Touch

Daft Punk’s Grammy winning album Random Access Memories is the duo’s seventh and final album and features the song Touch featuring Paul Williams. The song was used in a video announcing the duo’s split in 2021, and has since become associated with the end of Daft Punk. This is fitting as the song’s lyrics and themes have to do with memories and the loss of better times. Similar to their previous songs such as Human After All, Touch is a song about a robot capable of feeling human emotions. This robot, who’s experience is displayed via the lyrics sung by Paul Williams, illustrate a deep sense of longing the robot feels for these emotions. The lyrics begin with the robot saying:

Touch, I remember touch.

Pictures came with touch.

A painter in my mind,

Tell me what you see.

This opening establishes the robot’s memories of the feelings of touch that he’s felt. Lines like “a painter in my mind” establishes their disconnect from the feeling. Instead of being their own experiences, they are pictures created by another person in their mind. The song continues with the lines:

A tourist in a dream,

A visitor it seems.

A half forgotten song,

Where do I belong?

The robot has been disconnected from his own feelings so long that he feels like “a tourist” or a “visitor” as he remembers his own feelings. Because of how disconnected they are, they are disoriented, confused, and have no true understanding of who they are, asking themself, “Where do I belong?”. They further question their own identity as they say:

Tell me what you see,

I need something more.

Kiss, suddenly alive.

Happiness arrive.

Hunger like a storm,

How do I begin?

As the robot begins to question their own experiences and further explore their memories of touch, the music becomes more upbeat as the robot feels “suddenly alive” as they re-experience their past feelings. They feel an intense “hunger” for more feelings, asking themself, “How do I begin?”. As they further explore their memories, the robot says,

Touch where do you lead?

I need something more.

Tell me what you see,

I need something more.

The robot wants to find out where these feelings will lead them, and as they further explore their own memories, they repeat “I need something more”. With this, the music kicks into an upbeat composition as the robot experiences the joy of feeling these newfound emotions and memories. Then, as quickly as it sped up, the music slows down. The music builds into a bridge that slowly gets happier and happier as the following phrase is repeated by first Daft Punk’s robotic vocals and then a choir:

Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home.

Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home.

The robot, having found a greater understanding of themselves, finally feels like they are home. They now understand what it is they’ve been searching for, and the uplifting music displays this. Eventually, as the chorus reaches its highest point, the vocals and music are abruptly cut off, leaving a few seconds of silence. This silence is interrupted by the robot’s returning vocals, stating:

Touch. Sweet touch,

You’ve given me too much to feel.

Sweet touch,

You’ve almost convinced me I’m real.

For whatever reason, the robot has now been cut off from their feelings of touch. They have been left once again without their feelings of touch, but now with the memories of what once was, and the sadness as they wish to return to those times. This brief understanding of their feelings has left a hole in the robot, who says “You’ve given me too much to feel”. The robot is so apathetic now that they no longer believe themselves to be worthy of human feelings anymore, saying, “You’ve almost convinced me I’m real”. Now knowing what feelings and emotions feel like but left without any way to experience them any more, the robot only says:

I need something more,

I need something more.

Ending with a low piano note on the final “more”, the song leaves with a feeling of longing and sadness, replicating the longing the robot feels for the emotions and feelings humans go through, and their despair as they realize they are unable to. This song has recently become associated with Daft Punk’s split, which is fitting considering it’s themes. As time advances, we will be left with only memories of past experiences and feelings, and we will only be able to wish for more time, for something more.

Exit West and the End of Borders

Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West tells a story about our world if random doors became portals to other random locations on Earth. People in the novel begin using the doors to escape their own countries in fear of war, poverty, or various other real-world issues that people emigrate from. First world countries such as the United States and England receive an influx of refugees from the portal doors, and respond harshly to this immigration. Efforts are made to forcefully remove the migrants from their shelters, and nativist militias organize and begin attacking the migrants. However, shortly after the conflict escalates to violence, it ends as neither side wished to cause any bloodshed, or do evil things. The world governments organized the construction of new cities specifically designed for the new presence of migrants.

This idea of borders disappearing is something I have thought about before. We are currently in an age of increased global connection, and especially with the creation of the internet and instant international messaging, the separation between nations is gradually decreasing. Immigration has also increased, and many nations are becoming more diverse. But global connection is not without hindrance. Events like rising nationalism in the US and the European reactions to refugees from the Middle East cast doubt on the possibility of a world without borders. I personally believe that too many people are rooted into their nationalist beliefs of their countries, and that if a scenario similar to the one presented in Exit West were to occur in reality, there would not be a peaceful conclusion to the conflict. Sadly, I think humanity has a far way to go before a border-less world can be accepted by many.

The Elephant Vanishes and the Absence of Unity

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami tells the story of an elephant that disappears along with its keeper without a trace from its pen in suburban Tokyo. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who has shown a fascination with the elephant, and who finds himself confused with the seemingly impossible to explain escape. We later learn the extent of the narrator’s interest with the elephant. He watched the elephant and its keeper interact and he was struck by the bond they shared. He repeatedly brings up the unspoken trust between the two.

The story seems to be a critique of the lack of unity in the modern world. The narrator lives by himself and is fascinated by the elephant and keeper because of their unity. He even remarks during his job how he finds unity important. The narrator speaks to a woman in a bar, and while the two seem interested in each other, the topic of the elephant sours the conversation, and an attempt at unity between the two fails. The narrator says that he feels his life has become monotonous and bland in his high ranking corporate job. A point is made to show that the narrator’s company insists on using the English word “kitchen” rather than the Japanese word. I believe that this story is a vehicle for Murakami to criticize contemporary Japan.

“10th of December” and Memory Loss

George Saunder’s short story “10th of December” provides an interesting perspective into someone suffering from memory loss. One narrator, Don Eber, attempts suicide during the story because he is terminally ill and no treatment has worked. He sees his death as inevitable and fears what will happen to him before he dies. His stepfather went through a similar disease, and Don watched as the man he loved faded away as his stepfather’s mind deteriorated further. Don is already suffering similar symptoms, forgetting certain words, parts of his life, and almost his own name. Don wishes to commit suicide to spare his family the pain he felt watching his stepfather die. Diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have incredibly painful effects on those suffering it. This story stuck out to me because I’ve seen how memory loss can affect people. I also understand the fear about whether something like that could happen to yourself. Forgetting who you are is a terrifying idea.