I had some dreams; or, Tan Chui Mui in my coffee…


Adam & Eve, Sara Chong, 2011

by Jeremy Fernando

[dedicated to Denah Johnston & Kym Farmen, without whom this piece would not have been possible]

As far as I am concerned, a mind’s arrangement with regard to certain objects is even more important than its regard for certain arrangements of objects, these two kinds of arrangement controlling between them all forms of sensibility.

— André Breton [1]

It speaks to me.

Or perhaps, I should say: her film speaks to me.

But, what does it mean, what can it possibly mean to say that? For, it is not as if films speak; nor are their filmmakers there—at the site where this alleged speaking to, speech, takes place — as one is watching the film. And even if one knows the filmmaker, even if one has watched the film because the filmmaker is a friend, even if I had spoken with Tan Chui Mui long before I had ever seen, watched, Tanjung Malim 有棵(A Tree in Tanjung Malim). For, even if one speaks with the one who makes the film before, or after, watching the film, even if said filmmaker gives one a running commentary as the film is played, that would be someone — granted not just any but one with an intimate relation with the moving images — speaking over the film.

The film itself remains silent.

For, what is cinema but the relationship between images moving through time [2] and sound. And the one who watches, bears witness to this. Film speaks, not to the one who watches, but to itself. Thus, silent movie is a tautology: films are always silent. What they show, share, are their images: their sound, their speech, is for themselves alone.

And the one who watches eavesdrops.

Attempting to listen to, into, something that was never even meant for her. Perhaps what (s)he hears is not only a transgression, a trespass, but more importantly, might have nothing to do with the sound that is in relation with the moving pictures itself. Not that the sound, speech, within the film is any different from the one (s)he hears, but that the speeches, sounds, (s)he hears might well only be the ones (s)he hears. For, here it might be apt to open our receptors to André Breton’s reminder that “time is a tease. Time is a tease because everything has to happen in its own time.” [3] And the speaking in the film — the speech of the film — occurs in its own time; a time that has naught to do with the time of the one who sees. And yet, as (s)he watches, (s)he sees in her own time, can only see in her time; quite possibly brings the sound (s)he hears into her time.

Thus, not for her and yet always only for her.

Perhaps all we hear are our “mind’s arrangement with regard to certain objects” … nothing more, and infinitely nothing less.

Perhaps then, always already, Tanjung Malim 有棵 (My Tree in Tanjung Malim). [4]


I was thinking … Even if I failed to get to where I wanted to go … I get
to see beauty anyway.
(the girl)

Mr Panda … his biggest wish in life … is to see a colour photograph of
(beautiful loser)

They speak.

Perchance to dream.

Certainly, they speak of dreams, their dreams, dreams perhaps even of themselves — “would you ever fall for me” — , speak of their dreams of having dreams.

And perhaps, as they speak, we dream of hearing them speak, of them speaking.

But since we speak of speaking, since you might have heard some speech, some ones speaking, perhaps it might be time to attend to the question of: what is it to speak? Which is also the question of: what is it to speak with? For, there is no speech — or, at least, no known speech; no knowledge of there being speech — unless one is heard speaking, even if it is oneself that is hearing one speak.

Thus, to speak is to converse, to be in conversation.

Bearing in mind that to converse is to live with, to turn about (vertere) with (con). Which does not necessarily mean agreement: for, to converse is also to be the exact opposite. Which means that: to converse is to be with whilst also possibly turning around (conversus), turning about (convertere). However, even as there might be a disagreement it is an opposition that continues to maintain the relation; maintains the poles on the same plane as it were; that still agree to be with, even as both are turning, moving around. That even as there might be divergences, even as one is momentarily turned away from or even against (versus) the other, there is always already an openness to the possibility of changing one’s mind, one’s position, an openness to the possibility of conversion.

That, even as the beautiful loser replies in the negative to the girl’s question—tells the girl to “give me a break. Take a look at yourself. You’re not even grown” — this is a no that does not negate, that certainly does not remain certain. After all, she will grow, is growing, has already grown as his answer is being uttered. But, whether this ever happens or not is perhaps only known, can only be known, in the time of the film itself—in the conversation between the two that follows, that perhaps continues.

However, it is the turn in conversation — the turn in the coming together, in the with—that might be crucial to us. For, even as I posit that film is silent, that the sound in films remains for the film, it is not as if we do not form a relationality with the sound that we hear, that we listen into; even if the sound is not there, even if we do not hear a sound, even if there is no speech for us to hear. And, it would be too simple—and erroneous—to say that the sound, any sound, comes from us, from the one who hears. For, if that were true, we would never be able to have a conversation about the speech in films, never be able to share an experience of the sound of films with another. Thus, even as we consider the possibility that the speech in film happens in its own time — and that our hearing of it occurs in our time—we might also open the dossier that it is in the turn, during the turn, that both times meet, come together, converse. That even as both might well be completely different registers—perhaps even completely opposite, oppositional, ones — they still maintain the possibility of speaking to one another.

