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  • Rahul Juneja

When Kalki met Odin

Updated: Apr 30

Rahul Juneja

As I finished reminiscing about the story, a frequency spiked from a distance- like a radio constantly trying to tune itself. It turned into a screech and then into a scream. The scream, however, was unlike any other- It was like a sharp sine wave that could pierce the ears. In the legends, there is a small section on riding sine waves to enter a cosmic frequency, where the frequency starts to reveal secrets of life. With the remembrance of this passage, I felt myself sucked within a large polygonal interface that kept expanding till the clock on my phone went blank. A voice resonated as if coming from between my ears.

Kalki told me; "I had heard once that the Nordic gods had invented Valhalla and Aesir to keep the humans in the mortal realms sane with the impending advent of Ragnarok. The complexity of the death drive that they built within the Aesir model was something Odin devised as a possible measure to overcome the urge to map this possible future. Hence, I went to visit the residue of Odin- Sitting on the very branch from which Odin had hung himself from the Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree that holds all the realms, to gain the world's knowledge.

Kalki: “Does the acknowledgment of your impending doom construct anxieties?”

Odin: "Well, as soon as I heard the oracle prophesying Ragnarok, I started on a journey to try my best to circumvent it, and if not, then avoid it. But, it seems the codex of what the Norns call fate is not editable; even if the system of that codex was constructed by me. My hunger for knowledge did not drive from a genuine curiosity but a fear of the imminent death that I had foreseen on my first breath that I had drawn: of grandeur and ends."

But what of this codex? I refused to believe that I was destined, fated to follow a certain route that was not mine. After all, was it even possible to give birth to something that had no beginning in sight? Isn’t that the cosmic question?"

"I did everything I could to reverse, alter the fabric of reality constantly being woven by this codex; but the thread was so fine, I was almost sure that it was coming out of the Norns' bodies. In the perception, I killed them, and the threads went haywire as I did. But instead of wrapping around me, it started to wrap around the fruit of reality that grows at the top branch of the world tree; if tampered with, it might cause the entire tree to fall."

"The codex was free to be edited, Yet I could not. Open source, if you will. It was not in a language but in the form of an image splurging out the webs like a spider. But the image changed every second; I could barely register it, like some material form of reality that took shape, shot a thread of fabric long enough to establish it, and then changed the very next second, caught up in an eternal entanglement."

"With the thread going haywire, the image started to fade off too, and the whole world was in disbalance. It was not a human-scale catastrophe of wars, fatigue, or plague; it was that time itself had stopped, and the rotting of the material world had begun. Thus, the Norns had to be reinstated, so I hung myself from the Yggdrasil. As the drop of my saliva that left last my mouth would fall on the tree, merge with its golden dew, and then fall in the well of Mimissbunnir, to revive the norns of fate.”

"I think acknowledging this impending doom does two things: Either it makes you act vehemently against it to ensure a drive of survival ensues chaos and violence. Or, it makes you accept it graciously but sends all grammar, all rules, and moral codes into crisis- Does morality even matter when you know your gods, which supposedly govern your fate, are subjected to the same doom you are? If the ultimate destination to reach is death, then one tends to at least think, if not act upon, whatever they want.

The revolt against death had for now been averted. But the mortal plane, knowing now of the impending doom, started manifesting anxiety and going into chaos. Upon revelation of the impending doom as a civilization, there needed to be done something which would give some semblance of purpose to the mortals- The mortals, in our culture, started to follow the story we told- a grand idea of dying every day in war so they could join the Aesir, their gods in the great war at Ragnarok.  We even made an arrangement for the dead, part of the Aesir, to fight in the grand halls, kill each other, and rise again the next day to repeat.

Thus, due to our legend, Any man who died of old age was disdained for not being able to serve the greater purpose of death."

"And thus, people began dying in the name of their all father, to be taken into Valhalla."

Odin paused, as his eyes glittered, almost as if he could see the weave of reality post losing his corporeality.

