The art of the tightrope walker

Nausica Manzi

The genome is the intricate thread, the certain and uncertain basis on which the tightrope walker invents his art each time. Without one, there would be not another, but one is not completely identified with the other

Behind heavy curtains and glittering stage clothes, while an illusionist moulds the bodies, in one corner a skilful juggler juggles and throws chromosomes of dreams into the air; and in another corner a ‘fire-eater’ gives voice to a forgotten inner fire. Whilst, from above, as a sign of a further horizon, with his silent walk among the stars on a fragile but resistant wire, a tightrope walker and his art invite the whole circus of humanity to raise its gaze.

The art of the tightrope walker  and genomic metaphysics meet on a particular thread, which is suspended between the certain and the uncertain, between heaven and Earth, between visible and invisible, between wonder and danger.

     It is an encounter that comes from slow, thought-out steps, it is a method of sequencing that seems to be rooted in science and, at the same time, goes over it by embodying balance, and beyond it as paradigms of life. The tightrope walker and his thread are one in mutual trust, fused together; but one cannot define the other: the artist is the one who thinks and then takes his step, the thread is the certain but uncertain basis of this journey. What they have in common is the complexity of that same dangerous going forward and the intricacy of the entire circus of humanity, which must remember the sky to bring out the true ‘talents’ on Earth.

In scientific terms, the genome is defined as all the genetic information stored in the DNA sequence, which are contained in the nucleus of cells in the form of chromosomes. The genome is a biological and precisely scientific totality that is arranged on a particular thread, forming a double helix, as if two strings embracing each other until they merge. On this particular delicate and powerful thread, therefore, is written everything that constitutes an individual, everything that gives life to its cells and tissues. This information is divided into four groups according to the following chemical bases that make up DNA: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C).  The order of these chemical bases determines the uniqueness of each human being and also the universality of which they are composed: in this sequence is written how our organism is made, how it works and to which diseases we are most prone. For each individual, the combination of letters is not the same, and these differences are the reason of human richness and inexhaustibility. However, the genome, and therefore DNA, is also a universal map for orientation, for seeking a balance, some kind of stability, albeit eternally unstable and shaky, poised between wonder and mystery.

The genome is therefore the thread on which the tightrope walker’s art is performed every day. Some time ago, this helical thread, which is the substratum of every human being between power and fragility in the circus of a humanity that must regain possession of its ‘talents’ precisely through the silent art of the tightrope walker, was completely sequenced. The thread on which the tightrope walker walks was finally analysed in its entirety, ready to be used as a map for the artist himself to understand how to measure his steps, how to adjust his centre of gravity, how to manage control and balance. And yet, the tightrope walker’s art does not consist only of this. In fact, the thread that gives rise to thought, control, energy and delicacy in him is the fundamental basis of an art that nonetheless testifies to a surplus with respect to genetics. The surplus that he embodies by himself and which ‒ by giving completeness to his art ‒ also honours his base of strength and fragility, that is the genome thread, the book of his uniqueness open to the risk and beauty of the universality of the entire circus of humanity.

A modern worldview called genomic metaphysics, in fact, identifies DNA as the founding and exhaustive element that constitutes the identity of every single individual: for this scientific and biological paradigm, everyone is fundamentally their own DNA and, therefore, the genome is the thing that confers the ‘humanity’ to human beings, and it is also the master of the circus of humanity, which can be defined as a modern soul.

   The notion that the genome contains the blueprint of human nature is akin to an important outlook within Western metaphysics that interprets all living organisms as having “souls,” which determine their characteristic traits. From this perspective, the human soul is viewed as encapsulating the human essence(…)Max Delbrück, a 20th-century pioneer of molecular biology, noted how the notion of a genetic program (…) had an uncanny kinship with the Aristotelian concept of eidos, the organizing principle inherent in every living thing. Aristotle and medieval philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas regarded the concept of eidos as closely connected with the notion of a forma or “soul,”(…) Forma was seen as imbuing an organism with individual characteristics, as well as the essence of that species.[1]

This approach, therefore, claims to use a scientific concept for anthropological and even metaphysical purposes; no matter how fundamental the mapping and knowledge of the entire genome are, this cannot be the complete definition and understanding of the human being. Genome is in fact a term that comes from the Greek verb “ghenesis” which means “to create, to give origin”, so it is the root of something that is capable of continuous growth and transformation. The genome is the origin of a story, a picture of what activities and mechanisms it is composed of, which are then used to initiate a mysterious and wonderful process. The genome is a book, basic paper and ink, while the human being is the pen which, by evolving, transcribes its history. The genome is the intricate thread, the certain and uncertain basis on which the tightrope walker invents his art each time. Without one, there would be not another, but one is not completely identified with the other:

To be a human person means more than having a human genome, it means having a narrative identity of one’s own. Likewise, membership in the human family involves a rich nexus of cultural links that cannot be reduced to taxonomy. On the question of human nature, we need a philosophical fresh start that cannot be provided by genomics alone. [2] 

In fact, as Paul Ricoeur argued  ‒ when he describes a singularity immersed in a history from which it cannot claim distance but which, on the contrary, is a motion to evolve and recognise itself continuously ‒  the nature of human identity is narrative: it is a process, a story, it is a tightrope walker who walks in balance on complexity, giving form to his art of existence to rediscover himself at every step and thus transform the whole circus of humanity. So, who is this tightrope walker? 

It is the human soul, understood as an excess that any exact genome will never be able to fully describe or foresee. It is that same ‘elementary law’ that shapes man as a process, as a narrative identity, and that pushes him, between self-awareness and self-control, to walk on the certain and uncertain basis of his genome thread and invent his art of existence, personal but collective. And he does so by calling the souls of every individual to become tightrope walkers, between danger and amazement, ready to evolve in baby steps, rooted on their biological and scientific basis, but predisposed and projected towards the stars. The ‘elementary law’ is one that teaches the art of the tightrope walker, which continuously trains one’s posture, i.e. in deep knowledge and constant research, and in control, i.e. in critical thinking that moves action. The ‘elementary law’ of the tightrope walker’s art also conveys a new perspective from which to look at the circus of humanity; one that, from above, better frames the talents of beauty to return to each of its members, hanging on the radical thread of DNA. This law is therefore ethical because it is unwritten but linked to values and relationships of human gazes that make it possible to give complete form to every biologically founded life. In fact, it prescribes the narration of flesh next to the description of quantity, the artistic dance between dreams and fears next to the logical order, soul mixed with body, ethics and science, biology and surplus: the art of the tightrope walker is moving forward unsteadily, slow yet alive because it is a thought action rooted into the Earth, which is able to make every soul return to touch the stars at the same time.

[1] Alex Mauron, Is the Genome the Secular Equivalent of the Soul?, in Science 291/5505 (2001), 831.

[2] Ivi, 832.

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