Thursday, 21 December 2006

Neuronal Plasticity


What actually happens when I learn?
Repetition is like the burning in of a brand.
The hand that slaps taalam on my knee rubs away some fibres of cloth at each matra.
By repetition and concentration I immerse myself in a bath of information. I open my pores to absorb as much as possible into my mind. What is it that absorbs? And what is absorbed?
The textures of skin and muscle and bone change like weeds in a mountain stream. Their stiffness is smoothed and guided by the strength of the flow.
The conscious effort to remember a squence of sounds marshalls references and allusions. I use tricks and references to systematise and discern patterns in what at first seems random. Part of me wants to resist the extraneous thoughts in order to be true to the given information. But perhaps those extraneous thoughts help to tether it in a web. Otherwise it disappears into meaningless free space. Do I invent the pattern or discover it? Either way gradually I forget the external resonances, correspondences and connections and eventually the new pattern just becomes part of me. It gets tied into my fabric.

For instance yesterday I was struggling to remember the order 'Ta Di Thom Nam' forwards and backwards at different speeds. Which is aspirated and which is not? Nam reminds me of the bengali word for the english 'name'. Thom sounds almost exactly like an english boy's name. But is it exactly the same sound? Or is the 'm' more nasal. And there are so many ways to think about the hand choreography. Remember to start from the little finger. But that's actually the second clap so in fact it's as though the index finger is the main beat. Is it the fingers that beat or the palm which beats while the correct finger is raised away from striking?

Like this, thoughts crowd in while I try to repeat the sequence without mistakes. Some more related, others seemingly completely random. Each mistake creates a flurry and a twinge of despair. Anger and upset on top of this despair become layers on a wart obstructing the stream and becoming ever more annoying until I feel like giving up. But if I observe it calmly without giving it importance, soon it disappears. The patience to start again is the key thing. And then each repetion is like water on a stone. And the flow gathers its own joyous momentum. Eventually I am grooved. Today's lesson already made yesterday's feel like subconscious, automatic action.

Practicing 'kitakitatake' in the auto after my lesson is a series of revelations. There's a rolling movement like a breaking wave from the back of the tongue to the front, along the palate. How close the 't' is to an 'r'. I wonder fleetingly about the huge variety of 't', 'r' and 'd' sounds in South Indian languages. I can choose how hard to press the toungue against the palate. This is partly determined by the speed of the movement and it's fluidity. Where does the fluidity come? Partly from analysing the movement very slowly in order to clarify its constituents, partly from a synthesis, attending to it as a whole.

The tongue is a fluid muscle, hardening and softening in its different parts, curling, flicking, blocking and tapping with amazing flexibility. And then, in the noisiest bits of traffic when I was not worried about being overheard I put my voice into it and was amazed again by the weight of the breath that gives the tounge heft and weight, gives it a current to swim in. The konnakol patterns gradually reveal themselves as intricate choreographies of weight and sound.

Where does this realization reside? Is it in the tongue, whose nerves must be painstakingly reconfigured? In the breath which drives everything? In the heart which directs.

Patterns of muscle fibre must be changing somewhere in my body, the flesh coming under the control of conscious design. The combing out of knots in streams of electricity. The knotting of neural nets.

After the lesson today I walked from 15th to 18th cross to the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala. The doctor told me he suspected arthritis in my knee. That was a shock. My mum's becoming virtually immobilised by it. It's quite scary. I feel angry that my body will not do the things it used to find easy. I've haven't sat easily cross-legged for months now, ever since feeling that click in my knee. Arthritis can be triggered by a sudden trauma apparently, as well as being gradually degenerative.

What is the use of learning? I wonder which body I am trying to pack with knowledge. This decaying one? Or is there something alse which also grows, apart from this body? Beyond this tongue and fingers which will soon become cold and stiff, is there another material to carefully tune and compose?

3 comments:

interact said...

Hello Ansuman

I am enjoying reading this blog, thank you. Sorry to hear about the arthritis in your knee!

The image in this posting of neuronal activity in the brain - is this one of Warren Neidich's images from Journal of Neuroaesthetics (produced as part of his art and science fellowship at Goldsmiths printed in the Leonardo supplement which we launched last week?) It's very similar so interesting if not. You missed a good party by the way.

kind regards
Bronac

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