4 September, 2020.
We wake to a stormy morning.
Today, my zoom teaching of the ANU class of composers and musicians- but it’s special today, for my pin-up neuroscientist Professor Liane Gabora is zooming to speak to us. A dream come true. I’m going to ask her all the neuroscience questions no one ever answers in all the papers i read.
Her picture suddenly appears, in postage size, and she’s smiling and so youthful, I think she’s a new student! It’s not until Kim welcomes her that I remember to be polite! Perhaps it’s always like this with idols.
In fact, she’s not at all the learned person of her scholarly papers. I think that she’s so delighted to be an artist amongst artists, that she leaves her scholarly persona behind. So she talks, disappointingly to me but entirely enchantingly to us all, as an artist. She hasn’t prepared a talk, so I ply her with questions until i remember not to hog her.
I forget to watch the clock, and our session is almost over. And then we invite her to tell our students of a project for them all. I hope they love. She’s organising an improvising jam. She shows them an ancient sculpture by an unknown artist, of perhaps 40,000 years ago, found in a cave in Germany, the earliest known sculpture that was done for no functional purpose- not to dig, not to eat with, not to wear. Yet the mammoth ivory it’s made of is worn smooth, as if it’s been handled for hundreds of generations.
for almost a million years, stone axes tell the story of no cultural changes. A stasis. The stone axe of a million years before was just for hitting. Then, around 40,000 years ago, it began to be thinned, flaked, edged, so it could function as a knife. it was when all of a sudden, the artefacts reveal funerals and religion – none before – jewellery, complex houses, perhaps at last the start of language. Gabor thinks that before this thinking would’ve been very linear and concrete, only for purpose – then abstract thinking came slowly, and metaphorical thought a long way behind. I’m sorry- I loved the idea of the Flintstones speaking in poetry. Humans learned to move between the two ways of thinking, as we now are able, though few of us do. i worry that we may lose our poetry.
Somewhere in this era, the carver of the figurine thought to place a lion head on a human body.- no one knows why. It’s called the lion man, But in the class is a Turkish jazz musician who says that to talk as artists in Turkey as we do would’ve brought punishment on his head. He’s always delighted. In a previous life, he’s studied the culture of ancient Persia and Mesopotamia. When i wondered aloud whether the slight, slinky figure was a man or a woman, he was adamant: In ancient Mesopotamia, the man was of the house and the woman was of the land.
Gabora tell us she wants the musicians and composers to take inspiration from the lion woman. She’s doing a paper about artists of one domain being inspired by artists of another. i asked if poets could join in the project. She was delighted. We finish. And I realise i haven’t asked her any of my scholarly questions. I’ve just been delighting in her.
what do you make of her?
Fridays are lost days. Friday morning is caught up with worry and preparation- not the lectures, but me. I’m so out of my depth, i’m doing it on a wing and a prayer, depending on Gabor’s research that artistic creativity is the same for us all. So far she seems right. Every Friday afternoon, I sleep with relief.
But at night, there’s a wonderful storm.
Wait for it: