josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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29 Sep '12 08:14:41 PM

Hardly anyone speaks to my experience. Hardly anyone speaks from his own; nor do I.

28 Sep '12 01:50:04 AM

This corruption goes all the way to the top!!

27 Sep '12 06:15:28 AM

'Critics exchange emails' is one of the worst formats for journalism ever.

27 Sep '12 03:21:42 AM

'A new free-thinker has published an exhaustive Treatise of Human Nature, 2 volumes, octavo. In it he attempts to introduce the correct method of philosophizing into moral matters, examining and explaining, first of all, the characteristics of the human understanding and then the effects. The author's evil intentions are sufficiently betrayed in the sub-title of the work, taken from Tacitus: Rara temporum felicitas, ubi sentire, quae velis, & quae sentias, dicere, licet.'

(Seldom are men blessed with times in which they may think what they like, and say what they think.)

25 Sep '12 07:48:30 PM

Strong wind can provoke fragments of animistic feeling: 'why is the world against me?'.

22 Sep '12 08:07:05 PM

Occupy occupied occupying.

22 Sep '12 08:37:55 AM

'Values' is not a helpful word.

20 Sep '12 11:51:08 PM

An early moment, on June 6, in Sierra that strikes an unmistakably transcendentalist note:

'We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun,—a part of all nature, neither young nor old, sick nor well, but immortal. Just now I can hardly conceive of any bodily condition dependent on food or breath any more than the ground or the sky. How glorious a conversion, so complete and wholesome it is, scarce memory enough of old bondage days left as a standpoint to view it from! In this newness of life we seem to have been so always.'

'We are now in the mountains and they are in us' is simple, sublime, but resistant to any literal elaboration without terms belonging to other registers. So we quickly get some belonging to the affective and religious ('enthusiasm'), physiological ('nerve', 'pore'), and most basic biological ('cell'). In the last the inner-outer relation of the opening sentence is recapitulated: the mountains fill our every cell. 'Kindling' treats the relation as still causal, though in a conventionally metaphorical way, aligned with the perception of beauty later referred to. The transparency of glass makes the relation more direct; rather than lighting a fire, to burn in some material, the beauty, like light, a more sublime kind of fire, passes right through the material—the flesh and bone that we are—and then is inside it. The 'seems', the 'as if', indicate Muir's sensitivity to the limits of his language, as do the appearance of food and breath in his thoughts, nourishing and sustaining substances which really do enter the body. Emphasis on being a 'part' of nature—for how are we not?—seems inadequate by itself to support his sense of immortality; he wants this to mean, part of the parts, and that somehow to mean, to take part in what makes nature nature, what makes 'all of nature' what it is, how it is. So the language has to picture a breach of the body that unites it with everything that is without.

20 Sep '12 11:09:48 PM

John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra is presented as a journal, or at least under the radical of presentation, 'journal', but going by its prose it's evidently more composed than that; William Cronon notes in the Library of America edition that Muir drew on his 1869 journal of his time in Yosemite while revising and adding later episodes. And there was plenty of time to; the book wasn't published until 1911.

Before the 'entries' start, Muir writes as an 'I' to establish the arrangement between himself and Mr. Delaney that led to the trip recounted in the journal. He meets Delaney's dog, Carlo, who will accompany him.

Then already in the first entry, Muir is accompanied by Carlo, Delaney, Billy the shepherd, a Chinaman, and an Indian. And the sheep. So he writes as an 'I' who is part of a 'we'.