Explain This

Investigating a given scene.

Why fingerprints?

Contemporary conditioning shouts, Identity! and they are pressed like badges, considered essential means of outlining, separating one body from the next. As in, mine and mine alone.

And what for?

The first purpose was holding, and the next was touch. These are the grooves that allow a body to feel in stereo. Following certain lines of perception, one can easily lose the sense of having an end.

Then what?

If these lines begat questions, perhaps they also prompted language, to answer with a beginning, once upon a time. We needed a past to explain ourselves, and some shelter from this wild so readily felt when we stretched our hands over any given scene. One story begat the next, but certain questions were never settled, such as: was the wild coming from or into these fingertips? Either answer begs a question–––

?

–––wait, I’ve strayed again. I only meant to wonder over the discovery that koala prints, being easily mistaken for those of humans, will contaminate a crime scene, which raises certain questions I can’t go into now and for which I lack the language to decipher, about what stories these creatures have had to invent to explain this everywhere, here.

***

Inspired by an overheard discussion about koala fingerprints, with details elaborated in an article I found when I got home. 

Animal Histories

Early theories about Birds of Paradise.

Perhaps they were fallen angels, these wingless birds. Their plumes were like haloes. Perhaps they moved as comets across the sky, in perpetual motion and only occasionally visible. They might be immortals in the flesh, or they might be the Phoenix. Whatever the case, it seemed impossible that they could land, given that they had no feet.

Theories sprouted. That the female must lay eggs in an internal chamber of her body where she incubates them until they are ready to begin lifetimes of continual flight. Or that they might rest after all, from time to time, using their featherless extensions like strings from which to suspend themselves from the branches of the highest trees. Perhaps they would twine these together while mating. Here is an image of one. See how it drinks the rain. 

Some hypothesized that the birds would never submit to close study, so averse are they to the prospect of being sullied by this world. As context for these speculations, it can be helpful to consider the earliest arrival of these birds on the continent. They had arrived, after all, as the precious cargo of a colonial ship, far from their songs, their homeland, and their days of flight, with legs and wings removed.

***

Inspiration for this post: This morning I learned that today is the birthday of Conrad Gessner (1516-1565), the renowned swiss zoologist who published the Historia Animalium (History of the Animals), which was the most widely read natural history in Europe during the renaissance.  It was summarily banned by the Catholic church as heretical. Having once been harshly scolded as a first grader in Catholic school, for depicting a unicorn at the center of my elaborate marker drawing of the Garden of Eden, I felt my sympathies drawn toward Gessner’s work. In my unsuccessful efforts to find a readable digital copy of this extensive work, I came across this article about early theories of birds of paradise. To his credit, Gessner was among the first to speculate that the birds must not subsist entirely on air, rain, and vast internal fat stores, but must eat actual food, somehow. 

Listen, Jonah

From inside this whale.

Let me take it back, what I once said about the flesh, before I felt the teeth of this machine. Now I say, give it back, my breath, a firstborn placenta, let me bury it. Don’t touch, I say now, but the cameras are everywhere, groping.

Now an overhead voice like an airport announcement, what do you think you are doing? Anything unattended in the age of terror will be removed by airport security. What do you think you are? What does it mean, in at this point, to answer back? 

I’m keeping the body, take my voice. Watch the tent as it tears, this is the belly of the whale.

Kick, Jonah. Do you think this is time around us, and was it here before now?  Let tired vows disappear by this remaking while another womb confronts us, an old beginning.

Recorded Visions

Dreaming forward and back.

If memory is the first fiction, then so is the history of a group. As a group evolves, so will its collective chronicle of becoming, but the process is as fraught as any reconstruction. If history is a cathedral and facts are the stones, then it’s worth considering that all somebody can do before a complete building with a single stone is throw it or sit on it. If all that happens in any reframing effort is the collection of a pile of new stones, you may end up with a whole lot of broken glass and all of us outside. But if people are challenged to build with them, to create new architecture, new gathering places, new halls of worship and dreaming, transcendence and offering, then what? Unless someone is feeding the dreamers from the same table as the builders, planners, architects, masons, and those tasked with moving each stone, a cohesive vision won’t emerge. Imagination is no luxury, but a life skill, and as critical in times of flux as any other preparation: for famine, attack, natural disaster, invasion. No group who makes outcasts of its dreamers can endure.

