It really does exist, you know. Naalagiaqvik lies on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, "the place where you go to listen". In more naive days, Washington, D. C. was supposed to be such a place, with lawmakers who listened to their constituents as well as to each other. Now they listen to image-makers, Rove et al, and to major donors, and to pollsters. They thrive on numbers, and to the extent that they can massage the numbers to their own benefit, they will.

There is a spot in Plato's Symposium where Aristophanes describes how human beings, at the beginning of time, had spherical bodies, contentedly rolling hither and yon, until the Gods split them into two, females and males, condemned forever to seek their other half.

That search, for otherness, for better solutions, for greater understanding, haunts us as much today. Wholeness is elusive, divisiveness reigns. Science suspects religion of witchcraft. Religion accuses science of heresy. The democrats are a house divided still. The republicans can't decide whom to trust with their votes. Obama trumpets change, and then votes for the status quo (the surveillance act). Mc Cain is a bush-alike; Mc Cain is his own man. Physicists debate immutable laws underlying existence, until one of their own suggests that everything is relative. Paul Davies, in the New York Times, describes physics as "the fundamental rules on which nature runs". The assumption is, of course, that there are such rules and that they can be discovered through genius or diligent work or sheer luck. There is a growing belief that those laws, rather than being immutable, are in fact locally derived and account for why we are as we are. Conversely, other universes may well have other fundamental laws which determine an entirely different set of creatures to conform to them. As Davies says, "A God's eye-view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of by-laws."

Do we have a place where we go to listen? Or only places where we go to shout? Do we really understand that there are sincerely felt divergent opinions, or only misguided uninformed biases (excluding our own, of course, which are clearly superior). Cindy Sheehan, after losing a son in Iraq, tried to get people to listen to her, and instead found herself called "an attention whore". No wonder she describes this nation as a "fascist corporate wasteland".

I see the fourth amendment to the Constitution being shredded by our elected representatives at the behest of a President that we reject. I see copyright laws favorable to the Disneys and Hollywood studios being considered at the expense of the individual artist. I see a bankrupt nation pretending that it is still a powerhouse, fighting in places where it is not welcome, forcing its views on those who feel otherwise. This is not a country of roly poly spherical bodies, but rather of self-serving individual egos looking for an edge over each other. Maybe it's because competition is such an intramural sport in Silicon Valley, but we seem unable to work together for the common good. So if you find Naalagiaqvik, by all means invite me to join you there, before listening becomes a forgotten art and we can't put Humpty back into a sphere again.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2008

Note: the University of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks has a sound and light installation called "The Place Where You Go To Listen", created by experimental composer John Luther Adams. At Universal Jellyfish you can read a description of the project. And Alex Ross' "Song of the Earth" at the New Yorker gives you his impressions.