Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Asylum Walk (24)
When reading the following passage (taken from The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan), mentally substitute “symptom” for “mushroom” each time the latter occurs:
What we call a mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger and essentially invisible organism that lives most of its life underground. The mushroom is the “fruiting body” of a subterranean network of microscopic hyphae, improbably long rootlike cells that thread themselves through the soil like neurons. Bunched like cables, the hyphae form webs of (still microscopic) mycelium. Mycologists can’t dig up a mushroom like a plant to study its structure because its mycelium are too tiny and delicate to tease from the soil without disintegrating. Hard as it may be to see a mushroom—the most visible and tangible part!—to see the whole organism of which it is merely a component may simply be impossible. Fungi also lack the comprehensible syntax of plants, the orderly and visible chronology of seed and vegetative growth, flower, fruit, and seed again. The fungi surely have a syntax of their own but we don’t know all its rules, especially the ones that govern the creation of a mushroom, which can take three years or thirty, depending. On what? We don’t really know. All of which makes mushrooms seem autochthonous, arising seemingly from nowhere, seemingly without cause.
(With the one substitution in place, what substitutions suggest themselves for other words: “fungi,” “soil,” etc.? Also, what effect do other substitutions for “mushroom” have on the passage, e.g. instead of “mushroom”—“behaviour,” “trait”...“personality”?)