The Nonexistent Mall

Creative Nonfiction by Jade Mark B Capiñanes |
  1. In 2001 an enormous fire razed Kimball Plaza to the ground. Some say it was an accident, some say it was an inside job, and some even say, invoking a popular urban myth, that it was caused by a humanoid snake. The mall was located along Papaya Street, just next to Pioneer Avenue, General Santos City’s commercial capital then. Today, with their old buildings and their lonely alleys, Papaya Street and Pioneer Avenue seem to be relics of a time long gone.


  1. The mall no longer exists, but locals continue to use its name, “Kimball,” to refer to the place where it used to be. You do not tell the tricycle driver, “Papaya Street lang,” if you want to go there. Tell him, “Kimball lang,” and he knows exactly where it is. Perhaps it is for the sake of convenience, or perhaps it is something Generals have grown accustomed to. But I would like to think that Generals collectively believe that it is less interesting to name the place after a common fruit than to name it after an invisible, nonexistent mall.


  1. The prevailing romantic idea is that a word immortalizes the otherwise ephemeral thing it refers to. “Kimball,” the name, the word, has outlived its former bearer, has defied the mall’s fire, the fire of time.


  1. The entire history of the philosophy of language can be seen as: (1) an attempt to find the connection between language and reality, and then (2) a denial of the presence, or a lamentation of the absence, of such a connection. St. Augustine believed that words referred to actual things, real things we could see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in the world. Which was expected of him: St. Augustine, among other things, was a philosopher of intimacy, of love. He wanted to bridge the gap between words and things, as he did in his ideas on the relationship between human beings and God. Ferdinand de Saussure, on the other hand, argued that language was a system of arbitrary signs: a word was only a “signifier,” and it signified a particular “signified,” a concept, or an idea. The real object, the “referent,” remained outside language.


  1. “Kimball” hence can either be these two things: (1) a word that refers directly to the place where Kimball used to be, or (2) a signifier that only signifies what we conventionally think of when we think of the place where Kimball used to be.


  1. Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote: “The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” Later in his life he rejected his earlier ideas. He went on to believe in “language-games,” “games” in which “players” collectively establish “rules” that tell them exactly what words particularly mean. In simpler terms, for Wittgenstein, a word’s meaning depends solely on how it is used. He still believed, though, that words did not correspond to any real thing in the world—because whether it did or not was not the point of language. The point of language is for us to understand and to be understood.


  1. Thus “Kimball” can also mean a “game” in which the “rule” is that when A tells B, “Kimball lang,” A wants B to drop A off somewhere along Papaya Street, particularly at the place where Kimball, before it burned down, used to be.


  1. Sometimes when I tell the driver, “Kimball lang,” I feel like the place is so far away. I feel like it is moving farther away from me, out of my reach, the moment I think I, while riding the tricycle, am getting near it. And when the tricycle driver finally pulls over, when I finally get off, I then ask myself: “Have I really arrived at Kimball?”


  1. Things ceaselessly recede into the past. Words only recall them: they can only be remembered, not grasped. To utter something (“Kimball,” or “tree,” or “I love you”) is to witness the thing disappear—forever. But what about it if every time I say “Kimball,” or “tree,” or “I love you,” you know exactly what I mean?


  1. Do you?

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Jade Mark B Capiñanes

Jade Mark B Capiñanes won third prize in the Essay Category of the 67th Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for his essay “A Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak.” He is the author of the satirical chapbook series “Vince & Kath & Derrida,” which was named as one of the Best Filipino Books of 2017 by CNN Philippines. He was a writing fellow for essay/creative nonfiction at the 2016 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2017 University of Santo Tomas (UST) National Writers Workshop. His works have appeared in Dagmay, Young Blood 6, New Mandala, and Cotabato Literary Journal, where he once served as nonfiction editor. Formerly an editorial assistant at his alma mater’s research office, he currently works as a research assistant for a project focused on the Bangsamoro in Mindanao. He also serves as the chairperson of Pangandungan, a writers group in General Santos City.

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