THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

SOUND RECORDING OF HUIA

painting of birds on a branch

A recording collected by a man of British stock, A. L. Batley, of the voice of a Māori man, Henare Hamana, imitating the songs of the already extinct huia, a bird endemic to Aotearoa/New Zealand. The haunting birdsong, lost through a complex of human causes, echoes physically and figuratively within different spaces and across generations. Mathematician Henri Poincaré suggests that certain rare combinations of critical elements chosen from domains far apart are the most fertile. These make possible a greater consciousness of patterns of the universe relevant to our concerns. Listening to the recording in different domains, then, and supported by historical, scientific, and mythological sources, I seek such rare fertile combinations of insight focused by questions inspired by poet W.S. Merwin's "Learning a Dead Language": When I become still to listen, what do I hear and learn that belongs both to the remembered song and to our humanity? What do I discover has been saved by remembering? Why does it matter? Amid global anthropogenic mass extinction, I ask: How might what has been saved be carried forward to release human generativity--the capacity, on the whole, to enhance rather than ruin the world-of-life?

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