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 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?!?'.

28 Aug '12 02:13:30 AM

In chapter xiv of Walden, settled in for the winter, only rarely meeting people out to collect wood, Thoreau says that 'for human society I was obliged to conjure up the former occupants of these woods'; the first three he conjures up by name are the former slaves Cato Ingraham, Zilpah White, and Brister Freeman.

28 Aug '12 01:33:44 AM

I'm not sure if the band who once made Public Castration Is A Good Idea was ever hemmed in as 'some dumb rock band'.

27 Aug '12 11:21:13 PM

It says a lot about the way records work that I would have to turn up this black metal to make it sound louder and clearer than the new Dirty Three, all piano tinkles and Jim White drums.

27 Aug '12 09:19:04 AM

Lawrence Buell:

'… one might say that the shift in spiritual orientation made the element of self-consciousness in Transcendentalist writing more complex, more literary, and less intimate than in traditional spiritual autobiography. First and most obviously, the sense of self in Transcendentalist writing is more complex because its field of inquiry is not centered in a supernatural frame of reference. "Well, & what do you project?" Emerson asks in his journal. "Nothing less than to look at every object in relation to Myself" (JMN, IV, 272). Of course this objective is not exhaustively carried out, but one does see the Transcendentalists moving in this direction, from an I-Thou relationship with Spirit to an I-Nature relationship; and to the extent that they do, their inner lives become more diffuse. Spiritual health now seems to consist in perceiving the divinity in as many different shapes as possible, not in regular encounters in one's prayer closet. Every circumstance, every emotional nuance was potentially of spiritual import. In a sense the same was true for the Puritans, but the Transcendentalists differed in at least two ways. First, they came closer to believing that all phenomena were of equal relevance (one recalls Emerson's insistence that a gnat is as good a metaphor for God as a Lord of Hosts); second, and more important, the Transcendentalists felt actively compelled to seek out and perceive significance in phenomena. The sense of spiritual torpor which gave rise to much of the guilt-feeling in Payson and other Puritan self-examiners has its counterpart in Transcendentalist confessions of failure of perception. "Set ten men to write in their journal for one day, and nine of them will leave out their thought, or proper result,—that is, their net experience,—and lose themselves in misreporting the supposed experience of other people" (W, VIII, 308). This remark of Emerson's is a new sort of complaint for the spiritual diarist: Edward Payson had his troubles but at least he did not have to question whether what he was recording was original with him.

Equally significant are Transcendentalist confessions of inability to synthesize or articulate their perceptions. "Thoughts of different dates will not cohere," Thoreau noted (JT, III, 288). Like Emerson, whose mixed feelings about his own incoherence have already been shown, Thoreau could only take refuge in the fact that Nature herself "strews her nuts and flowers broadcast, and never collects them into heaps" (I, 200). The pages of the most voluminous journalizer of the group, Alcott, are filled with similar confessions of inadequacy. At times he is smug: "No important thought, emotion, or purpose, has transpired within me, that has not been noted therein," he says of his diary for the first half of 1839. But by the end of the year he discovers that though "I have written out myself more fully during this, than any previous year of my life," "my chronicle gives me little satisfaction. I do not yet copy the best passages of my spiritual being. I have not yet mastered the art of drawing.… I am a spectre moving in Infinitude, devoid of flesh & blood."

As the foregoing examples show, the journals of Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott—like much of Transcendentalist writing—aspire to an encyclopedic quality, to take in the whole range of human experience, which inevitably they fail to do. They are defeated by their own commitment to spontaneity, to recording their impressions moment by moment.…'