"Everyone perceives that the gods within my Aesir were cruel, power-hungry, and selfish- who left a wake of death and blood in their path. Valhalla was also perceived on the same plane- However, this was quite different from how the drive to death is understood. This was not any primal biological masochist turn, where there is an inherent urge to return to the inert inorganic- something irrational that is self-destructive, whether conscious or unconscious. In this case, the drive to death is rationalized, and I would go so far as to say, deliberated."

"The impending doom, in our case then, was not anxiety but actually inspired by dealing with the drive of existence- to find a purpose. The urge to find a purpose for their existence was precisely what drove the mortals in my land to die.

Even if that purpose was constructed."

"There was no Aesir when they started dying- Our Ragnarok had already happened, and theirs was coming- There was no immortal presence in that mortal realm.”

An elongated pause. With a heavy, contemplative tone, he continued.

"I wonder why we couldn’t invent something for ourselves like that. Or perhaps we did. Perhaps it was the drive to live within the death drive that we had devised for ourselves, too. The men, which were made in our image, were a mirror that was present in the future- it needed to be within the future for us to ascertain our present.”

Odin took a deep breath. He kept looking downstairs, where the epistemic curator, Niddhog, kept staring, almost as if waiting for something to come down.

Kalki: “ It’s very strange that you bring up the question of giving birth to something which has no visible origin. The codex of fate is something even beyond the creator of my world- Brahma. He once told me that he devised the accounting systems of sins but could not figure out from where the rules just came to him, which he was also not above. Hence, something divine that predates Brahma itself within the written form. Yet, this cyclicity is what angers me, not because of its ontology, but because the people stuck within this cyclical time feel absolutely control-less. I don’t care for this cyclical form of time. After all, nothing is truly circular. It is a spiral. The flatness of the frame of perception renders everything cyclical.”

Odin: “I wish you could have a conversation with Jormungandr. He would have mostly grunted, but if you mention circularity before him, he would devour you alive. In his case, infinity itself is bound to be defeated, go back in time, and wait again for the right time, expand, only to be shrunk again. The world snake is absolutely pissed to be fighting Thor again and again, only to be transferred into a sense of time that nobody understands. Beyond the infinitude. I always wonder, is it because this idea of infinitude is the infinitude defined within the codex?

Kalki: “I think its beyond the frame of infinite, but the real work of the codex is to force something to fashion itself, against its own image that is dictated by another.

I remember once, the Kalpavriksha I was sitting under caught a distress call- Osiris was captured inside a coffin and then grew around it a spectacular blue tree. He died within the tree, and his wife later recovered the body. She hid the body and went to search for the Book of the Dead to revive her husband. Seth, the conspirator, then found him, cut him up further, and threw all the pieces back into the Nile. She recovered all the pieces but could not recover his penis. She still chose to resurrect, but the soul never fully returned- The body was not in the shape of the soul anymore.”

“The same is perhaps true for the image. How does one fashion an image of something and find an origin where there is no vessel to carry the image? I think that was the feeling you had gotten- since it was an image of the codex that was ever-evolving and ever-appropriating, an image of non-registration was the only thing registered. Imitation and similitude are what lie at the undercurrent of this codex. But even a god, with all the knowledge in the world, cannot quantify the logic of imitation and imitate it. The imitation of an imitation is just material reality. Tracing back is tricky.”

Odin: "That might be just it. The desire finds its empathetic interface within the object. I have to tell you about this stone slab, which was instilled with the secret of the cosmos only my father knew; with all the technology that we as a civilization had amassed, the old man still chose to hide it within a stone slab. I know for a fact that it is a trap, but I still want to fall into it. I know that the stone is nothing more than a metaphor for permanence, of something solid, hot, and cold. Something alive and opaque. It makes the reality a little less susceptible to doubt. They told me the Yggdrasil would stop rotting if I found the stone. Something that holds the capacity to solve crises that are beyond any logic. I think it's almost a cruel joke. Just like knowledge."

