers don’t always save them.
Maybe you tried to save me, but honestly,
I was born dead, and I’ve been told
that I brought something back with me when I was revived.
<!– IF I’D TAKE DEATH OVER LIVING WITH THIS PAIN, DOES THAT MAKE ME SUICIDAL, OR DO I JUST WISH THAT CAR HAD KILLED ME?
Is survival my punishment for having survived?
What concerns me most about Lucifer is that his name may be wrong. A mistranslation of a phrase referring to “morning star,” which somehow was attributed to him, despite the fitting alternate definition of a heavy black weapon of spikes and chains. Blunt force, puncture wounds, a shock before death takes over, like realizing that after all that disobedience you still miss the god or man who made you.
As a mortal Lucifer/Kira sometimes watches his human father over the pages of a book, over the rims of the glasses he has to wear, his eyes worn thin from so much reading. This father, Sakuya’s father, begs him not to drink, not
to slum around and do drugs, not to run with a bad crowd. Not to read so much in bad light. To go back to school. To respond to his importuning with love.
In response, Kira smokes heavily, dopes up, calls him “old man” to his face. His look is pensive and careful only when the father is not looking at him. Does he think of the father as that, “the father,” or “Sakuya’s father,” or as a sad old man
doomed to die under the illusion that his son is still alive? Is the unspoken answer that
by making you hate me in life,
you will not grieve me when I am gone?
Right before he leaves Sakuya’s body,
he may have said, “Father,” as tenderly as the Devil is able.
More tenderly than you would think.
We always forget that Lucifer was the most loved of all of God’s works. That he serves an essential purpose. That, for that, he may be most loved still.
When Kira has that pensive look you can’t tell if the eyes are Sakuya’s or Lucifer’s, but when he is Lucifer
that look is altogether gone. And who he is while inhabiting Sakuya’s body
is open to interpretation.
<!– SPEAKING IN TONGUES.
<img src=”kira-turned-lucifer.jpg” title=”Kira in Lucifer-form” alt=”As Lucifer his expressions are hard, except when looking at one of his friends from his life as Kira, or at his father. He is a split persona. Maybe that is the real reason I love him.”>
The story goes that Sakuya stopped breathing: died: and then gasped and began speaking in tongues. Bastardized Latin, maybe, or a language older than the earth, too old to be understood.
His face as terrible as an ascetic’s contorted by holy anger, ready and able to turn the most innocent of things to dust with only a word.
If all it took was *ka* to spawn the universe, it wouldn’t take much more to raze it bare.
Sakuya’s speaking in tongues isn’t explicitly illustrated. It must have lasted only a minute. By the time the ambulance arrived he was speaking like a normal boy, calm though his chest gaped outward, was unfazed at the news his mother had died. The hospital scenes are not depicted. After all
Kira is not the central character of the story. But I imagine his father cried for days, and hugged his little boy close, and Lucifer must have chafed in his new skin at having to tolerate a human’s merciful touch.
Who knows what his mother looked like. Or the car. Or its driver.
It’s obvious what I want to believe.
<!– HERE IS THE MUNDANE TRUTH.
<img src=”x.jpg” title=”Us.” alt=”I lied when I said I stopped loving you.”>
I’m trying very hard not to say your names, any of them, my argument of names having so much to do with the idea that
there is unlimited power in a true name. This is why I maintain multiple Internet personas. Why certain Native American and aboriginal tribes kept three or four given names at a time,
cycling them as necessary, never revealing the one that was their birthright and the true heart of their strength.
You are the names of everyone I never have ever loved.
You are everyone who has died.
You never once looked back.
<!– SO INSTEAD I PUT MYSELF IN THE BODY OF EVERY TRAGIC HERO I HAVE EVER MET.
this manga series were written in code, with comments and commands only the author could see, there would be this: that after Kira relinquished humanity and resumed his life as Lucifer, Kira’s father began seeing black feathers everywhere.
Never saw Lucifer, perched on a rooftop, black wings folded back, pensive, looking down.
The series title is translated “Angel Sanctuary”: is it a sanctuary for angels or from them? Of all the fanpages on the Internet, this is a question
no one has thought to address.
I probably would not have loved Kira so much I assume his identity to troll, have images of him saved to my hard drive, so I can go on wondering, long after the series’ end,
if the bargain was worthwhile,
for Sakuya, for Lucifer,
if it meant more
than the collateral damage dealt.
If Lucifer watched the father cry, with a face that said: If I only knew how to explain to you. If it was within my power to touch and heal, and not destroy.
The only book Lucifer is unable to touch is the book of Raziel, written by the scribe who sits behind God’s throne
and records everything that comes to pass. Sometimes
before they come to pass.
If Lucifer possessed me, it is the book I would want him to read.
It is the book that would tell me whether or not the Sinhalese girl was in fact raped, if we were meant to be, and what it means to have traded death for chronic pain, that all the knowledge in the world cannot substitute for experience and still I have the nightmares, as though I lived through a war I never saw, in a country I rejected for as long as I possibly could.
<!– CAR CRASH AND ENDING.
We think it funny now that my instinct in the face of danger was to stop in the middle of the street as if already dead, and my mother’s was for me to run, which would have gotten me killed.
I wonder constantly what would have happened, had I run. I assume I would have died. The driver would not have stopped. No one would have seen the license plate. Of course there are people whose lives would be different without me, but does that matter if they never knew me in the first place?
Like certain kinds of circuitry, time acts like a network, it moves in serial. If history is rewritten, the present and future are overwritten, cast out of being, because, in effect, they never were.
What you taught me is this:
<li>That my language made you passionate and angry, and I took that for a love-letter, which it was never meant to be.</li>
<li>That most circuits run in parallel instead of in serial, which means the current remains live even after a point has fizzled out; the signal jumps over it, travels on. All of it must die for it to really be dead.</li>
<li>That the human body is no analogue to circuitry but I still feel as though I never returned from the deaths I’ve survived. That accidental overdose. The car crash that never was. The almost drowning. Respiratory failure at birth. The struggles of a country that is only half mine.</li>
<li>That there is a reason for everything.</li>
<li>That in some ways it might have been better if I had opened my arms to that red Camaro and been struck down. If I’d given myself the chance to believe in Lucifer’s dark shape striding toward me, his ancient, enrapturing voice
Begging for a body.
I’d give it to him. No question.
All he has to do is ask.</li>
<img src=”scars.jpg” alt=”This is your legacy” title=”The End”>
This is what my death will look like. When the M.E. peels my eyelids back you will see Lucifer’s face,
darkening the sclera to red. I will speak in tongues. I will say that the hardest thing
is learning to forgive myself, for survivor’s guilt I cannot justify,
for loving everything that is wrong.
Your details have opened me in ways I can’t describe.
Vyshali Manivannan received her M.F.A. in Fiction at Columbia University and is a Ph.D. candidate in Media Studies at Rutgers University. She has published and presented scholarship on comics and animation, Internet subcultures, and the value of transgression, with her most recent work appearing in Fibreculture. Her first novel, Invictus, was published in 2004, and she has also been published in Black Clock, theNewerYork, Consequence, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal, and DIAGRAM.