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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25 Jul '12 06:33:59 PM

The Inward Morning falls into two parts, or it is kept over two stretches, from August through October of 1952, and from July through November 1953. Bugbee's thoughts, and the writing he was capable of, were diverted by his teaching responsibilities. (This is both heartening, and disheartening, to read.) When he starts up again, it is in much the same mood as his first beginning (August 1952: 'I feel that for me a crisis is at hand', July 1953: 'the first day in which I faced the crucial year ahead'). But inflected; now his effort to steady himself, to get his bearings, includes some reference to the professional culture that places little value on, or can offer little understanding of, explorations such as his. It is especially his way of writing that seems conspicuous, problematic, to him here.

The other day while reading I was struck by what seemed like a predominance of questions in Bugbee's prose. For example, of the roughly twenty sentences of the September 26, 1952 entry, half of them are questions; often one right after the other.

That characteristic isn't as pronounced as I thought, though it does seem telling about the kind of writing Bugbee needs for his undertaking. I was probably struck by it because I perceived a similarity to Cavell's prose; there are passages in The Claim of Reason where he will similarly 'answer', or follow, one question with another, with another, with another. I think Mulhall has associated this feature of Cavell's writing with what he sees as a similar one in Heidegger.

Bugbee is far more personal than Cavell, at least in any familiar sense. The first stretch of The Inward Morning is halfway filled with Bugbee's sketches of three memories 'from experience long ago' that press upon him 'as if they bore the image of conclusive meaning which our situation may yield if only our mode of being be true': he presents them as if they were autobiographical sketches, titled 'Swamping', 'Building a Dam', 'Rowing'. His resumption of writing in July 1953 is presented in a similarly frankly personal way: 'Here I am in a situation about which I feel the need to set down a few words; it is the actual situation which I must somehow work through and beyond'. Then, his assessment of his situation as a writer, mentioned above. The writing and the work are inseparable: 'My task has been to learn to write in a vein compatible with what I can honestly say in the act of trying to discover what I must say'.

There are similar moments in Cavell's writing - and often right in front of you, liable to be overlooked - but when he makes a point of personal involvement it often seems meant to foreground his making of a personal claim, his act of asserting his involvement (so that you can see it's a thing to do), rather than anything like the experience on the basis of which he makes the claim. Experiences of this sort, when they make an appearance in his writing, often seem to border on the inconsequential, the contrived. Perhaps, though, he is sensitive to invoking experiences too eloquently, or experiences that call for too much eloquence, sublimity. As if powerful avowals were liable to thwart his aims.

When the personal, when experience, is confined to the proem or a bit more license to stray is only taken near the close of a text, decorum seems to win out over the self.

25 Jul '12 05:09:03 PM

Dorothy Wordsworth begins the Grasmere Journal out of resolve 'to write a journal of the time till W[illiam] & J[ohn] return'. (They are off to Yorkshire. They return about a month later. Dorothy's expectation of their return extends uncertainly over days.)

Apparently, one reason Dorothy keeps her journal is that 'I shall give Wm Pleasure by it when he comes home again'. The editor notes that 'even Coleridge seems not to be thought of as a reader of the diary'. She speculates (on what basis I don't know):

'We are privileged, by reading this private diary, to know something of the daily life of a poet, though not from his own point of view and not with a central light focused upon him. The diary was for him, and thus is not primarily about him. Dorothy was not a Boswell recording a hero. When she stopped to recollect details, to write an extended and careful description, to re-read and improve her prose, this must partly be because she was offering for Wordsworth's consideration selected items of their common world. He might have forgotten, had not Dorothy's prose taught him to see again, the leech-gatherer or the shore of daffodils. Wordsworth has paid tribute to Dorothy's power to make him see and hear, 'She gave me eyes, she gave me ears.' The gift was perhaps mutual.'

25 Jul '12 01:18:19 PM

Of course, Thoreau begins his when Emerson asks him if he keeps one.

25 Jul '12 05:50:32 AM

Rilke's fictional journal-keeper doesn't know why he begins to keep his journal; or at least not completely.

Newly arrived in Paris, Malte writes two entries just detailing his impressions of place before he comes to address why he is writing—

'I am learning to see. I don't know why, everything penetrates me more deeply, and doesn't stop at the place where it always used to end. There is a place in me I knew nothing about. Everything goes there now. I don't know what goes on there.'

—and the thought seems to be that he has to write to find out what goes on there, what goes on inside him, with the new emergence of this depth to him.

He goes on to deny any point to writing to others, i.e., for others. 'Why should I tell someone that I am changing?' So he chooses a form in which one writes for oneself.

25 Jul '12 05:41:50 AM

What makes a writer begin to keep a journal?

