For a moment I considered trying to slide this image (the cover of one of my ‘Bergland’ novels) down to show the letter ‘A’ above the word ‘Distant’–itself cropped to half-height–as the title actually exists on the cover of the novel. In truth, this bit of ‘media’ is not what I had in mind for this mini-essay. I wanted to have the photo of the serpent stick, because the ‘idea’ of my current novel, titled The Serpent Stick, is that immortality is our treasure only through DNA, not through a ‘soul’ existing forever in ‘Heaven’, as the Christians have it, and especially not, as some Christianss have it, that body and soul are to be there, joined as in life here on Earth, to be met by later ones as desired.
But I leave it here since I think it may be as good an example of my title for this essay as the one I had in mind, 0r I may add the one I had in mind as well! My blog, after all, governed only by me!
So: first the generality, found in The New Yorker magazine, a pub which I both dislike for its snobbish Liberal slant on things political, but also enjoy for its tendency to pursue ideas at length, such as the one I read maybe as far back as in my twenties dealing with the common hen’s egg in such a wealth of detail and at such length I was fascinated then and remain so. Do you know that that sort of ropy white part of a soft-boiled egg, visible when the egg is eaten from the shell, is what turns the egg innards while under the hen during the warmth of hatching if the hen doesn’t turn the whole egg over with her claws–which, if you grew up on a farm, you may have seen, and wondered what the brooding would-be mother of chicks was up to, all that rumpling around with the dozen or so fragile eggs under her. With our propensity to understand things in terms of our human cells, linking effect with cause, we may wonder at the intelligence of a simple hen, whom we associate with having little or no ‘brain’ as we know it, turning the eggs so that the egg will hatch only if the whole egg, not just the top half next to the hen’s warmth, will stay evenly warm.
How I tend to wander off the subject!
OK, back the promised ‘generality’: ‘The really curious thing about minds and brains is that the truth about them lies not somewhere in the middle but simultaneously on both extremes.’-p.88 of the 9/9/2013 issue.
The argument or theme of the NYr essay is that our states of mind can depend on realities such as a physical anomaly, such as a bit of contact between a part of one’s brain and the inside of one’s skull. That is, neurology may wind up as the same as philosophy, (the essay providing its own example) and cites Montaigne: “We are always double in ourselves.”
The example I had intended to use to illustrate the generality was that the single-helix serpent stick is a physical reality but when the brain identifies it as a symbol for RNA, the incipient stage of DNA, the act of creating a new cell with each individual’s identity, the mind’s thought of it as a symbol of immortality illustrates brain and mind, two extremes, one real, the other imaginary as truth about them.
But the title page of A Distant Altar does the same for the story under the cover relates a large copper boulder once located in the West Branch of the Ontonagon River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Ojibwe Manitou which, when thought of as the tribe’s Spirit taking care of the tribe’s welfare, can do so whether in the stream or in the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. See, it doesn’t matter how far apart brain and mind are, or how far apart the symbol and the idea are–truly, the two extremes are still the truth about them.