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.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

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?

29 Aug '12 05:50:04 PM


'By early 1841, Thoreau was having his poems accepted and published in The Dial on a more or less regular basis. Margaret Fuller might be less than wholly enthusiastic, Emerson would soon cool about his young friend's verse, but for all that, Thoreau could now regard himself as a poet. He was faring less well with his prose. His essay on Persius had been published in July of the preceding year; it would be two years before another prose piece saw print. The rejection of "The Service," on which he had worked for almost a year, was a setback, but it had one side benefit. It set Thoreau seriously to work on his writing style. In the early months of 1841 his journal began to expand considerably on this subject. He also began to keep a separate notebook for copying down passages from his reading.

The journal was for his own observations and original thoughts, the place in which he made, he said, "a huge effort to expose my innermost and richest wares to light." The other notebook was for memorable bits from his reading; he would record such things as Raleigh's "to the perfection of men three things are necessarily required; nature, nurture, and use," or from the London Monthly Magazine, "And take this with you, ye wretched doctrinaires... that all conclusions are heartless, of which the heart is not the premises." Ever attentive to both subject and expression, he noted thoughtfully in his own journal for January, "a perfectly healthy sentence is extremely rare." In addition to the new notebook and the expanded journalizing, Thoreau went back over and recopied into a new notebook all that remained or all that he wished to keep - still hundreds of pages - of his earlier journals. Mechanically at least, he did an enormous amount of writing during January and February, in the course of which he was moved frequently to reflect on the process of writing itself.'

29 Aug '12 03:30:45 PM

Some of those who continue to matter to us leave us no recourse but to pretend as if they don't.

29 Aug '12 12:22:59 PM

Nietzsche would be so pleased:

'Since time immemorial, a very specific community of organisms — microbes, parasites, some viruses — has aggregated to form the human superorganism. Mounds of evidence suggest that our immune system anticipates these inputs and that, when they go missing, the organism comes unhinged.'

28 Aug '12 06:34:59 AM

Apr. 18, 1852: 'For the first time I perceive this spring that the year is a circle.'

28 Aug '12 06:04:06 AM

'Workflow'? Really?

28 Aug '12 03:02:52 AM

Children don't usually learn 'Why are you poking yourself in the eye?!?', though.

28 Aug '12 02:59:10 AM

A language-game, 'Why are you hitting yourself?!? Why are you hitting yourself?!? Why are you hitting yourself?!?'.