The Metaphor Detox Center: Excerpt from Sheng Keyi’s 锦灰

Tupelo Quarterly has just published an excerpt from Sheng Keyi’s dystopian novel, The Metaphor Detox Center (锦灰, 盛可以 著), entitled The Love Experiment:

She became acquainted with a few fellow patients at the centre. Like them, she’d heard of shelters, treatment centres for drug addiction, mental health clinics and so on, but only once she was dispatched to the Metaphor Detox Centre did she learn of its existence. She read the following introduction on the wall of the centre’s reception hall:

As a society’s level of civilization progresses, new illnesses will always emerge to threaten the physical and mental health of the people. The Metaphor Malady is one such disease. It is a form of mental illness, but one that does not entirely belong to the psychological domain. During its initial stage it is not easily detectable; in its middle stage it affects social stability; and in the latter stage involves descent into a manic state of which the patient is unaware. Its potential for contagion and harm is not inferior to a ton of dynamite placed within a crowd.

At present, newly diagnosed cases are growing at a rate of over fifty per cent, sufferers in the mid- or late-stage account for eight per cent of the total affected population, and the mortality rate is four per cent. The government has allocated specialists and funds to establish the Metaphor Detox Centre, which is devoted to servicing the afflicted. The great majority do recover, and relapses are rare. Since the Centre was established it has repeatedly won praise from the authorities.

She was assigned a space of her own with a little window in the door, a small bed, and a narrow bedside table. On the wall hung a little painting that contained a portrait — someone she recognized. He died years ago, and has morphed into a guardian spirit among the common folk. She turned the portrait towards the wall. The philosophical works of successive national leaders were stacked neatly on the end-table, colours smudged with dirt, edges bent from turning, and pages covered in dark, greasy fingerprints. You could tell that the tomes doubled as hand-wipes.

She was informed that a thorough inspection would be conducted the next day, and one requirement was to recite the Core Values of Socialism. Half an hour later, her counsellor opened the door and entered, explained the importance of the various philosophical works, and emphasized that perusing them and comprehending their spirit comprised an adjuvant therapy for overcoming her addiction.

The lean-fleshed woman possessed a face that bordered on despair, riven with pits in its youth. In Yao’s eyes, this category of female was filled with affection for the masses, typically neglected the pursuit of physical beauty, and looked with contempt upon others who were keen to dress well and excel at metaphor creation.

Yao didn’t heed the bony woman’s advice. Those Chinese characters were harder than turds, she said. She had an obsession for text that was aesthetically pleasing, that possessed charm and humanity, words rich with allegorical significance. Authentic things all exuded human warmth. Even before she could read, her mother had taught her to distinguish and distance herself from deceptive language that glinted like gold.

She recalled how the wizened woman’s face, peppered by myriad pot-holes, became creased with rage: “Bed 64, you’re lucky to have been born in this country. The government has invested huge amounts of labour and material in order to save you metaphor addicts!”

“This disease doesn’t even occur in other countries,” retorted Yao.

The bony female was momentarily speechless, evidently lacking confidence in her knowledge of the rest of the world. “The climate and environment of each country are distinct,” she said, emboldened by her uniform. “The illnesses one has are naturally different. Like Ebola, which only occurs in West Africa.”

She reckoned her words were utterly correct. “You completely understand the reasoning,” she said, unwittingly revealing her incisors. “It’s just that your conscience remains encased in a thin layer of precious jade pieces stitched together with golden thread like the burial suit of an ancient noble. It’s high time this relic be placed in a museum for display.” 

“Your Metaphor Malady has recurred,” the counsellor interrupted herself, “so now we have to inject you with Mind-Control Solution.” Via the compact walkie-talkie she always carried, she contacted the Nursing Centre. “Attention: Injection for Bed 64. Injection for Bed 64.”

To read the full excerpt, click here.

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