8000 Ambulations

Friday, April 26, 2013

April 26, 1841

April 26, 2012 on the Squam Ridge


April 26, 1841

"It is a great art to saunter."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25

Squam Lake from the Squam Mountain Ridge, April 25, 2012

Also, Wild Apple Blossoms, much celebrated by Thoreau

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April 24

April 21, 2013   Mt. Belknap from the Squam Ridge foothills



after April 19, 1850
Vol. 3, pp. 53-4

The smallest hill is worth climbing. It is worth the while to know the names of brooks & ponds and hills---a name enriches your associations wonderfully.

A man can never say of any landscape that he has exhausted it.

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There are many interpretive claims you can make about Thoreau.  

And it's almost inescapable that these find a particular focus within the volume of material that he left in his writing.   But, I think it's essential to keep in our minds that he was fundamentally attuned to a different kind of writing and publication; one that was going on all around him, in which he participated (and created relationships) which he then sought to relate.    These features I think, however foreign they may seem to us in 2013, are factors which no interpretation can afford to omit in creating an account of Thoreau's work.

The necessity of knowing your particular place and season.   The importance of relations and relating.   The desire to take and give account.   These are some of the transactional features that resulted in what we call "Thoreau's thoughtscapes".

We should discuss which of the two forms of "act" (or perhaps some other words?) that best describe Thoreau's engagement with various landscapes.

transact |tranˈsakt-ˈzakt|
verb [ with obj. ]conduct or carry out (business).DERIVATIVEStransactor |-tər|nounORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Latin transactdriven through, from the verb transigere, fromtrans- through + agere do, lead.


I guess in contrast to:

interact |ˌintərˈakt|
verb [ no obj. ]
act in such a way as to have an effect on another; act reciprocally: all the stages in the process interact | the user interacts directly with the library.
DERIVATIVES
interactant |-tənt|adjective& noun

Both of these forms incorporate the notion of "intention".   I think looking at the two definitions helps me clarify something I've been reading and posting about in Thoreau.   In order to trans- or inter-act with his environment, Thoreau (I think) aspired to being as free of intention as possible.  This was perhaps for him a requirement of participating in something that was ongoing regardless of him.   The result of this, like the fox leaving some tracks or traces of a mind on the journal page of the snow, eliminates intention in favor of instinct.  Intention, for Thoreau, comes in later in remembering.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23





April 23, 2010  Mt. Washington from the Square Ledge Trail, Sandwich Range

Sunday, May 23 1841. ---Barn

The distant woods are but the tassels of my eye.
Books are to be attended to as new sounds merely.  Most would be put to a sore trial if the reader should assume the attitude of a listener.  They are but a new note in the forest.  To our lonely sober thought the earth is a wild unexplored Wildness as of the jay and the muskrat reign over the great part of nature.  The oven bird and plover are heard in the horizon.  Here is a new book of heroes---come to me like the note of the chewink from over the fen---only over a deeper and wider fen.  The pines are unrelenting sifters of thought---nothing petty leaks through them.  Let me put my ear close, and hear the sough of this book---that I may know if any inspiration yet haunts it.  There is always a later edition of every book than the printer wots of---no matter how recently it was published.--- All nature is a new impression every instant.

The aspects of the most simple objects are as various as the aspects of the most compound---  Observe the same sheet of water from different eminences.  When I have travelled a few miles I do not recognize the profile of the hills which hang over my native village.


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"And I must distinguish between the 'continuous seeing of an aspect and the "dawning' of an aspect."

Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 194 (digital edition)

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Above is the entire entry for May 23, 1841.  In it you can read/see certain common themes to many of the Journal entries.

Thoreau throughout the Journal was compelled to find language and words to capture certain aspects of what he observed and wrote.  And so we get variations on "poetics" or "poiesis".  And these I think almost inescapably fit within modern notions of "literary" or "literature".   If this is accurate surmise, then we can see some of the categorical and conceptual barriers in reading/seeing as Thoreau did.

The passage above is a corrective to "aspect blindness" or living literally.   If "all nature is a new impression every instant" than it's incumbent upon us to "be on the alert" for new aspects.  This is neither poetic or literary as we might use these to frame reading Thoreau.  It's much more a way of life and living, of seeing/reading what's around us.  Letting things viewed as routine dawn anew.

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The Oven Bird
BY ROBERT FROST

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in shower 8000 s
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22




trailing arbutus, April 21, 2013, Squam Mountains, Sandwich, NH


August 19, 1851 (vol 3, pp. 375-381)

This is a world where there are flowers....

