On Clairvoyance as the Caduceus speaks

I believe this poem came inspired. We happened to scroll through some UFO videos which included a short documentary about extraterrestrials. I was also typing a poem onto my phone at the time, paying no heed to the narrators on screen as I wrote exactly this: “Serpents of lianas issue a curtain from trees that hide a ruin”, before the word serpent was even uttered in the documentary, until I realised they were talking about the Great Serpent Mound of Ohio. I found this momentary synchronicity quite amusing. I was imagining the ruins of a mud house in my village, overrun by the jungle.

A depiction of the serpent mound that appeared in The Century periodical in April 1890, drawn by William Jacob Baer (Wikipedia)

The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,348-foot-long and  three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in  Ohio [1] A National Historic Landmark built by the ancient American Indian cultures of Ohio, it is an effigy mound (a mound in the shape of something) representing a snake with a curled tail. Harvard University archaeologist Frederic Ward Putnam excavated Serpent Mound in the late 19th century but he found no artifacts in the Serpent that might allow archaeologists to assign it to a particular culture. Based largely on the nearby presence of Adena burial mounds, later archaeologists attributed the effigy to the Adena culture that flourished from 800 B.C. to A.D. 100 and work is still to be done to clarify this [2]


I also awoke earlier that morning reading two paragraphs in a book in the final dregs of sleep, the second of which read something like “a Caduceus that interferes”. Utterly confounded by this weird dream, I woke up pleading with the matrix not to mangle my subconscious given I hadn’t even heard the word ‘caduceus’ that it should appear in my dream so. Perhaps it was clairvoyance of some sort, that I was to hear about the Great Serpent Mound that day, something I had never known of before either. Either way, it should have been the staff of Asclepius since there is only one serpent on that mound, not like in a Caduceus, but one does not rationalise with the matrix 😉


Images above L to R: Rod of Asclepius, Caduceus, Flag of the World Health
Organisation ~ (Source-Wikipedia)

Science fiction intrigues me and it has been a distraction during the pandemic that U.S. intelligence agencies shared declassified UFO reports during a congressional hearing in June this year but have found no evidence that the aerial phenomena witnessed by Navy pilots in recent years are alien spacecraft. Even so, they still cannot explain the unusual movements that have mystified scientists and the military. An unclassified version is expected to be released to Congress by June 25 [3] The world as we can see it, is teeming with the inexplicable; pastoral serpents, flying saucers, E.T.; consciousness and dreams.


Clairvoyance, synchronicities and all things Jungian appear intriguing. I have always wondered if the stranglehold of language has a part in this, if it constrains our conscious and the unconscious in a straitjacket of meaning that falls short of all there is beyond the realm of a rudimentary tongue or an ever changing lexicon. Does language force our consciousness down a set  tributary of thought ? Do we create our own consciousness or tap into waves of consciousness to electrify ourselves into being? I am not making this up. Here is an article by Johnjoe McFadden, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Surrey, who actually studies if consciousness resides in the brain’s electromagnetic field, which may help explain a lot that has defied explanation thus far [4] Language could also animate consciousness in other ways, as hypothesised through the concept of linguistic relativity.


The 2016 science fiction movie, Arrival, a movie about Alien linguistics and the philosophy of language, addressed a concept called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which tries to explain that language does not only influence the way in which we communicate but also influences our behaviour and our way of thinking. Edward Sapir, a well known Emergentist philosopher of language, also says that the real world is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group [5] The Emergentist viewpoint of language expands the idea of “cultural relativism”, wherein “Language is primarily a cultural or social product and must be understood as such”, by saying, that what is thinkable for you might depend on the language you know. Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams in the movie Arrival), is a linguistics professor who is called on to lead a team of scientists in learning an alien language. and by learning the metaphors of language used by the heptapod (aliens in the film), she learns new ways of conceptualizing the world as well as discovers new ways of perceiving it [6] The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis on linguistic relativity is not widely accepted but makes for some interesting reading.


