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kintsugi of the soul – phillip o’neil’s mental shrapnel (by hilbert david)

The forms we know, on each scale level, have collected into themselves by accretion, from the debris of previous forms. Earth and Sun are stardust, while we ourselves are comprised of fragment proteins, endocrines, and other factors which have joined electrostatically, having found each other within soups of bioplasm…

Our lives are arranged from fragments of other lives, and from the fragments of our own lives. A process of kintsugi evolved in Japan, to form objects from the shrapnel of previous forms, as metaphors for the authenticity of our own fractures.

Ceramics may be shattered intentionally to create fragments for repair, a step which is unneeded to begin a kintsugi of ourselves, of our own lives… lives which are shattered unavoidably, through the very process of living.

Seams and joints are bound with gold to honor reunions of history, in a technique which is as much process as it is outcome, as it is effect.

Mental Shrapnel is a process account of a certain kintsugi of the soul, of a trauma-scrambled Anglophone who is challenged to sort shards of himself, both real and imagined, strewn along impressions of Sarajevo which have vandalized his cognitive geography.

The account is an investigation by (and of) a distressed, unreliable narrator — but the text of Shrapnel is code… a code designed to re-write brain chemistry, prompting pharmaceutical effects while the pages of its background are turned, and for some time thereafter.

Shrapnel bits, rendered as text, appear within underlying structures whose architecture is suggested by pattern. The narrator’s task (and ours) is to recognize this pattern by way of clues, reified by code in the form of loops, doubles, parallels, shape-shifters, mirror images, and… twins.

Kintsugi often involves “joint calls”, where similarly shaped but non-matching fragments are substituted for originals. Though some Shrapnel objects are real, its hallucinations are also genuine, and no less apt for assembly…

Fragment collection begins in Prague, where shards of Chris Mahler have cut his very flesh. Forms of Cyn, his helper and guide, lead Chris through an institution, either real or imagined, which is equipped to catalyze his reconstruction… in its own idiosyncratic way.

Mahler, who suffers from an absence of will and motive, shows fault lines beyond this abulia:

‘Abulia is not an individual diagnosis,’ [Dr. Steinfelder] said. ‘It’s a symptom that fits in with a number of personality changes. Only with our patient here it has been difficult to establish whether abulia has been a result of his injuries sustained during his, er, ‘fall’ or as a part of a pattern of his PTSD.’ (128)

PTSD, a “…replication ad nauseam of the same brutal event” (101), has caused Mahler’s life pattern to loop. Degenerative phasing, artifacts of a decay in loop parameters, have inspired a certain COTS (“Communism of the Soul”) where…

Utopianism masked as perfectionism becomes a rationalized way of doing absolutely nothing but dither… The continual need to keep all fantasies on the boil in several parts of the globe inadvertently leads to disassociation, personality splits, and a Divided Self. (118)

To recover Mahler’s most vital division, that of his lover (and counterpart) Jasmina (“Jazz”) — who has herself fragmented, dispersed and vanished — doctors of The Facility prescribe “PeaceZone therapy”, involving a tour through their metaphoric USDM (“United States of Dependent Memory”), which begins thus:

My mind was opening up like a trapdoor… (189) I was jolted awake by a body drop thump through a trapdoor above me… A neck snapped body… bound hand and foot with leather harnesses and chais, head bagged. Dangling man above my printer. (194)

A regional dichotomy between a “PeaceZone” and a “WarZone”, this USDM is not only Sarajevo, but hemispheres of Mahler’s cognition, bridged by a corpus callosum, accessed by way of a “pigmy sized tunnel” through the drain of a flush toilet in PeaceZone’s Café Medusa… (278), with cartography resembling either yin-yang sides or, alternately:

two bodies…

one man and one woman…

doing the 69.


USDM architecture informs a kintsugi process, guided by a shape-shifting version of Cyn styled as Cath R., or “Cathar” [Cathar(-sis)].

Pattern clues trace contours of Shrapnel’s edges, while Mahler’s voice invokes tones of noir detectives who struggled through their own investigations, through their own dangerous terrain. It is our task to recognize the shapes he describes, as he binds his fragments together.

Accretion completes within either a decade or an instant, forming a recombinant whole both real and imagined, fulfilling Steinfelder’s promise:

[Dr. Steinfelder]: “once you’ve found Jazz… you’ll be one happy, united bunny.’

‘Well, scratch the “happy” bit. That’s going to take some work on your part.’ (179)


About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.


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"Modernity today is not in the hands of the poets, but in the hands of the cops" // Louis Aragon
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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
January 2021
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