… the Book of Records was set in a future that hadn’t yet arrived.

"I have this idea that … maybe, a long time ago, the Book of Records was set in a future that hadn't yet arrived. That's why it seems so familiar to us now. The future is arriving. We've come all this way to meet it."

"Or maybe," he said, "it's we who keep returning to the same moment."

"Next time, we'll meet in another place, won't we, Sparrow?"

"Yes, Zhuli."

Time in this book is circular: the offspring of one set of characters wander, at first apparently further and further away from the route the previous generation took, only to return to the same point, tracing multitudinous paths that depict a shape already described in the name of one character – Swirl, or 漩涡.

In such a world, a book of records is at once chronicle and prophesy, history and omen; worse, a record (传) is both recount and narrative, it can be both fiction and fact. And so the story of Da-Wei and May Fourth wandering in separate worlds, deserts and cities, continues to haunt the lives of the living, containing within it seeds that flower into separation and revolution. Names, roles, places can change, because they are shown to be but details, mere details; but the pattern, the swirl, remains. There is rumination at work here on what can only be described as the human condition, or our shared destiny: always a coming together, always close but not quite within touching distance, a perpetual war that turns us against each other, a false revolution or attempt to break from the past that is always catching up with us and holding us thrall. An all-too-human vanity, the belief that we can break away from history, is the main player here.

A swirl, in essence, is both order and disorder: there is movement, a dizzying pirouette away from the centre; yet there is stasis also, a dark and stable centre of gravity to which all movement is destined to return to. The ancients among the Chinese teach us that dualism of this kind is merely a symptom of human thought, and not reality; if there is no order without disorder, no black without white, no reality without fantasy, no coming together without going away — what are we left with but relationships and patterns, what are we left with but words, symbol and music?


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