“Standing on a hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins.” Patrick Symmes’s article in the March 1, 2010 issue of Newsweek tells of a find in southeastern Turkey that suggests that 11,500 years ago hunters-gatherers in the last Stone Age built and used temples on a potbellied hill (in Turkish, Göbekli Tepe) before humans turned to farming, then utilitarian pottery, cities, kings, and much later, writing and art.
One of the most influential books that I read when I was just discovering the excitement of books was an ancient cloth-bound book on Greek gods and goddesses illustrated with black-and-white photographs of statues culled from Europe’s art and archeological museums. I was fascinated by stories of the origin of things I was learning then through the lenses of science and history, even more fascinated with how people before my time thought about themselves, their lives and the forces that created and shaped both. My interest turned to the culture beyond the native one I saw around me and forty years later turned me into a tourist in Europe.
Our theories about the past will keep changing as we add knowledge to what media and the Internet have transformed into a truly communal store. Long after I am gone people like me will continue to wonder how the commonplace articles surrounding us came to be. More than these solid shapes and manipulable objects I am intrigued by what women and men thought and felt in centuries before mine. Artifacts dug up from the past thrill me with the magnificent possibility that people long dead, most forgotten, were essentially not unlike me. They elaborated theories about how the world operated, why this, what that, and while hiking the wilds of speculation built monuments memorializing their insight, allowing them to enter other aspects of human experience: the sense of the sublime, beauty, and awe.
“Religion now appears so early in civilized life that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it,” writes Symmes. In our modern (some say, post-modern) world we cut up the universe into manageable pieces, calling this piece religion, that piece history, this art, that philosophy. Post Aristotle and the classical Athenians we speak of the many “-logies”—mythology, theology, archeology, biology etc. They all fascinate me.
I have few original insights but they are mine so constitute the composite self that is my ultimate obsession. Teachers of writing say: write about what you know. Few may agree with me but whatever we speak or write about is ultimately self. I enjoy reading what someone else adds to my words and images but writing for me is first of all self-archeology. It is archeology and rocket science. Putting thoughts and feelings into words is exploring the last frontier: my world.
In Duende Culture I want to write about those aspects of my world we call culture and history, our stories about where we’ve come from, about the origin and evolution of self.