Men are grass
- Gregory Bateson “Syllogism in Grass” -
Gregory Bateson beautifully depicted the common fate of humans and nonhumans, their inevitable deaths, through his syllogism. In Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (1979), Bateson defined the term metapattern: "My central thesis can now be approached in words: The pattern which connects is a metapattern. It is a pattern of patterns. It is that metapattern which defines the vast generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect.”
In this chapter, I explore the metapattern that connects the patterns of movement and behaviour in human and animal (specifically whale) migration. In the spirit of Bateson’s syllogism, I also attend to what humans and non-humans lose as a form of entropy through the repetitive migratory pattern.
A. Whale Dies; Animal Stranding
Animal migration is the long-distance movement of an individual or pack of animals, usually on a seasonal or annual basis, that is found in all major animal groups. The trigger for the migration is usually the inhospitality of the local climate, better availability of food elsewhere, or the need to find optimal mating conditions. Animals use environmental signifiers such as temperature, solar light levels, and the moon and stars to help them make their way. The earth’s magnetic field is also one of the unique things which guides animal emigration. About 50 animal species, ranging from birds and mammals to reptiles and insects, use Earth's magnetic field for navigation. Also, more than 50 organisms, including humans, contain particles of magnetite within their bodies that correspond to the earth’s magnetic field even though they cannot use it. Through these natural signs, animals detect the grid of space carved on the planet and through observation sense the grid of time. Migration for survival and mating is an instinctual life purpose.
However, occasionally, some animals leave their group to deviate from the determined course, losing access to reliable sources of food and drink. This can result in an eventual suicide. This phenomenon is called Stranding which has no apparent logical cause. In essence, it is a representation of the unknown irrational aspect of nature that has lost the direction of life.
Do they anticipate their eventual deaths when they change their route and challenge their fate? This natural phenomenon resembles human migration in the sense that they select their own fate and their will defies natural laws.
B. Men Die; Human Migration
Magnets will always point north-south because they align themselves with the earth’s magnetic field. Humans invented the compass by using the magnetic field to navigate geographical direction when migrating. This is attributed to the fact that humans don’t have any ability to perceive direction, even though they contain particles of magnetite within the bodies. Human developed the compass for compensating their lack of capacity. In this sense, the compass as a navigator can be seen as the fundamental instrument deciding human fate during movement and migration.
Humans have always sought to settle in better territory, and adapt to new societies during migration. However, each time this process is repeated, the community and the individual loses something. Something inside disappears through the migration, diaspora, colonization, and adaptation as they tame themselves to the foreign land. If the immigrant is a minority in the society, their migration is accompanied by an inevitable solitude.
Artist Haugue Yang describes this process:
To tame myself, in the world of the others or perhaps to assimilate myself. This is very lonely process of self-colonization. This is the process to communicate with the place. The process of overcoming the otherness, and learning about the place, a process of making something unknown, to known. Here, there is the desire to change once location from a foreign land into a homeland. can I remain a foreigner or a stranger for forever? (Haegue Yang / Squandering Negative Spaces (excerpt) https://vimeo.com/120153859 )
Immigrants, foreigners, strangers, invaders, refugees might lose their
spontaneously, deliberately, incidentally and painfully
C. Human as whale;
re-thinking the immigrant and escape
Humans make points or lines in space in order to locate themselves. Other animals have their own systems to understand space for their migration.
We position and define ourselves in the geographical or cultural or political context. We follow the path that we need to follow through the system we have already built. But sometimes, some humans and animals reorient themselves from the determined route and find a new path which can put their lives in danger. I believe that the change of their relational position can affect the whole grid and make new narratives in history. I explore the collective memory, collective forgetting, and the loss that is implied in both through the narratives.
I see him there on a night like this but cool, the moon blowing though black streets. He sups and walks back to his room. The radio is on the floor. Its luminous green dial blares softly. He sits down at the table: people in exile write so many letters. Now Ovid is weeping. Each night about this time he puts on sadness like a garment and goes on writing. In his spare time he is teaching himself the local language (Getic) in order to compose in it an epic poem no one will ever read.
-"On Ovid," Anne Carson