The kind of world we inhabit and how our being is animated into consciousness, is strangely the realm of science fiction even now. Until then, we can dream of the matrix, imagine sneaky adversarial craft, visualize aliens simply as depicted in movies, in fact our entire imagination hinges on what has already been elucidated for us in our contemporary although limited, knowledge. This poem spilled out simply as a tribute to science fiction, a random assortment of them too. I have fictionalised the constellations, having used Perseus instead of Draco. It is loosely based on the serpent mound I should think. The lianas actually inspired me to make fresh fettuccine this evening, I have included the recipe in the caption.

On Clairvoyance as the Caduceus speaks

In the helical there's a code, byte sized
thoughts rush into a poem as a montage

spirits onto the screen in the sepulchral;
Words I've already etched on a tablet

"Serpents of lianas issue a curtain 
from trees that hide a ruin" I wrote

while thinking of houses crumbling 
in short crust of mud. They that engraved 

hieroglyphics in sand claim 
the heavens sent forth what slithered 

from Medusa, writhing in slippery thought 
as her Beta Persei  blinked a demon rush

to engrave onto the green green grass 
of hills, a serpent that eats an egg.

They spirit the earth's pantheon, these 
mythologies interred into the appendix 

of starry faiths and Jesus sects, 
to create constellations 

of hope in the holy books, a creed
to believe until science reclaims

the story of gods, demons, the three tiers
of angels, an ark, covenant, Adam and Eve.

Beneath the drift of the heliacal, it's the pyramids 
that confound me still and serpent mounds and NASA 

Notes: (Make for some interesting reading)

The caduceus is the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology. It is a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In Roman iconography, it was often depicted being carried in the left hand of Mercury, the messenger of the gods. It is said the wand would wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep [7]

In Greek mythology, the Rod of Asclepius, also known as the Staff of Aesculapius, is a serpent-entwined rod wielded by the Greek god Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. The symbol has continued to be used in modern times, where it is associated with medicine and health care, yet frequently confused with the staff of the god Hermes, the caduceus.[8]

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA is a molecule composed of two polynucleotide chains that coil around each other to form a double helixcarrying genetic instructions for the development, functioning, growth and reproduction of all known organisms and many viruses. DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) are nucleic acids [9] DNA is a double-stranded helix, with the two strands connected by hydrogen bonds. One of the ways that scientists have elaborated on Watson and Crick’s model is through the identification of three different conformations of the DNA double helix. In other words, the precise geometries and dimensions of the double helix can vary. The most common conformation in most living cells (which is the one depicted in most diagrams of the double helix, and the one proposed by Watson and Crick) is known as B-DNA. There are also two other conformations: A-DNA, a shorter and wider form that has been found in dehydrated samples of DNA and rarely under normal physiological circumstances; and Z-DNA, a left-handed conformation. Watson and Crick were not the discoverers of DNA, but rather the first scientists to formulate an accurate description of this molecule’s complex, double-helical structure. 1869 was a landmark year in genetic research, because it was the year in which Swiss physiological chemist Friedrich Miescher first identified what he called “nuclein” inside the nuclei of human white blood cells. More than 50 years passed before the significance of Miescher’s discovery of nucleic acids was widely appreciated by the scientific community. In a 1971 essay on the history of nucleic acid research, Erwin Chargaff noted that in a 1961 historical account of nineteenth-century science, Charles Darwin was mentioned 31 times, Thomas Huxley 14 times, but Miescher not even once. [10] 


Heliacal Rising: Given how Earth moves around the Sun, we have the impression that our star is drifting across the sky. When the Sun is found in a certain region of the sky, its brightness prevents us from seeing any stars in its vicinity. As the days go by, the Sun changes position, allowing the stars it was concealing to be visible again. The heliacal rising of a star is the first day when this star becomes visible again in the east in the light of dawn just before sunrise. The ancient Egyptians noticed that the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, the brightest in the night sky, would occur a short time before the annual flooding of the Nile. The heliacal rising of Sirius therefore kicked off the farming season in ancient Egypt [11]


