Umbilicus of Limbo

Statement for Sharam Entekhabi and Behrang Samadzadegan’s exhibition titled ‘We Are Standing Outside Time’ at Atelierhaus Salzamt, Linz, Austria, 28.06-03.08.2012

It is the difference between arrest and imprisonment, not here and there, inside or outside a cell. A citizen of the Modern World understands properly the state of transition. She is always in transition. It is always in transition. Supposedly towards a better state. Everything is in ‘progress’ in the Modern World. Yet, he does not understand anymore how it feels to be at the Umbilicus of Limbo, he, the citizen of the mainstream world. He aims at entering heaven on earth. He does not remember when people used to pray for the Kingdom of Heavens to arrive. Yet, the mainstream creates shores where watching is made possible. Watching is the only possible thing. News always happens elsewhere. Not on the shore. And it is no shore rather a swamp twirling down to the umbilicus of limbo.

I once spent three days in a cell with eight other people. Our bodies covered the floor by every square inch when we lay down at night. We were seven bodybuilders and two university professors accused of standing in the street. It was summer. We were sweating for three days. Every fifteen minutes one of us would accept to play the role of a ventilator rolling his shirt. It was not as bad to be there as not knowing how long this would continue. We did not know where exactly we were held. We had no clue whether our families knew where we were. We did not know if there would be a court session and what the verdict might be. In order for days to pass, you need to be able to count them. An infinite number of days are intolerable. Infinity is intolerable. It is only infinity which is intolerable. Not hell, but umbilicus of limbo is the ultimate curse. The present moment is ‘in between’, in between past and present. Yet, Umbilicus of Limbo is outside history. History is the mainstream, but citizens of the shore tolerate the umbilicus of limbo. Time does not pass on the shore. One can sit on the shore and watch time pass by.

From this point on, it is very much the story of ‘The Fisherman and the Jenni’ from The Book of Thousands Night and a Night: ‘But I refused, so sending for this cucurbit he shut me up therein, and stopped it over with lead whereon he impressed the Most High Name, and gave his orders to the Jann who carried me off, and cast me into the midmost of the ocean. There I abode an hundred years, during which I said in my heart, “Whoso shall release me, him will I enrich for ever and ever.” But the full century went by and, when no one set me free, I entered upon the second five score saying, “Whoso shall release me, for him I will open the hoards of the earth.” Still no one set me free and thus four hundred years passed away. Then quoth I, “Whoso shall release me, for him will I fulfil three wishes.” Yet no one set me free. Thereupon I waxed wroth with exceeding wrath and said to myself, “Whoso shall release me from this time forth, him will I slay and I will give him choice of what death he will die; and now, as thou hast released me, I give thee full choice of deaths.”[1] The Umbilicus of Limbo is sustained by death drive. This forms an attitude towards the mainstream. The story must continue or else the storyteller is killed. History continues on the shore because of it. This text cannot end.


[1] The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, translated by Sir Richard F. Burton and privately published by the Burton Club, c1970 accessed at: