My good friend Jim sent me an essay from Orion Magazine on using words and the consequences of language. It’s an excerpt by Susanne Antonetta from her new book “A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World.” In the essay she visits an orangutan who’s been taught to sign words. As the author hangs around with Chantek and his closest human friend Lyn, she observes : “With one part of my mind I’m aware of the fact that I’m doing this slightly unreal thing, talking with an orangutan. With another, I’m just a socially awkward person in a group, hoping I don’t say anything stupid, and that I can perhaps say or do something a little memorable.” Her book gets a nasty review by the New York Times, where Polly Morrice notices that Antonetta talks about her own (bipolar) brain so much “the reader may assume she’s writing “My Beautiful Mind.” Still it’s hard not to laugh along with such an appealing ‘third wheel’ perspective; Antonetta goes on to ask wistful questions about where “the present” comes from and how much our use of language has to do with making the present vanish even as we speak of it.
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