Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Notes on Genetic and Poetic Languages

I read the recent news from University of Washington about the discovery that genetic structures use two languages. The previously known language involved "codons." The new one involves "duons," which are dual-use codons.

My first thought? That the corporate drones who have committed genetic manipulation will not bat an eyelash. So they fiddled like children with their building blocks, and never realized those blocks had an alphabet printed on them? What does it matter? They made money and will make yet more. Having done their bit for the dehumanization of agriculture they will sleep like babies.

Ortega y Gasset may have been correct that our scientists are "barbarians"——specialists who know a great deal about one thing. The scientists I have known have tended to be actual scientists in the older sense of being natural philosophers. If not directly engaged in a process of discovery, they at least felt innately drawn to that process, as part of their participation in a tradition of humanism; and they stood apart from the funnel-eyed engineers and technicians required by corporate industry.

Yet funnel-eyed uni-directionalist drones must be in good supply; and our education system seems set on producing even more, to judge from statements I read earlier this year, somewhere, about the end result of the "No Child Left Behind" directive ... disastrous results, to my mind: for this system teaches students that to succeed they must make points, rather than make sense.

Schools now are turning children into the equivalents of those websites that have keywords but no content, except advertisements.

I possess no deep understanding of codons and duons——nor even a shallow understanding, from the point of view of the biologist. Yet the literary ordering of words we call poetry offers me a way of thinking about these notions. For a gene is a thing as well as a type of a thing——and also an expression: for surely even a corporate drone cannot sever a gene from its expression ... not even with that Orwellian-sounding technique that I came across in during random reading recently: that of "silencing" genes. (Next they will be "disappearing" genes.)

Similarly poetry is a thing, and a type of thing——and an expression.

Northrop Frye aptly observes that poetry has two languages: so you might think in terms of two languages being spoken simultaneously by a poem that is "viable"——if you will allow me the botanical word. Frye noted that one reads, hears or understands not only the language of the poet's writing but also the language of poetry itself. You might say the poem gives voice to the poet's creative individuality while also giving voice to poetic tradition. We might take away a particular sense from the first expression, and a universal sense from the second——even though the poet is as much a participant in universal creative process as s/he is a separate individual——and even though our poetic tradition is not at all universal but rather a particular playing ground of interactions between writers and readers ... simply the current moment of ongoing process.

A Second Second, and Product vs. Process

The thought occurs to me that this second "language" of the duons may well itself prove to be a composite of two languages. I think of the language within ourselves that we use in setting our actions or behavior: for I do think we are all like William Dean Howells's character who discovered "that two strains of blood were striving in (him) for mastery ... paternal and maternal." (Brooks has a similar point to make about American character, in terms of conflicting maternal and paternal influences.) Blake knew as well as did Hegel that without conflict there is no growth; and this language of our actions and behaviors seems inextricably tied to our growth.

How can I help but think that this newly identified second genetic language is inextricably tied not to stasis and unchanging form but to action and behavior——and growth?

Of course, that this second duality would be literally maternal and paternal seems reasonably possible.

Yet another way to think of the situation comes also from Frye. He draws a distinction between attitudes: the Aristotelian, which regards literature as product, versus the Longinian, which views literature as process. A product has static and fixed qualities among its attributes. We might think, metaphorically, of codons being related to product. A process, in contrast, must have unstable, changing aspects among its attributes. So we might think of the dual-language codons now called duons as being related to process.

The genetic modifiers (I mean those who modify genes ... although I can think of endless modifiers for these corporate drones——such as "rash," "dangerous," "unthinking," "human-culture-threatening," etc.) would fix the world into a particular set of regulated patterns, so that agriculture could be reduced even further from being a process and toward being production line.

Wilder Thoughts ...

In the absence of those "two strains of blood," expression would seem a one-way street; and in nature how many one-way streets are there?

Think about this carefully. (I insert here a small tribute to late professor of philosophy Scott Crom, who urged on me caution when nearing the specter of determinism.) For what is "expression"? The production of oils from seeds, I suppose is one answer——useful, but not part of the ongoing give-and-take dialog of a conscious being with its universe.

A microcosmic theory will arise eventually that will ascribe consciousness to the gene——and why not? At its scale the gene must exhibit something akin to the complexities of piscine, reptilian, avian or mammalian nervous centers.

And if such a theory should arise then the purveyors of genetically modified organisms, and their hired guns and ill-inspired drones, may well find themselves suddenly ranking alongside slave-dealers of a previous century.

A thought to consider...

Gene expression should be free. If gene expression cannot remain free then human expression cannot remain free.

I pose this without too many hesitations, except for my use of "expression." You may know why: that sense of the non-communicativeness of "expression." So how about this.

Gene communication must remain free. If gene communication cannot remain free, then human communication cannot remain free.

Cheers ...

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