We All Live in Purgatory

By Jin-yeong Yi

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry - Fiery Purgatory

Trapped in purgatory
A lifeless object, alive
Awaiting reprisal
Death will be their acquisition

The sky is turning red
Return to power draws near
Fall into me, the sky’s crimson tears
Abolish the rules made of stone

Pierced from below, souls of my treacherous past
Betrayed by many, now ornaments dripping above

Awaiting the hour of reprisal
Your time slips away

Raining blood
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!

—Slayer, “Raining Blood”

One time in an art class in high school, I was listening to a conversation being held among classmates I was sitting with. One of them, a female punk, wondered aloud if this world was Hell itself. When her friend disagreed, arguing that it wasn’t “bad enough,” she immediately shot back with “How do you know?” Incidentally, the late Chuck Schuldiner (Death) actually once said that this world was Hell, and that there were demons in people.

I tend to take a more moderate position. In my post on Painkiller, I noted that I saw the game as a metaphor for life, and I feel strongly as ever about this. This world is neither Heaven nor Hell. This world is Purgatory. Unlike Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is a mixed bag–here one finds beauty as well as ugliness, good as well as evil, reasons to live as well as reasons to die. Also, unlike Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is not static; it’s a journey rather than a destination. It is a temporary state of being, one full of perils–and possibilities. Above all, it’s a perpetual war, full of uncertainty, chaos, horror, suffering, and death.

If we’re here for a reason, I doubt it’s to pursue happiness, which is as elusive as a pot of gold on the other side of a rainbow. The sum of my observations and experiences suggests to me that, if we’re here for a reason, it’s to do battle, to oppose our wills and wits to the howling fury of demons within and without us.

So pick up your sword–or your Painkiller, if you happen to own one of those–and brace yourself for the next battle, with a smile of grim determination on your battered and bloodied face. Having some kickass music playing in the background wouldn’t hurt either.

The Transcendental Longing

By Jin-yeong Yi

“You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”

—Morpheus, The Matrix

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

—Henry David Thoreau

“Calm, lasting beauty comes only in a dream, and this solace the world had thrown away when in its worship of the real it threw away the secrets of childhood and innocence.”

—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Silver Key”

“‘The person has two states: this one and the state of the other world. The third, intermediate, state is that of dreaming sleep. When he rests in the intermediate state, he sees both states: this one and the state of the other world. When he has gone by whatever way it is that one gains the state of the other world, he sees both evils and joys. When he falls asleep, he takes with him the material of this all-containing world, himself breaks it up, himself re-makes it. He sleeps by his own radiance, his own light. Here the person becomes lit by his own light.
‘There are no chariots, nor chariot-horses, nor roads there, but he creates chariots, chariot-horses and roads. There are no pleasures, nor enjoyments, nor delights there, but he creates pleasures, enjoyments and delights. There are no ponds, nor lotus-pools, nor rivers there, but he creates ponds, lotus-pools and rivers. For he is a maker.’”

The Upanishads

As I mentioned in a previous entry, one of the biggest discoveries of my life was that freedom doesn’t exist in this world. And never have I felt so strongly about this as I have this December, the month that is supposed to be my favorite time of the year. Perhaps that’s because I’ve never felt so aware of how much of a slave I am to reality.

I am a superlatively greedy person. Believe it. No amount of material possessions or even positive experiences could ever satiate me, because my desires are infinite. I am so greedy, in fact, that not even the entire universe, to say nothing of the entire world, would be able to satisfy me. If there is something that would be able to satisfy me, it would be something that perhaps will forever be beyond my reach: unlimited freedom, the state of being bound by nothing except the limits of my imagination.

The situation of my niece, who is in her final year as a toddler, illustrates the point for me. On Christmas Eve, while I was sitting in the kitchen having dinner, I heard her and her father (my brother-in-law) in the other room arguing for the hundredth time. She was throwing a tantrum because she didn’t want to dress for Christmas dinner. As her father was an attorney and a lover of literature equipped a strong command of the English language, she was naturally losing the contest of wills. As I listened to her miserable, defeated wails, I thought about how the world made so much more sense if I looked at the whole of it as a prison. My adventurous niece, so full of vitality and curiosity, was only beginning to discover just how limited her freedom really was.