Serpent Mound — the head of the serpent aligns with the summer solstice sunset while the tail points to the winter solstice sunrise. Ancient peoples may have used the structure to mark time or seasons.The design of the mound also matches the shape of the constellation Draco, with the star Thuban (Alpha Draconis, which served as the north pole star from the 4th to 2nd millennium B.C.) lining up with the first curve in the snake’s torso from the head. This alignment suggests another purpose for Serpent Mound: a kind of compass that helps determine true north [12]

Algol, Beta Persei, is a bright multiple star located in Perseus. It is the second brightest star in the constellation, after Mirfak, Alpha Persei. It lies at an approximate distance of 90 light years from Earth.  Algol is one of the best known variable stars in the sky and a prototype for a class of eclipsing variable stars known as Algol variables. Algol is sometimes called Gorgonea Prima, in reference to the Gorgon Medusa [13]

Lianas in the kitchen ~ Fettucine

Ingredients:

4 large eggs (room temperature)
2 1/2 cups flour (I used all purpose flour)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, some water

Method:

Mix it all in a stand mixer or by hand, pull it together with a bit of water, knead until smoot and wrap in cling film to let it rest on the counter for not less than 30 minutes. (This can be frozen or left in the fridge for use the next day as well)

Roll out on a floured surface. I did not use my pasta maker, which is a mess to clean. I rolled it by hand as I used only half the mixture, just right for two servings. Roll and cut into strips, as long or thin as you like. leave to dry on a kitchen towel.

To cook this, bring a pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil and put in the fettucine for at least 10 to 14 minutes, until al dente. This is how long it took mine to turn soft and edible, perhaps it was because I used all purpose flour. Drain and serve immediately.

You could use pesto or a tomato sauce or simply sage in melted butter. Serve liberally with finely grated parmesan or Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano.

Admire your handiwork as you eat these lianas of fettucine. My kitchen was a fine jungle today.

References:

[1]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent_Mound

[2]~https://www.ohiohistory.org/visit/museum-and-site-locator/serpent-mound

[3]~https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/03/us/politics/ufos-sighting-alien-spacecraft-pentagon.html

[4]~https://aeon.co/essays/does-consciousness-come-from-the-brains-electromagnetic-field

[5]~https://medium.com/tamek/sapir-whorf-hypothesis-and-its-implications-in-the-movie-arrival-9b4b1d509dbc

[6]~http://www.cinemablography.org/blog/the-philosophy-of-language-in-arrival

[7]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus

[8]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius

[9]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA

[10]~https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/discovery-of-dna-structure-and-function-watson-397/

[11]~https://m.espacepourlavie.ca/en/monthly-sky/heliacal-rising-sirius

[12]~https://www.history.com/topics/landmarks/serpent-mound

[13]~https://www.constellation-guide.com/algol/

In the Prison House of Language

I am obsessed with words, yet, I find language to be extremely limiting. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who said in the closing passages of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, ‘ That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent ‘. Yet, he did a complete turnaround from his earlier ideas when in his later work, Philosophical Investigations, he suggested, creating meaningful statements is not a matter of ascertaining the logical form of the world as it was a matter of using conventionally defined terms within ‘language games’ that we play out in the course of everyday life, that have their own rules. ‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, he claimed and it is these rules, unique to each language and tribe that we find ourselves enmeshed in on a regular basis that also creates our narrative reality for us.

I had written earlier in the post on Remamos and the Inner Voice, that we are also not witness to the inner self talk of people, that inaccessible sub-conscious, the ephemeral unconscious, the wellspring of our actions, emotions … we make sense of our lives stitching stories together of the experiences that become us at the same time, we set the stage for the world to understand us on how we communicate this to the outside world, either in words or in silence.

In addition, I have been meaning to write on echo chambers for a while. It is interesting how the subtlest in words can alter meanings in communication, bring about an exclusion or inclusion in groups and cliques based on a shared language. It is disturbing that we may be misunderstood or we may misunderstand based on language alone. It is also unfortunate, that humanity heaves under the burden of not being able to communicate effectively, if at all, beyond words.