In the first entry of The Inward Morning, Tuesday, August 26, 1952, Henry Bugbee writes, 'I have yet to discover how to say what moves me to the endless search and research, the reflective turning over in my mind of experience'. The day's entry ends:

'I feel for me a crisis is at hand. I look back over my writing and I discern hints of what I can genuinely say, but undeveloped for lack of riding them through as they come to me. I look back over the last four years of work, and I feel dismayed that so little is set forth, and shown for what it has been. What is needed, I have concluded, is a record based on just one principle: Get it down. Get down as far as possible the minute inflections of day to day thought. Get down the key ideas as they occur. Don't worry about whether it will come to something finished. Don't give it up when faced with the evidence of miscarried thought. Write on, not over again. Let it flow. Don't haggle with the naturalists. Don't be stopping to jam the idea down someone's throat. Give it a chance. If there can be concrete philosophy, give it a chance. Let one perception move instantly on another. Where they come from is to be trusted. Unless this is so, after all is said and done, philosophy is arbitrary and idle.'

In the preface, a few years after the journal had ended, Bugbee meets the reader in an apologetic mode, apologetic about the book's being a journal:

'A life's work takes shape slowly. There is a periodicity about it. At intervals of years there comes a real show-down. Then one discovers, within the scope of his powers at the time, what he has been about.

These pages represent such a period for me. Since they rounded out in the fall of 1953, the period which they represent has assumed its place more unmistakably in the rhythm of years. I could not then appreciate as I have come to do that they would have to stand or fall pretty much as they were written, and why this should be so.

In the first place, I have tried to rework the material here presented. I could see that it left much to be desired. After I had culled out all that seemed irrelevant to the basic undertaking, there were still 'the good days' and 'the bad days.' I could imagine many questions which might be justly raised about my meaning, when it remained far from clear in my own mind. And since the themes which occupied me in these pages undergo as much reflective analysis as they do, why not organize at least some of the ideas which are recurrently developed into a more systematic form? Why not cut free from the bad days and supply a better substitute for the continuity of those days in the overall task? Over and over I have tried to act on such considerations as these. And each time the heart went out of the ideas themselves. They lost their actual exploratory cast. I found I was in danger of betraying the very undertaking in which experience yielded them their measure of meaning and support. Finally, I have come closest to establishing continuity with the work of these pages in the interim when I have forgotten about them, when I have worked from where I am—as I did in writing them.

I can therefore say that subsequent trial has confirmed the intimations on which I resolved to act from the outset of this work. As I would put it now, the guidance of meditation, of the themes received in meditation, is the fundamental feature of the work; and the themes of meditation live a life of their own, perhaps wiser than one knows in their advent and departure, in the things they gather to themselves as relevant to their formation, in the memories with which they visit one and establish their own concrete meaning. It was my work to attend upon such themes, in the very rhythm of daily life; to follow them where they might lead; not to put them off when they came to me, not to bid them stay beyond their actual departure; and not to try to make more of them than I presently could.

The present day—that is the dwelling of meditative thought. Consequently this work is in journal form. Not because it is a philosophical notebook or diary; it is neither of these. It is basically a work which required to be done within the day, from the actual human stance which they day might afford, whatever that day might bring.'

25 Jul '12 05:19:17 AM

What does a writer keep a journal for?

The translator of Musil's Diaries offers more than one interpretation:

'One has the impression that Musil felt that all these authors failed to put in the preparatory studies, the intense observation of human beings, the background training of mind and pen, the deskwork, the back- and mind-breaking effort that was the cross a creative writer ought to bear in order to achieve the standards demanded by Geist—that mental-spiritual continuum in which the greatest writing took shape. Vital to such preparatory studies was the regular work in the Diaries.'

Another follows a description of Musil's slow pace in writing and meticulousness in (extensive, repeated) revision, and a description of how he was 'unusually sensitive to the eyes of others resting on him':

'Musil appears to have felt that writing for publication was worse even than exposing face, clothing, posture to a cameraman. It was exposure of a more intimate kind—of the mind at work. In the Diaries, Musil works not for the public but for himself, his critical threshold is lowered, he writes fluently, spontaneously. He is no longer the buttoned-up, tautly organized author of essays, or reviews, or chapters of the novel, hyperaware that the eyes of the Viennese or Berlin reading public are upon him; this is Musil in relaxed, private mode—he quite often makes mistakes, misspells, gets names wrong; he occasionally lets himself go to the extent that he produces misshapen sentences, his syntax is awkward, even ungrammatical—in short, he is reassuringly human when no one is looking!'

24 Jul '12 10:33:54 PM

'... in small works there is no point in having a mix.'

24 Jul '12 06:31:18 PM

Philosophy inspires little conviction. It is what philosophers do that convinces. And what they do, now, primarily, is write. So I study how they write. The forms that writing takes are emblems of the varieties of conviction: the book, the poem, the sentence, the essay. 'A paper' seems like a form to which conviction is alien. It is a prop in a venerable pantomime, a kind of professional accessory, like a bureaucrat's reports or a detective's case files or a scientist's lab book. Nobody loves a paper.

24 Jul '12 03:06:46 AM

'Few philosophers will still defend this view' is not a philosophical reason.