The poet must be continually watching the moods of his mind as the astronomer watches the aspects of the heavens.  What might we not expect from a long life faithfully spent in this wise---the humblest observer would see some stars shoot.---  A faithful description as by a disinterested person of the thoughts which visited a certain mind in 3 score years &  10 as when one reports the number & character of the vehicles which pass a particular point.  As travellers go round the world and report natural objects & phenomena----so faithfully let another stay at home & report the phenomena of his own life   Catalogue stars---those thoughts whose orbits are as rarely calculated as comets.  It matters not whether they visit my mind or yours---whether the meteor falls in my field or in yours----only that it came from heaven.  (I am not concerned to express that kind of truth which natures has expressed.  Who knows but I may suggest some things to her.  Time was when she was indebted to such suggestions from another quarter----as her present advancement shows.  I deal with the truths that recommend themselves to me please me---not those merely which my system has voted to accept.)  A meteorological journal of the mind----  You shall observe what occurs in your latitude, I in mine....

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!  Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow----as if I had given vent to the stream at the lower end & consequently new fountains flowered into it at the upper.  A thousand rills which have their rise in the sources of thought----burst forth & fertilise my brain.  you need to increase the draught below----as the owners of meadows on C. river say of the Billerica Dam.  Only while we are in action is the circulation perfect.  The writing which consists with habitual sitting is mechanical wooden dull to read....

What if a man were earnestly & wisely to set about recollecting & preserving the thoughts which he has had!  How many perchance are now irrecoverable!---- Calling in his neighbors to aid him.

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It's useful to read the above passage within the flood of observations that Thoreau entered into his journal on 8/19/1851.  And likewise for other days before and after.  Historical facts, observations about birds, plants, farming, writing tumble down the page in short and long paragraphs.   These entries in the Journal (for me) most resemble the organization of A Week.  

In the fourth passage above Thoreau poses an issue.   It's related to the second passage which ends with "You shall observe what occurs in your latitude, I in mine...." and also to other passages not cited above about the natural cycle of the seasons and how they occur without "culminating point."    The signifying aspect has to be in your latitude and,  like the evolving/revolving seasons, you must be there at the right time.   We are enjoined to "catalog stars---those thoughts" in composing "a meteorological journal of the mind...."  This seems a bit of Typical Transcendental Twaddle and you can easily imagine it cartooned to great effect.   But in context I think it's  merely Thoreau bringing his language around,  in part to himself and in part finishing off "how to faithfully describe" using the language he had put into use in this paragraph.  

In this flight of observations the passages above are out-standing as we see Thoreau observing himself and his own process of writing.   So amidst the observations he observes himself in this integrated fashion.  We can't say "as it happened" or "as the thoughts occurred to him" but it's not unreasonable to take him at his word about creating "A faithful description as by a disinterested person of the thoughts which visited a certain mind...."    And moreover, these would be recorded as randomly occurring events "as when one reports the number & character of the vehicles which pass a particular point."

"....the humblest observer would see some stars shoot...."

"This is a world where there are flowers."   And our thoughts are no less anchored in the earth than these flowers (from a few days ago in Ambulations).

The subject of recollection of thoughts comes up.  So it's a bit of a joke about "calling in your neighbors" since while they are literally in your latitude....ha ha....not really in the sense that Thoreau meant you to read "latitude".     But this also describes an issue Thoreau faced in writing A Week.   His hastily sketched notes may have helped him recollect or they may not have.   The genetic examination of the drafts of the text reveal this to some degree.  But what's important to observe, I think, is that by any description Thoreau's mind most often worked by association.  And after the years the associations evolved like the revolving seasons.  New things took on significance not only as facts and thoughts that occurred to him during the trip and immediately afterward, but since those occurrences or events.    Thoreau's mind was entirely capable of shooting star-like sparks.  Occasionally we get a short-circuit.  But most often we get succession of thoughts, ideas, observations, emotions intermingled in what we can regard as his endeavor at a "faithful description".

I'll add at the end here that the Rowe essay (mentioned yesterday) has good discussions about Thoreau's "poetic" aims.   As we know, in the above passage, "the poet" doesn't mean what we somewhat literally and commonly mean as "a poet" today.   However, Thoreau's mixed aspirations and achievements in this direction are something we should consider.   The degree to which Thoreau may have identified a stream of thoughts, faithfully described, as "poetry" is part of the issue.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 21, 2013

April 21, 2013

Our point of departure in this brief excursion through Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and the Merrimack is sourced from Sharon Cameron's Writing Nature:  Henry Thoreau's Journal where she makes a sustained, detailed argument for the priority of the Journal in reading anything other that Thoreau wrote, and, in the work of John Carlos Rowe who suggested that "A Week is apparently but a short step from the formlessness of the Journal".   Following their leads, in the time we have, we'll provide an emblematic passage from the Journal that demonstrates Thoreau both reading and writing.  Then we'll show how this process or method governs the form and content of A Week.

