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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1 Sep '12 05:47:42 AM


'As if signalling these revisions, and prompting us to question them, a significant portion of the Journal's passages are explicitly interrogative. Therefore, although when I consider a passage it may seem as if I am asking rhetorical questions to which I know the answers, in the Journal, as I shall explain in a moment, questions are integral to the meaning of the passages which often seem at once catechistic and confusing. It might have been strategic to conduct my discussions as if this were not the case, but the fact is that the unsettling of perspective—specifically by raising the question of how part of a phenomenon is related to the whole of that phenomenon or to another phenomenon—is not just the Journal's practice; it is often the Journal's subject.

The Journal does, however, provide hints about interpreting its meaning, first, as I have noted, by making statements consistently interrogative, and therefore by suggesting that to understand the work we must keep their interrogative form intact; secondly, by composing the Journal discourse of what Thoreau variously calls "pictures" and "views." Here we might add the word "illustrations" to describe what the Journal anthologizes, for as the idea of serially collected "pictures" and "views" (which aspire to the formation of a composite whole) implies, renditions of a natural phenomenon exemplify its aspects. The Journal further insists that illustrations of nature are tainted by, and further made to participate in, the questions that surround them. This is true partly because questions and illustrations are often syntactically inseparable. It is true partly because the very impulse to continue regarding a single landscape—to record multiple instances of it—implies questions about its meaning. I therefore understand Thoreau's propensity to ask questions, to see the landscape as a series of pictures, and to regard pictures as potential illustrations (of what, it is unclear) to be related.…'

1 Sep '12 04:55:52 AM

21 October 1857: 'Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal?'

Not a usual sense of 'biography'.

1 Sep '12 04:30:30 AM

'they're peddlers and they're meddlers / they buy and they sell / they destroyed your city / they'll destroy you as well'

1 Sep '12 03:21:20 AM

Come on now, am I really supposed to think Rick Ross runs in those?

1 Sep '12 02:55:31 AM

'Le Huffington Post, the French version of The Huffington Post'

31 Aug '12 06:20:03 PM

There are philosophers for whom examples are just examples, and philosophers for whom they are not.

31 Aug '12 06:05:19 AM

13 July 1852: 'A journal, a book that shall contain a record of all your joy, your ecstasy.'

21 March 1853: 'Might not my Journal be called "Field Notes?"'

31 Aug '12 06:02:40 AM

An explicit instance of a journal-keeper reviewing his work: on 14 May 1852 Thoreau goes back over what he has written since 28 April, and recopies both the flowers and the birds he has seen, putting them into two tables by date of observation. Then, a similar table of 'the phenomena of spring', including 'Saw frog spawn', 'A large water-bug', 'Sit without fire to-night', 'Wasps', 'Ant-hills', 'Ground still frozen in some places', 'A green snake'.

Writing himself a report from his field notes.

31 Aug '12 05:47:44 AM

Thoreau's remarks about faith in Walden seem none too straightforward to me in part because he speaks as if some kind of theist, while emphasizing nature and, especially, the sun far more prominently in connection with faith and its restoration. Not merely as if the sun served as a symbol, but as if it were the final coherent point of reference for his faith in life.

A remark from his journal (18 April 1852) is helpful:

'The most interesting fact, perhaps, at present is these few tender yellow blossoms, these half-expanded sterile aments of the willow, seen through the rain and cold,—signs of the advancing year, pledges of the sun's return. Anything so delicate, both in structure, in color and in fragrance, contrasts strangely with surrounding nature and feeds the faith of man. The fields are acquiring a greenish tinge.'

Not belief that the sun will not return, but something like a feeling that the sun will not return, a winter's mood—one that needn't even arise in winter or even with any season—that's the kind of thing I can understand as restored, revitalized, especially by signs of spring. And the returning of the sun seems to have just the right modality to be the kind of thing vulnerable not so much to disbelief, as to my mood: what other than something about me, something which seems to change everything while somehow changing nothing, could possibly affect such a superlative fact of experience?