Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Order of Things

Last night on the University of Texas at Arlington campus I stretched out on a picnic table bench to stargaze through clumps of tree limbs and other sight barriers. I couldn't see any of the constellations I knew, so I spent the time creating my own. I've been thinking quite a bit about systems of knowledge and patterns lately. For my humanities course, I created the following "quiz" based on an article I read in the paper a few weeks ago: Which of the following doesn't belong: banana, lemon, orange, or tennis ball? Based on a system of shape, the banana doesn't belong. Based on a system of color, the orange doesn't belong. Based on a system of use, the tennis ball doesn't belong. Therefore, the answer to the original question is the lemon (based on a system of difference): it is the only one that isn’t excluded from all the other systems. My own constellations were looking too much like straight lines and simple curves. I thought about how these two points of light had nothing in common: not only were they utterly outside any of the systems I was familiar with, but they were also billions of light years apart if they even still existed. Humans impose too much order on the universe. I liked my wobbly, lop-sided constellations with no historical referent. Just then a flock of birds appeared high in the night sky. They were flying due south in a U-shape that morphed into a perfect V before flowing gradually into something more like a check-mark. And then I lost sight of them. Shapes and patterns are wonderful things when they appear out of the blue naturally. I think I’ll try to limit the order I try to impose on my world just to see what order appears when I least expect it.

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