Pieter Odendaal. Om ons sintuie te vier

Hulle verbind ons aan wat buite onsself is en knoop ons aan die wêreld vas. Breytenbach noem hulle iewers suiers wat ons anker aan wat om ons is. Ons sintuie is letterlik die tuie waarmee ons sin gee aan ons bewuste ervaring: Hulle transformeer reflekterende lig in sig, die heen en weer stuwings van lug in klank, opgeloste molekules in reuk en smaak en die aanraking van ‘n geliefde in gevoel. Dit is nie hedonisties om hulle te vier nie – om ons sintuie te prys is om ons menslikheid te bevestig.

Die afgelope paar weke het ek Diane Ackerman se A natural history of the senses gelees. Jy weet jy’s in vir ‘n treat as ‘n boek met die volgende paragraaf begin:

How sense-luscious the world is. In the summer, we can be decoyed out of bed by the sweet smell of the air soughing through our bedroom window. The sun playing across the tulle curtains gives them a moiré effect, and they seem to shudder with light. (Ackerman 1990: xv)

A natural history of the senses deur Diane Ackerman

A natural history of the senses deur Diane Ackerman

In haar boek bespreek Ackerman elkeen van ons sintuie in fantastiese detail. Sy staan ‘n lywige hoofstuk aan elke sintuig af wat bestaan uit ‘n toeganklike bespreking van die biologiese werking van die betrokke sintuig, anekdotes van persoonlike sintuiglike ervarings, ‘n literêre oorsig oor sintuiglike motiewe in die werk van skrywers soos Proust, Keller, Baudelaire, Süskind en Shakespeare en antropologiese vertellings van die wyses waarop verskillende kulture hul sintuie verskillend aanwend.

Ackerman se prosa is deurweek van die poëtiese en ‘n viering van die sensuele*. Watter soort mens kry dit reg om so ‘n boek te skryf? Wel, volgens Ackerman se biografie is sy ‘n digter, vlieënier, naturalis, joernalis, essayis en ontdekker. Sy het haar Ph.D. in Engelse letterkunde onder Carl Sagan voltooi en het al verskeie boeke die lig laat sien. Vergun my tog om gedeeltes uit elkeen van die hoofstukke van A natural history of the senses aan te haal om Ackerman se poëtiese skryfstyl te illustreer:

Breaths come in pairs, except in two times in our lives – the beginning and the end. At birth, we inhale for the first time; at death, we exhale for the last. In between, through all the lather of one’s life, each breath passes air over our olfactory sites. Each day, we breath about 23 040 times and move around 438 cubic feet of air. It takes about five seconds to breathe – two seconds to inhale and three seconds to exhale – and, in that time, molecules of odor flood through our systems. Smells coat us, swirl around us, enter our bodies, emanate from us. We live in a constant wash of them (Smell, Ackerman 1990: 6-7).

Sex is the ultimate intimacy, the ultimate touching when, like two paramecia, we engulf each other. We play at devouring each other, digesting each other, we nurse on each other, drink each other’s fluids, actually get under each other’s skin. Kissing, we share breath, open the sealed fortresses of our body to our lover. We shelter under a warm net of kisses. We drink from the well of each other’s mouths. Setting out on a kiss caravan of the other’s body, we map the new terrain with our fingertips and lips, pausing at the oasis of a nipple, the hillock of a thigh, the backbone’s meandering riverbed (Touch, Ackerman 1990: 109).

Fighting the enemy, boredom, Romans staged all-night dinner parties and vied with one another in the creation of unusual and ingenious dishes. At one dinner a host served progressively smaller members of the food chain stuffed inside each other: Inside a calf, there was a pig, inside the pig a lamb, inside the lamb a chicken, inside the chicken a rabbit, inside the rabbit a dormouse, and so on. […] Theme parties were popular, and might include a sort of treasure hunt, where guests who located the peacock brains or the flamingo tongues received a prize. Mechanical devices might lower acrobats from the ceiling along with the next course, or send in a plate of lamprey milt on an eel-shaped trolley. Slaves brought garlands of flowers to drape over the diners, and rubbed their bodies with perfumed unguents to relax them. The floor would be knee-deep in rose petals (Taste, Ackerman 1990: 144).

