Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mother’s Milk

Our sense of the greater world reaches us, as it were, through our mother’s milk—because the world’s so vast. A visceral sense of this rose up in me thanks to the confluence of some personal associations and some dark news events. The personal aspect came when I found an old book on Mallarmé no doubt part of my Mother’s library—and the memory of a memoir of World War I which probably reached me through her as well. My sense of culture was heavily influenced by literature and humanistic values, and all else I saw through my mother’s interpretation of them as influenced by such values. At the same time came news yesterday of African atrocities, first a video of Ugandan horrors, then interviews of George Clooney, the actor, making a brave attempt to draw attention to the suffering of Sudanese living on the new borders between Sudan and South Sudan. The thought came: what sort of culture reaches the children of those regions through their mother’s milk—if they are fortunate enough to survive? Our earliest memories are privileged. Only with great reluctance do we yield to the successive onslaughts of wider and wider experience. What I still powerfully feel as real culture—at least European culture—was barely alive when I imbibed it—but, of course, my dear Mother didn’t know that either. She carried a treasure and passed it on—and she was so young then. Mothers are, aren’t they. The actual reality of the world? Ultimately it is an incoherence. Fortunate those of us who carry a little light forward from childhood. However dim it seems, it continues to guide.


  1. One thing I've always thought interesting, both in itself and symbolically, is that human beings are born with an incomplete immune system; our immune system is not entirely genetic. Some of it, of course, comes from the adaptation of the immune system over the course of a life to various sicknesses as we develop new immunities. But our development of our immune system doesn't start from scratch: one of the things that mother's milk does is give us all a headstart, since from it we receive part of the immune system adapatations that our mothers have developed in their lives.

  2. So true, of course, biologically. And the analogy, here, is right on...


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