The day after the eclipse… Through great forethought (read: coincidence), I’m reading David Hinton’s Hunger Mountain with my class this week. Hinton explores the many ways in which classical Chinese poetry and philosophy (especially Taoist and Ch’an philosophies) evince relationships between consciousness, language, and cosmos that are almost unimaginable within minds constructed within the English alphabet (read: me). The “self” is also present in these old Chinese poems (through its continuity with uncarved being) in ways that side-step some of the duality and I-centeredness of English. Hinton’s writing is an interesting complement to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s meditations on Potawatomi language in Braiding Sweetgrass: when the world is represented in verbs, its life is honored in a way that noun-heavy (“it”) English cannot achieve.
Back to the moon:
月 glyph means moon or month.
朋 is the glyph for the grapheme friend. (In classical Chinese. Modern written form combines the glyph with others, so 朋 is not now used alone.) Friend was originally a string of cowrie shells, then wings of a bird, then moons.
Now: friend is two, standing close. Two moons, standing upright, together. Friend, shells, wings, moon. Moon is alone. Moon is friend.
More etymological archaeology of relationship from Hinton:
情, to feel, to love, emotion. From “heart-mind” and “the blue-green color of landscape.” To feel is to be in the sensory moment of the land, inner and outer unwalled. “Consciousness and landscape” are integrated, momentarily. Mountain, forest, mist, mind.
然 “thusness of things in perpetual transformation” — dog 犬 meat 肉 roasting over a fire 灬, “an ontological process both grizzly and ablaze with itself.”
Of course, the shuffle of alphabet that is modern English has its own cosmic, bloody, soil-clodded roots:
consider: with the stars
pedigree: foot of crane
hood-winked: eye-sewn crane
regret: cry again
companion: with bread
environment: surrounded, but not part of me
human: earthly being, not of the gods
lunatic: periodic, moon-birthed insanity
On this last, note the Chinese poets made a practice of moon-watching, sometimes with wine and 朋, but often alone-but-not-alone, the cosmos finding itself. Lunacy. Eclipsed, a forsaking darkness.