Features

The translator of the original novel “Silhouette of Desire”, Sho Fukutomi on “Pratthana – A Portrait of Possession”

Sho Fukutomi, the translator of the original novel “Silhouette of Desire” by Uthis Haemamool, wrote us an introduction on “Pratthana – A Portrait of Possession”.

 

“Pratthana” – this Thai word would generally be translated “desire.” But its meaning is not confined to sexual, wild desires; it encompasses wishes and hopes that look to the future.

In the eyes of people coming from outside it, Thailand is apt to be viewed as having a society that is easy-going and full of smiles. This, however, is only a superficial deportment. Behind it are manifest violent desires that should essentially be hidden in deeper places. At distances all too readily in sight are the memory of street battles where much blood was shed, shadows of lives that disappeared, and traces of words from mouths that were shut. These vestiges can be found all over this society.

Research at Thammasat University in Bangkok, photo by Uthis Haemamool

This desire is strongly linked to the nation-body of Thailand. The organic nation theory, which likens the nation to a human body and the members of its society to bodily organs, appears in many writings by members of the Thai royal family. For example: “The hair is the same as the people. If one is lost, you feel nothing. But if many are lost, you feel lonely.” (Vajirananavarorasa). Again: “The country is like a body / The king is the soul … / The royal family are the two arms / The army is the feet … / The people are / Numerous weapons / Even if the people are excellent / Destruction follows if the soul and body become separated / Is it right for weapons without holders / to go to the battlefield themselves? /” (Rama I). Then there is the concept of “geo-body” proposed by the historian Thongchai Winichakul. Thailand drew its national boundaries through parley with the Western powers, and imagined/created its realm on the map as a nation-body. But in the patchwork geo-body on the map are organs that are suddenly broken off as alien matter as well as organs suddenly inserted, all in line with the awareness of controlling the body. When fused with ideas of metempsychosis and karma plus paternalistic thought in search of “good persons” and “father figures,” this geo-body theory legitimatizes the disparities, inequalities, and unfairness in Thai society.

Research in Bangkok near Royal Palace, photo by Uthis Haemamool

This work relates the career of past desires from the perspective of 2016 as the present. They are the desires of various organs in the body that is Thailand and of individuals living there. As if to run counter to the dynamics of the dynamic equilibrium in an organic body, they want to stop and keep the moment in time, reject change, and protect themselves. These clammy and ugly desires come back from the past as ghosts, and attempt to possess and control us in the present and future.

Nevertheless, we have obtained words, gestures, emotions, and images to impart meaning and give form to these ghosts. They are in “Silhouette of Desire,” the novel on which this work is based, and “Pratthana – A Portrait of Possession.” And the desire for catharsis and liberation waiting beyond them.

The catharsis before our eyes is definitely not pretty or soothing. But we absolutely must liberate our desires, souls, and bodies from possession. This is the only path to bring light back into our lives after they have been shattered and extinguished.

— Sho Fukutomi, August 2018

Research in Bangkok near Chao Phraya River, photo by Uthis Haemamool

Left: cover of original novel “Silhouette of Desire” by Uthis Haemamool, Right: “Sketches of Desire” by Uthis Haemamool