***

I first explored Tamin Ansary’s insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral,” in an earlier post, “Cathedral.”

Cathedral

More than a collection of stones.

If history is a cathedral, and the accepted facts the stones, then no expansion of understanding can happen without art, without appreciation for those who been dreaming and revisioning all along as a survival strategy. No offering of new facts, however extensive, will ever be enough to alter old visions, except by nurturing new visionary architects. New material can raise new questions, as in, what can we make of this? –– and, by extension, of us?  To offer new stones and call it “history” is a lie of omission. The history is what is yet to be made.  

***

Inspiration: In a recent episode of NPR’s Throughline podcast (“Do We Need a Shared History?”), historian Tamin Ansary shared this insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral.”  This seems like a much-needed observation for our times. I am inspired by those who recognize (as Ben Okri put it) when we have arrived at “A Time for New Dreams.”

Reconsidering the Unconscious

On prospects for sense and sensibilities.

Many practitioners of questions find psychic activity important, as far as consciousness goes. When it comes to the unconscious, credibility varies. Maybe the prefix is to blame here, the “un” negating whatever follows. Maybe this comes from a bias toward consciousness as an individual experience. By this logic, anything not organized in some way by a self can’t be known. Better words might help to clarify. Extraconscious, perhaps: knowing from outside, or intraconscious, from deeply within. Or perhaps a permaconsciousness, parallel to permafrost, which has a way of thawing out in times of flux and rising heat, revealing long-buried bodies as well as toxins. The idea calls to mind a need for a refinement of the interconscious, that which can only be held in the fabric connecting us, in the interstitial ether between bodies.

Cold Crawling

Toasting the iceworm.

With snow falling

 too much 

in some regions 

and in others not enough, 

a question of what’s next 

to 

melt 

from permafrost 

hangs 

like a verdict 

not yet delivered,

also, certain doubts––related maybe, 

about what’s left 

to be exposed 

about the trajectory 

of history 

if that’s what 

we’re still calling it, 

so now seems like as good a time as any 

to pay 

homage 

to the iceworm

crawling through 

glacial snows 

and over ice, 

eating the red of

sun cups, and melting

when traces of winter

depart. These are not 

to be confused 

with the army project

of the Cold War, its launch 

sites under Greenland ice

not to be confused with the

great worms 

of legend heard 

playing 

beneath the northern

lights, near

the entry point 

to the land of the souls.

***

Inspired by news of the Cordova Iceworm Festival, which begins today.

The U.S. army project referenced above was nicknamed Project Iceworm.

Shelter

Refuge during wartime.

It was a time of trouble, and people went around armed: holsters, knives, photos, pepper spray.  What were the terms? We weren’t sure, but they were loaded. Whispering among us, we approached the temple.  A woman waited at the top of the steps, veiled in underground pomegranates. She stood sideways between the pillars, one half in the shadows behind her.  Look, she said, raising her veil, and with the other arm beckoned Come. A hush fell over us. We surrendered our arms and went in.

The New Science

On signs, symbols, and the origins of meaning.

Trace it with me: age of gods, age of heroes, age of men.

Our first language was born of knowing its poverty. 

We relied on signs and symbols. Then came metaphor, 

and then our measly letters, where we pretended 

to be saying precisely what we meant. 

Hieroglyphs suffice when observance 

is more important than discussion, 

as with religions and the like. 

Which came first, I wonder? Letters or language, 

chickens or their eggs? 

Attempting to separate one from the other is folly.

The first speakers, by necessity of nature, were poets. 

Here is the key to any meaningful science worth following: 

the source of all poetry is poverty of language, 

catalyzed by a need to express.

The point? To learn the language 

spoken by some eternal history, 

across time. Another: to name 

the beginnings of learning. 

To our unseen source, knowledge 

and creation are one 

and the same. We 

are mind and spirit; 

intellect and will, but 

it’s the function of wisdom 

to fulfill both.

Children of nascent mankind 

created things according to their ideas, 

which are not to be confused with God. 

But usually are. 

The role of fear 

should not be discounted here, 

in stoking robust ignorance, 

corporeal imagination. 

Frightened men, 

in their infinite vanity, 

no sooner imagine than they believe.

Natural curiosity, the daughter

of ignorance and mother

of knowledge, gives birth:

to wonder.

By Jove, the thundering sky.

***

Adapted from The New Science of Giambattista Vico, translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch.