Monday, June 30, 2008

Combustion Engines

I have named this blog after a song called "Here Comes a City" which was written by Robert Forster and Grant McLennan and which appeared on the final Go-Betweens album "Oceans Apart". Grant McLennan passed away in his sleep a few months after the album came out. He had been gone a few months before the day I found out. The news flew into my eyes slowly as I skimmed a magazine. I had found his obit by serendipity. He was, for me, a great writer of pop songs as well as being one of my favorite poets. Although I had never met or communicated with Grant, I grieved for what felt like my loss. His and Robert's songs caused combustion in my head like no other music has done.

Obama caught fire in there, too, the first time back during the Democratic 2004 Convention, and then again this past spring. The flame flickers at times. But John McCain has never even managed a spark.

No one has ever seen a thought, much less an inspiration. But neuroscientists have seen parts of the brain light up when we think or react. Those lights, like cold fires seen from the air, indicate that the mind is in the brain. Maybe. As fire is to a hot coil on a stove top, inspiration might be to the material brain. Touch combustible material to the red hot coil and you get a fire, but the material coil is not itself the fire. Touch certain words or music or some emotional artifact to the brain coil, and there is combustion also, in the form or elation or inspiration. What are these in relation to the brain?

A country is an idea, an emotional idea. I have always lived in the United States. But I have lived in various countries. A new country is coming, driven by the mind's combustion engines, or at least that is the metaphor that appeals to me. By train and automobile over the past two centuries, the great migration continued, and the idea of the country spread, replacing the ideas and elations whose spires had risen here before we came.