Hester L. Furey
Our greatest sins as a nation in the US have sprung from our desire for simple, ham-handed tales with which to manage the world. What has saved us is our variety, the multiplicity of margins, our collective failure to live in the same symbolic reality, our unpredictable loves and struggles, the very things we try and try to stamp out in the name of some dollar store unity. I remember the relief of discovering the writing of Michel Foucault, an intellectual sensation as profound as orgasm. At last, someone as perverse and mad as myself, who criticized both the left and the right, who found the will to power in the Enlightenment and asked, persistently, what of those who wished to remain in the shadows. Or what of those placed there by politics?
The word “marginal” is sometimes mistaken to mean an automatic disconnect from power. To be sure, the power of the marginal is linked to its invisibility. And what is marginal, once seen, can seldom be unseen, whether we are talking about a drop of African blood, syncretic magics, sub-cultural codes, viruses, insects, botanical overlords manipulating us into spreading their seed about the world, or refugees, exiles, and dissidents.
Who can forget her first glimpse of a microorganism? The first conscious recognition of the sometimes naughty tiny creatures of medieval manuscripts? Our vision and thus the entire world changes when fairy houses of mosses reveal themselves inhabited by microfauna. These tiny beings not only exist somewhere between Geological and Human time, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, but can lie dormant for human lifetimes and survive trips through outer space. Biologists have long known that the greatest variety of morphology exists at the margins of ecosystems, where the terrain is complicated and weather operates on somewhat unpredictable rhythms. Those who would survive there must abjure simple lives, shape-shift, turn themselves prickly or poisonous, thrive on adverse conditions, reproduce in all kinds of weather.
Tricky things, margins: once you start seeing them, they move. They dance and proliferate, proffer devastating commentaries on the center. Marginal creatures engender mockery and doubt, keep the world weird. Carl Sagan once proposed the hypothesis that viruses and bacteria are the mechanism of animal evolution. How large the world can become! How many wonders and dysfunctions survive in invisibility, somewhere beyond the margins of our ken.