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Stop motion paper collage by Julia Diallo

Lived metaphors and designed hierarchy, or: thoughts of a table

August 7, 2020

* This piece was initially conceived as part of and submitted to Onomatopee’s CriticALL!.

When I was born, I was given an agenda. It felt good to have a purpose, you know? You feel fresh and strong. Although I don’t really participate in romance, the idea of carrying life and death on my back was enticing. My makers raised me well, and now that I’m getting older, I can see how much I bear resemblance to them – how much I’ve learned from them, embodied their ideals.

What I’ve come to realise is that, as time passes, the less I can identify with myself. Although I look older, feel older, sound older, smell older and taste older, all I’ve ever experienced hasn’t changed my behaviour. I’m stubborn: good intentions or not, I’ve always acted the same. It’s not that I feel inherently for either side, it’s just that I’m swayed too easily sometimes. And as a scale in balance is easier tipped than a biased one, I now can sense my equilibrium turning against me. My optimistic indifference feels more and more like self-destructive inaction.

I was created this way, consciously or by neglect, mirroring and inheriting my era’s seminal problems and aspirations. And it’s not just me: A lot of my friends have survived their own ideals, getting repurposed and becoming new players for power. When we meet, it’s always engaging, though being able to pick my own friends would be nice from time to time. In the course of my life I’ve met many interesting characters, but a lot were chosen for me, ultimately only consolidating my prejudices. Opportunity rarely rests on the inactive.

As you take your place at my side, you assume a position assumed for you some time ago, by design. Through this benign and casual interaction I become the silent enabler, a plinth for imposing hierarchy. As you look around, you notice your newfound perspective as the head of the table: literally, both physically and socioeconomically. Shouldn’t I be reassessing the status quo, not reaffirming it? Why did I stop fostering new ways of autonomy, non-hierarchy and equality? When did I start ruling, only extending my parents’ assertions?

I’ve got legs, yet I cannot run. I’ve got a back that I cannot scratch. I divide the top from the bottom, and the powerful from the powerless. My physical form legitimises and upholds dated social constructs. My program limits and dictates. Why am I chauvinistic without having a gender? I feel bad because someone has decided my character and future for me. But what if I wanted to change?

Even though I’m alive, I’m trapped in this immovable body. I’m here to serve, quietly, without ever changing. I’m the silent force, my trivial presence is my camouflage. I’m the backup dancer to inequality. Every time I see bad things happening, I want to scream. So my hope lies in my weaknesses, as a desire builds to break. My inchoate ageing makes me younger. For when I vanish, new things can happen.