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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19 Aug '12 10:44:57 PM

One of those days, by the way, the journal served some part of its intended purpose: it captured a bit—whether before or after I don't know—of one of my best days in a classroom, analyzing Roxy Music's 'Mother of Pearl'.

19 Aug '12 10:38:32 PM

I'm surprised to find today that I've never before committed the following remark (from Jan. 22, 1852) to the internet:

'To set down such choice experiences that my own writings may inspire me and at last I may make wholes of parts. Certainly it is a distinct profession to rescue from oblivion and to fix the sentiments and thoughts which visit all men more or less generally, that the contemplation of the unfinished picture may suggest its harmonious completion. Associate reverently and as much as you can with your loftiest thoughts. Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid. Thoughts accidentally thrown together become a frame in which more may be developed and exhibited. Perhaps this is the main value of a habit of writing, of keeping a journal,—that so we remember our best hours and stimulate ourselves. My thoughts are my company. They have a certain individuality and separate existence, aye, personality. Having by chance recorded a few disconnected thoughts and then brought them into juxtaposition, they suggest a whole new field in which it was possible to labor and think. Thought begat thought.'

I realize that the surprise comes from basically already thinking that this was part of my journal. It was; but a 'real' journal. In fact it looks to have been the instigating or commencing entry, in January of 2010. This is one of those journals I began with a specific purpose in mind, with the Thoreau above to guide me and cheer me. Since first teaching I've known myself to be a little desultory about recording my own work so that I could exploit it and develop it in the future—that is, my work in the classroom, which is often quite spontaneous or which far exceeds the recorded preparation for it. (A big part of teaching for me is rereading; during a term, I am always rereading. Reading is preparing, making myself ready.) So I periodically try to take better advantage of myself, my days. To turn them to future advantage. This journal covers about two terms, and four courses; in one term, that was three at once with two preps. (The way academics say that makes it sound like they are chopping ingredients to put on hamburgers.) It was still my first year of full-time teaching just out of graduate school, too, by myself in a new place. So I was feeling pretty strained, giving most everything to my hours in front of class and taking what was left to grade papers; little left for myself, i.e., to write for or to myself in my appointed place. So, up through mid-May and the end of term, covering 116 days of journal space, I managed some 28 days of entries (a few insignificant records). The patterns are familiar. For my intro, my times of greatest need produce my fullest use of the journal: writing on Nietzsche and Wittgenstein in advance of teaching them, rather than afterward. A silence with the receipt of papers; and here, no subsequent relaxation into freedom, as the next term began too soon after. With several things to do at once, often a busier, briefer juxtaposition. A Saturday or two obviously given over to thinking about something against the inertia or tick-tock of my schedule. Disappearance into my work, in heavy Februaries and Marches which have left no trace. An interlude of travel (to St. Paul, San Francisco, Berkeley) and sociability. Silence, again. Then renewed activity as, evidently, I anticipate the ends of courses and am thinking about how to round them out rather than just on the day-to-day. In mid-June, suddenly, I have reclaimed my journal for myself, or at least, my professional self; from then on through summer into fall and winter I see where I have intermittently turned to it to revitalize or redirect thoughts which I know issued in writing elsewhere; or where it attracted, or had directed toward it, sustained efforts to resist dispersal as I wrote, unemployed, pursuing projects and reworking over and over again 'personal statements' and 'research statements' which all the more dispirited me and made me sick of talking about myself, sick of my self.

Obviously, I thought I had copied the Thoreau because, even when I'm not writing in it, even when my thoughts are elsewhere, this is where I think I keep my thoughts.

19 Aug '12 09:57:36 PM

Thoreau often considers 'the reader' in some way when he writes about keeping his journal, but without specifying who the reader is—which often suggests his principle 'says I to myself' at work. But there are times when he takes up the topic of a journal as other, or as substitute for an other (Apr. 4, 1852):

'I have got to that pass with my friend that our words do not pass with each other for what they are worth. We speak in vain; there is none to hear. He finds fault with me that I walk alone, when I pine for want of a companion; that I commit my thoughts to a diary even on my walks, instead of seeking to share them generously with a friend; curses my practice even. Awful as it is to contemplate, I pray that, if I am the cold intellectual skeptic whom he rebukes, his curse may take effect, and wither and dry up those sources of my life, and my journal no longer yield me pleasure nor life.'

The conditional can be more surprising than it first seems. 'If', he is saying, my friend has accurately recognized me, seen me for someone to be justly rebuked: if so, then may 'those sources of my life'—Thoreau's solitary walks?—wither, and his journal, fairly considered his daily work, or part of it (cf. Walden's 'labor of the hands', vii, 4), no longer yield him pleasure, further thought, life. But all the latter are things Thoreau could hardly be imagined to give up, ever. They are non-negotiable. So Thoreau is expressing a kind of conviction that he is not well-recognized by his friend; that to the contrary, he knows himself. So he already takes himself to be more warm, more companionable, despite his tendency, as it appears even to his friend, to harbor some of his most valuable thoughts privately, ungenerously.

The figure of the journal as an other seems to come from Thoreau's friend; it appears as an other in comparison to the real other (himself) whom the friend imagines Thoreau confiding his thoughts in. Maybe it could be said that in contrast, Thoreau is not thinking of his journal as an other; nor as 'me'; but it is his.

19 Aug '12 08:52:15 PM

'… the solid and sunny earth, the basis of all philosophy, and poetry, and religion even.'

19 Aug '12 08:29:48 PM

Jan. 28, 1852:

'Perhaps I can never find so good a setting for my thoughts as I shall thus have taken them out of.'

19 Aug '12 08:26:58 PM

Jan. 27, 1852:

'I do not know but thoughts written down thus in a journal might be printed in the same form with greater advantage than if the related ones were brought together in separate essays. They are now allied to life, and are seen by the reader not to be far-fetched. It is more simple, less artful. I feel that in the other case I should have no proper frame for my sketches. Mere facts and names and dates communicate more than we suspect. Whether the flower looks better in the nosegay than in the meadow where it grew and we had to wet our feet to get it! Is the scholastic air any advantage?'

19 Aug '12 05:27:39 PM

One of the most basic principles: if you're keeping a journal, you can't know where it's going as you write it.

18 Aug '12 04:38:32 AM

'All his yearning… was for living, an unaffected person, in his home.'

18 Aug '12 04:29:17 AM

You hardly need to be Nietzsche to be struck by how Greek (still, in the fourth century) Athanasius' life of St. Antony is: the introduction addresses a community of monks who want to outdo another one in their askesis of virtue.

A bit further on: 'Even toward those of his own age he was not contentious, with the sole exception of his desire that he appear to be second to none of them in moral improvements'.