Gnomicon 185

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  185
Tuesday 13 November 2012
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He was my cream,
and I was his coffee –
And when you poured us together,
it was something.
Josephine Baker (3 Jun 1906 – 12 Apr 1975)

[This piece really got away from me – that cute statement got me started thinking about something and then I just couldn’t stop.  What follows, then, may well not be everyone’s cup of … coffee, but this is after all my blog and I can explore pretty much in any directions I feel pushed — as long as I am polite …  and I do find it all quite fascinating:  from the beautiful Baker to the beautiful bicameral brain in 700 words!]

This dazzling performer has here a hugely likeable kind of Cole Porter way to describe passion.  One can take it as just clever metaphor, or read into it an ethnic mix of one sort or another.  No matter!  It’s a great way to start a day and a great way to think about café au lait combos not only in the restricted context here implied but likewise in a larger sense of something making for more than merely the sum of its parts.

Yes, cream is great, coffee is great, but together … .  .  New York strip steak is great, Alexia waffle fries are great, but together … .  Key lime pie is great, whip cream is great, but together … .  Beefeater gin is great, Noilly Pratt dry vermouth is great, but a martini … . Jack Daniels is great, Cinzano sweet vermouth is great, but a Manhattan … .

And so it goes … but I stop before this little post turns into a prose version of catalog poetry – that very hoary form bequeathed to us from the Ancient Near Eastern poetry of Sumer and Akkad by way of ancient intermediating Greeks like Hesiod (c. late έ8th/ early7th century BCE).

I could write a book about ‘pairings’, not just food and drink, but just about anything else.  And I’ve wondered from time to time why just this kind of duality is so appealing to us … and come to the surprising conclusion that it has something to do with the duality of ourselves that we have been observing since the first one of us gazed, Narcissus-like, lovingly into that pool in some forest or savannah somewhere and were captivated by the sight of two eyes above two nostrils staring back at us and then dissipate in the wavelets our two hands made as they cupped water to slake thirst.  Is it too big a leap to think that ‘two-ness’ if built into our mental DNA?  It is no secret that our symmetry is physical, and hence, I must muse, perhaps mentally so, too [remember Julian Jaynes’ highly controversial The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind of some years ago?].

For the recondite record, I imagine that I see some evidence for that kind of a binary mental template in, among other things, ancient Greek μέν and δέ as a foundational structure for organizing reality linguistically.  Perhaps analogously, English locutions like ‘both … and’ and ‘not only … but also’ and ‘on the one hand … on the other hand’ point along a similar path – these ‘binary formulas’ occur in many other modern languages, and the point invariably is that, again, only the composite shapes a sense more complex than the simple sum of the two individual components.  Simultaneously I must also wonder this:  do similar linguistic structures occur also, say, in Amerindian languages of our own continent, in aboriginal Malay languages of Sumatra, in the Bantu languages of Central and Southern Africa, and so forth?)

In any event … thus, thanks to Josephine Baker, runs my thinking this bright day, and I hope you too will have something with which to play around in your head during the predictably certain interstices of this day’s down-times.

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