Juno and Mnemosyne

6 Aug

If I have one talent, it is storing random knowledge and unimportant conversations. If you ever try to repeat a conversation with me, I will get snippy and repeat almost verbatim the conversation we have previously had on the same subject. (I’m working on the snippiness, by the way. Repeating a 60-second discussion isn’t the worst thing in the world. Not like my life’s finite, or anything. … Like I said, working on it.)

As far as superpowers go, this one is pretty lame.  Un-super, even.  It has, however, left me with the knowledge that Juno is the Roman version of Hera, wife of Zeus (whose Roman counterpart is, of course, Jupiter), and that Mnemosyne represented memory in Greek mythology.  Furthermore, Nabokov wanted to name his memoir “Speak, Mnemosyne,” but “Speak, Memory” was thought to be more accessible.  (Which is precisely what I mean by “random and sometimes useless.”  Ask me about every single prayer I memorized in grade school!)

All that being said, I’m kind of a sucker for the romanticism (lowercase “r,” obviously) of our space program.

I love the appeal to memory, the connection to things that exist deep within the consciousness and the language of our civilization, things we barely think about. When I think of Voyager, Viking, Apollo, Atlantis, Discovery, Challenger, Columbia, Endeavour, Mercury, Juno–to be honest, they all sound like gods. I think what’s best about this childlike wonder in naming conventions is its sharp contrast with the sheer practicality necessary for space travel.

Photo of the Juno launch this morning, courtesy of NASA.

I have the date of Juno’s arrival at Jupiter stored in my calendar already:  July 4th, 2016.  A little under 5 years from now. The names of our spacecrafts may appeal to near-geological time, but somehow, 5 years of my life seems much longer. So I suppose entering an aid to memory into my calendar is the ultimate in romantic-meets-practical.

On the one hand, I’m assuming I will be much the same person I am today, someone who cares about a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. I am assuming my world will be much the same as it is today, a place in which it is possible for me to devote energy to caring about a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.  I am assuming the whole world will be much the same as it is today, a planet that both can and cares to monitor its spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. I’m placing, essentially, all of my hopes and fears about the future in one little iCal update.

On the other hand, a girl’s gotta have her planner. That’s just practical.

Nabokov is widely quoted as having said that “A writer should have the precision of a poet and the imagination of a scientist.” That seems fair to me. I prefer poetry over prose and research over application because I like breaking down my two respective fields into their smallest constituent parts and playing around with those pieces, tinkering until I’ve put something different together. I’d imagine that’s how a lot of people feel about Juno and the data we’ll eventually obtain from the mission.  To wildly oversimplify things: good research is playing with ideas and questions, and good poetry is playing with language and emotion.

What I love most about the Nabokov quote, though, is that it makes the poet precise and the scientist imaginative; it makes poetry practical and science romantic. And in my life, at least, that is precisely how things work.


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