Terwyl sy gehoor bespreek, haal Ackerman die volgende gedeelte uit die digter David Wright se Deafness: a personal account aan:

Suppose it is a calm day, absolutely still, not a twig or leaf stirring. To me it will seem quiet as a tomb though hedgerows are full of noisy but invisible birds. Then comes a breath of air, enough to unsettle a leaf; I will see and hear that movement like an exclamation. The illusory soundlessness has been interrupted. I see, as if I heard, a visionary noise of the wind in a disturbance of foliage… Such non-sounds include the flight and movement of birds, even fish swimming in clear water or the tank of an aquarium. I take it that the flight of most birds, at least at a distance, must be silent… Yet it appears audible, each species creating a different “eye-music” from the nonchalant melancholy of seagulls to the staccato of fitting tits. (Wright in Ackerman 1990: 192)

Ackerman se essay “How to watch the sky” in die hoofstuk oor sig is meesleurend en getuig van iemand wat onbeheerbaar nuuskierig is en verwonderd staan teenoor die wêreld (soos dit enige goeie digter en wetenskaplike betaam). Haar essay begin as volg:

I am sitting at the edge of the continent, at Point Reyes National Seashore, the peninsula north of San Fransisco, where the land gives way to the thrall of the Pacific and the arching blue conundrum of the sky. When the cricket-whine, loud as a buzz saw, abruptly quits, only bird calls map the quiet codes of daylight. A hawk leans into nothingness, peeling a layer of flight from thin air (Ackerman 1990: 235).

Ek het onlangs ‘n baie interessante artikel oor die (skynbaar) onoorbrugbare afrgond tussen die natuurwetenskappe en die poësie gelees. Alhoewel die skrywer, Alison Deming, nie regtig nuwe idees kwytraak nie, bied sy artikel Poetry and Science: A view from the divide wel ‘n goeie oorsig oor die ooreenkomste en die verskille tussen hierdie twee ondersoekvelde. Diane Ackerman kry dit reg om moeiteloos van die een taal na die ander te beweeg. Shakespeare, Goethe en Donne kon ook Janusgesigte wees en in ons eie taal is TT Cloete seker die ooglopendste voorbeeld.

Dis altyd vir my vreemd as mense my ongelowig aankyk wanneer ek hulle vertel dat ek eers letterkunde gestudeer het en nou so ‘n bietjie in biologie rondsnuffel. Getuig al twee arenas nie van ‘n sekere soort ingesteldheid teenoor die wêreld nie? Ons is in elk geval almal wetenskaplikes en digters omdat ons almal weetgierig en nuuskierig is. Dis immers hierdie twee eienskappe wat ons in staat gestel het om in die bestek van 100 000 jaar die magtigste spesie op aarde te word. Volgende keer as iemand my vra “Is dit nie weird om nou biologie te swot nadat jy vir drie jaar stories en gedigte gelees het nie?” gaan ek hulle ‘n kopie van A natural history of the senses in die hand stop.

* Ackerman kan soms so ‘n bietjie indulgent of geaffekteerd voorkom, maar ek dink steeds dat die boek as ‘n geheel ‘n pragtige voorbeeld is van hoe ‘n mens die poësie wat dikwels in wetenskaplike kennis hiberneer kan wakker maak.

Bibliografie

Ackerman, D. 1990. A natural history of the senses. Random House: New York.

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Een Kommentaar op “Pieter Odendaal. Om ons sintuie te vier”

  1. Leon Retief :

    Lekker stuk Pieter. Om Dawkins aan te haal: Science is the poetry of reality.

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