That in that perhaps silent speech — silent enactment of speech; speaking that remains silent—between the sound in relation to the images and the sound we hear, there might be speech; they might be speaking with each other. A speech that perhaps occurs at the very moment where the images are moving from one to the next, turning from one to another. One that is perhaps as illusory as the very movement itself. A speech, a speaking, that might well remain beyond us. Even as we might — even as we clearly do — hear it speak.

Thus, a speech that remains silent even as we hear it. That retains a silence for itself even as it is heard. That speaks to us even as it retains its silence.

That keeps its secret from us even as we listen in, listen in on, it.


« On ne voit rien. On n’entend rien. Et cependant quelque chose
rayonne en silence … »

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry [5]

You see nothing. You hear nothing. And yet something shines,
something sings in that silence …

The Little Prince, translated by Richard Howard [6]

Secrets perhaps shine.

And, this might well be the way in which we detect — or, at least, this is possibly how we might catch a glimpse of — the secret that the sound, the speech in film, keeps for itself.

That little glimmer that calls out to us.

That is perhaps the very sound of a film that calls out — to us. Calls us forth to see, calls forth to us to look, to think, to think with it, to attend to it, be with it — if only for a moment.

For, one should try not to forget that the content of secrets rarely matter. Knowing my mother’s maiden name is not all that important, unless you also know that it is the password for my bank account. Thus, the power of secrets lies in the knowledge of their significance — as secrets.

Perhaps this is why everyone can hear the same sounds from, speech in, a film, hear the same silence — for, it is not as if the silence is separate from the sound, from the speaking, but that the sound brings with it its silence, is in conversation with its silence, is with (con) its very own opposite (versus) — but not notice, not attend to, its rays, its “shining.”

Which is not to say that just because one attempts to attend to this glimpses that one knows anything more than another who does not. For, the power of a secret is in maintaining itself, keeping itself, secret even though one knows that it is one. In fact, a secret always needs a community: if only one persons knows of it, it is hardly a secret — secrets have to be shared, but at the same time only by some. A shared exclusion, an exclusionary sharing. Where perhaps all the ones that are in communion in, through, the secret know is that they share a secret.

Thus, even as one thinks—perhaps hopes — that one is catching a glimpse of this secret, this silence in speech, even if one is attempting to open oneself to its possibilities, open oneself to speaking with, being in communion with, conversing with, this absolutely otherness that is this silence, one always also is running the risk that one might well be speaking not just with another but with oneself.

And perhaps, that is the true risk of opening oneself to this secret: that one discovers not just that there is a silence in the film that remains hidden from one’s glimpse, that remains secret from one, but that there is always also potentially a silence in oneself, a silence in one to oneself.


I missed my stop on the bus this morning. Ended up in the middle of
nowhere. There was a tree by the side of the road. White flowers
constantly falling … the flowers were thin like serviette.
(the girl)

You’d already told me earlier
(beautiful loser)

Perhaps this time, it was for us.

Or, at least I’d like so.


And as for the calling out from the film — “Tan Chui Mui, what the hell do you know” — that perhaps should remain between the film and its maker. Not that we can unhear it, but we should resist the attempt — the pretense even — to know. For, it would have been too easy to claim that the film is alluding to autobiography, or that the film is aware of itself as film, of its making, its maker.

But we shall save ourselves from such banality.

And merely allow it to echo in us, allowing us to remind ourselves of the fact that as we watch, we listen, that

… no one sings me lullabies
And no one makes me close my eyes
So I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky

(Pink Floyd, Echoes)



[1] André Breton. Nadja. translated by Richard Howard. New York: Grove Press, 1960: 16.

[2] Or, as Gilles Deleuze might say, “if one puts together a block of movements/ duration, perhaps one does cinema. It is not a matter of invoking a story or of contesting one. Everything has a story. Philosophy tells stories as well. Stories with concepts. Cinema tells stories with blocks of movement/ duration.” (Gilles Deleuze. ‘Having an Idea in Cinema: on the Cinema of Straub-Huillet’, translated by Eleanor Kaufman, in Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari. New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture. edited by Eleanor Kaufman & Kevin Jon Heller. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998: 15)

[3] André Breton. Nadja, 102.

[4] After all why would one think about — write about — a film unless it speaks to one? A line, an admission, that perhaps can only be uttered, admitted to, that is only permissible, in secret, as a secret.

[5] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Le Petit Prince. Paris: Gallimard, 2000: 80.

[6] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Little Prince. translated by Richard Howard. New York: Harcourt, 2000: 68.

About the Author:


Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at the European Graduate School, where he is also a Reader in Contemporary Literature & Thought. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy and the media; and has written six books — including Reading Blindly, and Writing Death. Exploring other media has led him to film, music and art; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong and Singapore. He is the general editor of both Delere Press, and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and a Fellow of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore.