About

by Jason Tougaw

Here I am at 3, feeling my organism-hood (or so those tiny, entangled fingers always make me think).

Electric word, life. As usual, Prince cuts right through to the essential questions. I hope to follow his example when I use californica to document and explore the myriad crazy ways that art & science entangle each other to electrify life.

I like to think of myself as an organism. I like to think about the biology of the people and other creatures around me. I’m awed by the roles played by brains and other bodily organs in the making of life and art.

I’m finishing a memoir that’s basically a portait of the artist (and family) as an organism. Like all autobiography, the book is about a question that’s very difficult to answer: How did I become me? One way to answer this question—one most of us ask, I think—is to tell stories. There’s always a biology to these stories. Every organism, every body, is a little bit unique, a variation on a theme.

Human organisms seem fixated on our own paradoxical condition: We feel like free agents exploring a world on our own terms, but we also know how circumscribed those terms are. We are willful creatures, but we don’t make ourselves. We become who we are through our relationships, with our physical environments and with other organisms. Our sense of self depends on the bodies we were born with and grow into, the minds whose contours we can hardly begin to fathom, the personalities whose motives and actions are more elusive than we admit most of the time.

If we admit we are organisms, we can stop fighting with the paradox and learn to live more easily with life’s entanglements. We are entangled with our environments and cultures and the other organisms (human and otherwise) we share and build them with; the organs in our bodies are entangled with each other; our brains are entanglements of cells; our realities entangle meanings and feelings we spend our lives sorting out. Art and science both reveal and sort these entanglements. Californica is about the artists and scientists trying to figure out what it means to be an organism in a world of entanglements.

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