In the second year of my college depression, I made a poster for my dorm room wall out of yellow construction paper, black permanent marker, and glittery nail polish.
“Not-Not,” it said in bold black letters, that sparkled in the light.
There was a definition underneath, that I’m not remembering.
Not-not was a term I stumbled across in my class “The History of Modern China.” As an ancient culture shifted and shook, and struggled to invent characters to fit ideas imported pell mell across the nineteenth century — justice, democracy, Marxism–the old world shattered and a new China was born.
Not-not. The opposite of nothingness. Not necessarily somethingness, but not nothing.
For someone struggling to adjust to a world marred with a new found void, I found the concept of not-not reassuring. I was not myself, as I struggled through my second episode of prolonged and deep depression, shocked by the loss of the me I had grown throughout life to know. I was not not myself, for this was still me. But it was a different me–a slower, sadder me, who struggled to concentrate and express my ideas, who gained twenty pounds and inhabited a body that did not move like the one I had grown up in.
I was not me. Life was not worth living.
And I was not-not me. Life was not-not worth living.
Reading Francesca Milliken’s blog “The Not Me” that chronicles her devastating depression, makes me remember the college me who needed to know that not-not existed, who saw the sparkly writing on the wall and was reminded that there was a space between being and nothingness that could be inhabited and claimed by a word and life could go on.
I just google searched “not-not China” in an attempt to find the definition, and instead found a recent movie by Chinese modern artist Zhou Chen. In 2013, he made the film “I’m not not not Chen Zhou,” exploring China’s modern art world.
Zhou Chen proudly inhabits the space of not-not. I first saw his work a few years back in the National Art Gallery in Washington D.C. On the ground were ancient Ming vases. Next to them were ancient Ming vases covered in cheap modern house paints. Nail polish bright colors with McDonald’s logos, and a video and picture series of himself smashing the vases to the ground, and shards of the broken vases. The ancient Ming vases that are treasures of modern China, now desecrated by Warhol-esque neon paint, become neither treasures of ancient China nor not-treasures of ancient China. They are not-not treasures of ancient China, and in the affirmative statement of opposite forms of being at the same time, express the not-not me who thinks these thoughts today.