Kalki took a deep sigh. This precise knowledge and the urge to get some semblance of control was the reason for its curse. If only this codex could be intercepted or glitch on its own somehow. Odin also seemed in deep thought. His soul had almost faded away on the borrowed time that had been stored in a small rotting root of the Yggdrasil, waiting to be gnawed at by Niddhog.

A heavy sigh.

“You know, every day, I kept sending both my ravens to get me the smallest molecules of knowledge in the world. Every event, past events, future events. It was a perfect mechanism. One was Huginn (thought), and one was Muninn (memory). Any event that happened, an instant of it was stored in one’s memory, and combining it with the power of thought, the network was always complete. I had gained the power of surveillance, with the power of active memory that could have combined to generate the future. I thought this would be the way I would be able to circumvent it. It's strange- for the longest time, I had thought of not circumventing but destroying this codex. Suddenly, one day, I was thinking of circumventing. But why?"

He suddenly screamed. In excitement, a voice that seemed to fill the entire cosmos turned to horror by the end of his breath. The pressure of a heavy morgue silence lowered on my skin.

"I had speculated for the longest time that there was something weird about the reinstatement of the Norns. I remembered that both the ravens, pitch black for the eternity I had known them for, turned white for a second. I did not see it, but like a signal in hindsight, I saw it through the event's lens and remembrance. Within the absolute void is not darkness but light. A glow that has nothing within it. I remember that was the spark when there was nothing. A spark that had no origin to be traced back to. The codex that intuitively created escaped editing, though precisely reprogramming my faculties. Only if.."

Kalki sat there in silence as the voice fizzled, and revealed the eternal cosmic song generated by the leaves of the Ygdrassil, with the beat of the jaws of Nidhogg clunking.

An abstract translucency started to take contour. And as soon as it formed a line, it vanished; creating such a stark explosion of light that once my pupils adjusted, I was back in my material reality.

I fired up chat GPT and thought of the two ravens and the tales they must have left behind to understand what Odin meant. I started asking Chat GPT about the ravens and their tales. The characters' names kept changing, but it was a template answer whenever the response mentioned the ravens. Perhaps the lingering of these ravens, in thought and memory, had been intercepted by the Chat GPT interface, which did not allow divulging information regarding the cosmic code. It was unclear whether the raven was not yielding control or the codex was not letting them yield control even in death.

//This is an excerpt from the work I have been developing for this residency- “Meeting Kalki”. Within the project, I build on a popular legend from Indian mythology- It is said that Kalki, the last avatar of Vishnu, the protector of the cosmos, comes to save the world from its perils and emerges as a messianic figure. I reinvented the character of Kalki, not as the last avatar of Vishnu but as the first creature cursed by Vishnu. This curse, is forced to become the holder of an anxiety of a speculative future; thus given the name Kal-ki (Of tomorrow, in Hindi); an information blob bound to roam the cosmos until it finds the interface to make itself apparent. Through it, the entire history of photography and image-making gets reworked, not as the history of freezing time and archiving, but rather as a cosmic lingering trying to find an interface to make itself apparent. 

I dissect the formulated idea of an indexed destiny- of a prewritten cosmic code guarded by a mystical ‘higher order’ that goes beyond the scope of human perception, yet we continue to try decoding historically. The interfaces generated by AI, and this computational turn, generate the possibility to interact with this ‘codex,’ to dissect and dismantle it, and to think of its rearrangement if not complete rewriting. This opens up scales of imagination and engagement, both hitherto unimagined, where a single pixel within the interface of the image holds immense densities. The mythological, brought into friction with the technological, thus provides a rich ground of speculative transformation to think of epistemological templates beyond our access and break the frames imposed by language and anthropogenic modalities.

Thus, there emerges a need to engage with the image through all scales and densities of corporeal and ephemeral phenomena- from quantum theory and hadron colliders to crackles in tree barks, rearrangement of buddhas, mythological ur-texts and subtexts, genealogical dreams, and molecular seepages- to rethink our image cultures with technology, its inherent power dynamics, and how could this turn help us reimagine social, political and economic structures that go beyond us.//


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