Purple Light

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Excerpt from Applied Ballardianism: A Theory of Nothing

After I’d cleared customs, a man blocked my way. He said he was a taxi driver, that he could take me anywhere I wanted to go for very little money. I accepted. I was tired and my mind was dull. I have never been a fast thinker, even when fully rested, and have always yearned for a ‘slow thinking’ movement that could validate my kind, like the ‘slow food’ and ‘slow travel’ movements.

I followed him like an obedient puppy. I told him the name of my hotel and entered his car. We drove and the meter ticked over. He was no taxi driver. He knew what he was. He knew I knew, so he dropped the small talk and we continued on in silence. I was resigned to it. I knew we would reach my hotel eventually, after he had taken me far out of my way, and charged me the fare he intended to charge. That was OK. Dubai was his country.

Through the windscreen, dreaming architectural spires pierced the heat haze. The road was enclosed on all sides by enormous, variegated skyscrapers. I will never forget that sight. I had never heard of the Burj Khalifa, today the world’s tallest building, but I was looking at its exoskeleton, under construction, halfway to the sky. It reminded me of the film, The Man with X-Ray Eyes. A scientist invents a serum that gives him X-ray vision, but he is tortured to madness when it allows him to peer into the fourth dimension. At first, he sees through everyday objects, like the exteriors of buildings. Repulsed, yet fascinated, he declares: ‘I see the city as if it were unborn. Limbs without flesh, girders without stone, signs hanging without supports, wires dipping and swaying without poles. Flesh dissolved in an acid of light. A city of the dead.’

In the taxi of that man, who may well have turned out to be something more threatening than a mere scam artist, I was flattened under glass, observing this unborn dead city.