Friday, March 12, 2010

the naming of things

It's one of those weeks where there just isn't enough time to get much done, and when there is time I'm too strung out from all the busybusybusy to do anything with it. Which is not to say that I've lost my shit just yet--I'm actually feeling pretty much okay about the fact that I don't have a full night to myself until, at minimum, next Thursday--but does mean that productivity has been sort of hovering around medium-low. Instead of washing dishes I've been listening to Rasputina and watching Lady Gaga reenact Thelma and Louise (but with more interesting clothing); I've been reading cookbooks instead of book books.

Which is a shame, because the book I'm reading right now is awesome. Did you know Vladimir Nabokov was decent amateur lepidopterist? Neither did I. But I'm reading a book about it and I know much more about butterfly genitalia right now than I ever thought I would. My inner geek is dancing. I'm about halfway through and I won't have much time to read for the next couple of days, but I'm excited for life to slow down just that smidge that will give me enough space to pack more of these words into my brain because I want to know more. Bring on the genitals, the discussions of the biomes of Argentina, the meditations on the place of taxonomy in the larger realm of the modern biological sciences! I'm ready, or nearly so.

I'll hopefully write more about the book, about science and exploration and discovery, later. But for now, a poem. In case you don't know (I didn't), a type specimen, tagged with a red label, is the first described specimen in a species, the specific organism that is referenced whenever you use its scientific name in formal literature. It is the example that marks the beginning of a new species; even if it's eventually shown to be an atypical specimen, it's been determined to be different enough from other organisms to warrant a new listing. The details can be sorted out later. I feel torn between a slight almost-frown about celebrating the dusty drawer future of a butterfly even as I understand the excitement and joy of adding to a base of knowledge, of learning something new and being responsible for the ability of that knowledge to be passed onto others. Science and art, wilderness and specimen drawers; perhaps, then, this poem perches on the ambiguous boundary between what could be defined as my rationality and my romanticism rather well.

On Discovering a Butterfly

Vladimir Nabokov

I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer—and I want no other fame.

Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
in the secluded stronghold where we keep
type specimens it will transcend its dust.

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immortality of this
red label on a little butterfly.

3 comments:

Z said...

"My inner geek is dancing."
I have so much hope for that sentence.

Also, the Lady Gaga video is made of crazy awesome.

Rose-Anne said...

Teehee! Ammie, I'm the same way when I'm crazy busy. Somehow it seems imperative to sit on my couch and read cookbooks while the dirty dishes laze about in the sink.

I have to confess that I'm a little sad to think about butterflies pinned in boxes after being caught by someone. I like butterflies best when they are in flight or hovering from one flower to the next.

ammie said...

I think maybe this poem--and, in fact, perhaps this entire book--is a little bit too much about the joy of knowing about a butterfly and not quite enough about the joy of the actual butterfly for me. Those two things intersect, but that intersection isn't necessarily shown in this particular case. Perhaps this, along with mediocre math skills, is why I chose to be a musician instead of a botanist (which I actually considered, briefly) when I went to college. Perhaps. I'm still enjoying the book and I still appreciate the poem, but it's just a little incomplete.