In my view, the real trouble with the human condition actually has nothing to do with economics, politics, law, race, religion, science, art, culture, or the 1,001 other issues that we discuss and debate ad infinitum. The trouble is a vast conspiracy. Not a conspiracy of man, but a conspiracy of nature. It is what placed each and every one of us in a prison that we cannot see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. This prison is not a particular society, or a country, or even a planet. It’s not the “Matrix.” It’s the real world itself. It’s a place where we’re trapped in vessels of crude matter that are always at the mercy of forces that are pitiless, capricious, and indifferent. It’s a place where we are forced to waste decades of our lives struggling to collect pieces of fancy paper and metal tokens; where we are forced to push and shove each other out of the way for that job, that house, that girl/guy, or that parking spot. It’s a place where we are forced to wait in long lines. It’s a place where we’re always being dragged down by the needs and expectations of others. It’s a place where we are forever slaves to time, always having to be at a certain place at a certain point on a sequence-cycle of numbers. It’s a place where we are forced to live in constant anxiety and fear. It’s a place that refuses to bend to our wills, to be moved by our desires. It’s a place where we know how to fly, but were never given wings. It’s a place that promises so much and makes good on so little of it, perpetually setting us up for frustration, failure, disappointment, and regret.

This is why I think that it is meaningless to complain or be bitter that my life in the real world is not what I’d hoped it would be, because it would be like an inmate complaining or being bitter that his life in prison is not what he’d hoped it would be. In both cases, it is silly to have had expectations. There are redeeming things about the real world, of course, in the same way there are redeeming things about prison, but that doesn’t change the nature of the place. The real world is a prison. Not just this society or even this planet as a whole—this entire universe is a prison. And all of us are inmates.

The real world is beyond help. It has always been, and always shall be. No ideology, no religion, no politics, no science, no art, no music, or any other form of human ingenuity can ever save this place, because to save it would mean to change the fundamental nature of it. The only option, if one exists, is to escape.

Personally, the knowledge of my situation gives me hope. If I didn’t know that I was in prison, I would never have thought to look for a way out. I look at the lifeless stone walls around me, and my mind whispers that I just might be able to escape. I look up at the starry heavens through barred windows, and my spirit shouts out that one day, I will.

Painkiller

By Jin-yeong Yi

Painkiller was an unexpected discovery for me. I found the game on sale on GOG.com during one of their weekend promos. As a longtime fan of first person shooters who had recently rediscovered gaming, I was definitely eager to exercise my trigger finger again. So when I saw Painkiller, I thought, “A gory, M-rated FPS that has you starring as God’s hitman? Good enough for me.”

It’s about a man named Daniel Garner who was killed in a car accident along with his wife Catherine when he was taking her out to dinner for her birthday. Catherine goes straight to heaven, but Daniel is stuck in purgatory, fighting for his soul against Lucifer’s legions. Eventually, God takes notice of Daniel’s fighting abilities, and sends one of His servants to make a deal with Daniel. If he successfully assassinates Lucifer’s four generals, he will be allowed into heaven and be reunited with Catherine. With little left to lose, Daniel naturally accepts, and begins his long trek through purgatory.

I found that Painkiller was definitely not my standard FPS. Save for the boss fights (in terms of sheer size, I’ve never seen creatures that deserve the title of “boss” more than the gargantuan, Lovecraftian monstrosities found in them), there is generally very little strategy to speak of. Stealth is meaningless. Your weapons don’t need to be reloaded. You can’t even crouch. The game is basically the polar opposite of, say, Rainbow Six or Deus Ex. Your only real goal is to kill, kill, kill.

The game apparently gets its odd title from your basic weapon, which is a hideous device that can alternately shred or pierce through flesh and bone with blades that can be either rotated or discharged. The rotating mode is called “Pain” and the projectile mode is called “Killer.” Pretty apt, if you ask me.

In spite of its cheesy plot, tactical simplicity, and quirkiness, the game works. The music is highly generic and unoriginal heavy metal, and yet it gets me pumped up for a fight, as it is undoubtedly supposed to. The locations (ranging from opera houses to Middle Eastern palaces) are beautifully crafted and often imbue each battle with a sense of grandeur. No other video game I’ve played hitherto makes me feel like such a badass as when I’m nailing unruly ghouls to walls with a stake gun, blasting them apart with a shotgun, or sadistically slicing and dicing them with a mutant buzz saw.

I find that Painkiller can be taken as a metaphor for life itself: Sometimes, God fucks you over, and you find yourself with two choices: lie down and perish, or “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”