Perhaps, I am on a tangent here, but the poem becomes a springboard for me to explore linguistic relativity. I hadn’t known anything about the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis until today, and that linguistic relativity was explored in the sci-fi movie Arrival, which I happened to quite like. It’s a philosophical sort of movie based on communicating with aliens that have arrived on Earth. The hypothesis itself suggests that |the structure of a language affects its speakers’ worldview or cognition, and thus people’s perceptions are relative to their spoken language |[1][2][3]

Language appears to be the only defining feature of our human poetry, where we constantly try to make ourselves known to others, to know others through words and narrative. There isn’t another crutch. My poem is more exploratory than a stamp of finality on my views on language. As always, the philosopher in me is plainly musing.

Time colours in different brush strokes
a strange evolution of the abecedary,
in love sonnets* of deceased days,
that now sound like a dirge,
on a hot summer day /A gulf of Eden,
this / Your words drowning, seeking
a page in my lexicon and I want
to nest in your poems //

In the tower of Babel, I watch the sunset
West, windows adding length to shadows
of sounds measured into meaning, the sun
rises in the East and my eyes sparkle
in delight, for the yolk appears
that I know is round //

At the door, those who embroider birds
into memory insist, an exact trilling skein
may be lacking for my opaque cosmogony,
but proffer a redeeming syllabic chant //

Earthy tribes in the plains and narrow
valleys of life, possess no flowery tome
stamped in antique language, as they
plough away the sunlight in tepid sweat,
nor the ones, that pixellate their own sun
in shadows, bent over canvases of creations //

They speak of light like a distant memory
in the lunacy of neon aphorisms //

The cracking ice moans for Spring, they
all know, the cuckoo sings of Summer
and Jasmine’s silenced a hundred ways
namelessly fragrant in every fall //

Of those locked in a tower for lights
narrow ingress and some closed doors,
are warily, blindly feeling circular walls,
passwords changed for knocking, storied nuance
in the admission, glass domes too slippery for sky,
restroom piss gendered in euphemisms and the chamber
grants inclusion to echo in the litany of flushes //

Some days, I want only to string prayers,
in the boundless of the wind that screams
into the clouds, the hum of the earth
swaddled in a lullaby of roots, while
I slowly breathe in the forgiving universe //

Is it a sin to exhale seismic tune to erode
the ivory dunes, breathe a fire to set ablaze
smug grasses of tolerance, so a different leaf
may root in the aridity of the savanna?

How does one wait in the eye of a storm
when all around rages passion,
to be still enough to gaze at a wildflower,
in a wordless poem? Teach me to pray.

Process:

* Shakespeare has to be understood under regimented study or his language escapes us. So it is with all literature that simply does not touch a chord if we are not schooled in it. I remember trying to read V. D. Savarkar’s masterpiece ‘ Kala Pani ‘ in Hindi once. It was written in 1913 and I couldn’t identify with the language used then, even the simplest words of address seemed based in another time, another era. The redeeming chants are about oral traditions and the inspiration for Babel comes from Jorge Luis Borges’s 1941, The Library of Babel and partly, the biblical.

I think this poem became everything in a way and nothing at all. I wish to stop writing sometimes, even if for a while, cite a lack of genuine audience, an igneous ‘writer’s block’, an invisible husky chewing all of my papers, but I turn to Rilke here, who spoke words that I make my own.

Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write” ~ From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, where she cites his ‘Letters to a young poet’ [4]

I choose to write, words or none, despite how limiting and imperfect I find language to be, it truly only seeks to heal because it aspires, more than anything, to understand.

On my playlist today: My pre-pandemic anthem by Gaël Faure Siffler

References:

[1]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

[2]~https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought

[3]~https://behavioralscientist.org/language-dont-believe-a-word-sapir-whorf-hypothesis/

[4]~https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/10/04/rilke-letters-to-a-young-poet-writing/