No History is Ever Lost


Transient Solidarity

Volume 8, Issue 03
December 2, 2022

Before the model fair, I sent my studio critic (who is an Asian American woman) a paragraph from Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong:

We have a content problem. They think we have no inner resources. But while I may look passive. I’m frantically paddling my feet underwater, always overcompensating to hide my devouring feelings of inadequacy. [1]

I told her: I don’t want to paddle anymore. As minorities in a white space, we keep our heads down and believe our hard work would earn us approval for our conditional existence. It only makes us disappear. I simply wanted to excuse myself from the rat race of chasing an impossible goal. Instead of telling me what I said was irrelevant to my work, she was empathetic.

I have been feeling this exhaustion for a while. Weeks before the large-scale model deadline, a protester unfurled two banners on a highway overpass in Beijing, criticizing China’s Zero-COVID policy and demanding democracy. The image hit home hard: It was the overpass next to my mom’s apartment that I had to pass through every weekend before I moved to Canada. Knowing all too well the eventual fate of the protestor, I was angry about the series of events that led to this rare exhibit of public outrage and was devastated by the state of my country.

As is true for many diasporic Chinese, our collective consciousness exists in places of exile. Toni Morrison described this state of foreignness as “of not being at home in one’s homeland; of being exiled in the place one belongs.” [2] The unreasonable, strict regime of my homeland pushed me even further to a place where my reality only exists on the fringe.

However, days after the banner was taken down in Beijing and the man behind it disappeared, thousands of posters started to appear all over the world. They appear one after the other, like waves, echoing his discontent. I’ve realized that the exhausted grief for the motherland is a collective grief, and I am not alone.
During these weeks of emotional unrest, I attended a lecture titled Nothing is Ever Lost to History by Karen Barad at Yale. [3] She talked about the act of forcefully erasing history as an instrument for the re-worlding of the world. Thus, time is not linear—no history is ever lost. After the lecture, I went up to Karen. I couldn’t stop thinking about Chinese politics the whole time during your lecture, I told her. It gave me hope that we are not just fighting a futile war. Even though Karen was specifically theorizing in a Jewish context, she understood my sentiments and responded: “Remember, because time is not linear and the erased is never gone. Just by tracing the attempts of erasure we are fanning the spark of hope in the past. [4]

Maybe in a way, we are changing history too.

[1] Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning.
[2] Toni Morrison, The Foreigner’s Home
[3] Karan Barad Lecture series “Energetics Of The Otherwise And The Material Force Of Justice: Diffractive Readings Of Walter Benjamin And Quantum Physics
[4] Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History.

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Volume 8, Issue 03
December 2, 2022