We will focus our observations through use of the term "thoughtscapes" which we believe captures Thoreau's persistent quest to realize a world without mind and body, man and nature thought of as separate entities.   A "thoughtscape" expresses this fused sense of life and living and we believe it was an aim for Thoreau to express this in his writing.  This perhaps captures something of what Stanley Cavell indicated in his The Senses of Walden where he locates Thoreau in a "pre-professionalized philosophical moment" where philosophy, literature and theology (and politics and economics) had not isolated themselves out from one another.

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I've ordered the Rowe book from which "The Being of Language:  The Language of Being" is excerpted in the Bloom collection.

I think "thoughtscapes" is an immensely better framing of the issues at hand versus Rowe's being needlessly bogged down in the ontological slough.    Thoreau deserves "thoughtscapes".  For me it represents the melding or integration of interior-exterior landscapes perfectly.  And in numerous passages (written about in Ambulations) this is what Thoreau does consistently; what I've called a habit of mind.

If you read the Rowe essay.....I think you'll find many of our ideas in it but managed differently than we will.   Note:

p. 153:  "Although apparently but a short step from the formlessness of the Journal, A Week depends upon a fundamental difference between the experiences of the voyage in 1839 and the writing of the text.

p. 148:  "The discipline of Thoreau's deliberation is equivalent to Wittgenstein's goal of learning how what we say is what we mean."   And this introduces a very interesting paragraph.  In subsequent passages Rowe mentions Wittgenstein's restriction to use of "ordinary language".   But this is a horrible understanding of Wittgenstein....and it obscures a connection to Thoreau's pervasive use of the ordinary language of description.  This I think is part of Rowe's presentation since he's decided to use "non-ordinary language" to frame his own analysis.  This approach however contradicts Thoreau's attack on the Western philosophical heritage (ontology, the language of being, etc)...(see p. 166 below).   Rowe seems to feel he is immune from Thoreau's own practice and recommendations.

p. 154:  "The literary form of A Week appears to be modeled after the natural flow of the river journey."

p. 166:   "Attempts to analyze the unity of A Week are inevitably restricted by the Western philosophical heritage that Thoreau attacks in this work."

Plus numerous passages on Thoreau's use of language,  metaphor, integration into nature, poetics etc.   But clearly as Rowe states on p. 148 he intends a "Heideggerian reading of A Week".   And in doing this (p. 149) he employs "Heidegger's metaphor of the "between" (of earth and sky, of man and nature, of beings and Being), which differs crucially from "nextness."  Needless to say I think this is not necessary, not helpful and actually a problematic imposition of a lot of metaphysical language Thoreau managed largely to evade.

On the other hand, there are very useful passages in Rowe that probe how Thoreau used language to express "Nature as part of the measurement of our being (p. 149)."  If you strip away the Heideggerian veneer from these passages (Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!) you still get what Thoreau did.   The trappings of phenomenology-ontotology are not required.   Thoreau does most of the heavy lifting through the form and action of his text IF we respect it as it is....not as we think it might have been achieved or that it needs to be pumped up by association with known philosophers and philosophical language.   The point is that you can do philosophical thinking in many ways and everything doesn't need to be translated into the language of philosophy.

Wittgenstein from Culture and Value:   "Philosophers use a language that is already deformed as though by shoes that are too tight."


April 21, 1852






At Beede Falls, April 21, 2012



April 21, 1852

Sat under the dark hemlocks-gloomy hemlocks on the hill-side beyond.  In a stormy day like this there is the gloom of night beneath them.  The ground beneath them almost bare with wet rocks & fine twigs.  ---without leaves (but hemlock leaves) or grass.  The birds are singing in the rain about the small pond in front-   The inquisitive chicadee that has flown at once to the alders to reconnoitre as the black birds  -the song-sparrow telling of expanding buds.  but above all the robin sings here too-    I know not at what distance in the wood.  Did he sing thus in Indian days?, I ask myself-for I have always associated this sound with the village & the clearing, but now I do imagine him a woodland bird-and that he sang thus when there was no civilized ear to hear him-a pure forest melody even like the wood thrush.  Every genuine thing retains this wild tone-which no true culture displaces-   I heard him even as he might have sounded to the Indian singing at evening upon the the elm above his wigwam-with which was associated in the red-man's mind the events of an Indian's life.-   his childhood.  Formerly I had heard in it only those strains which tell of the white man's village life-now I heard those strains which remembered the red-man's life-such as fell on the ears of Indian children.-    as he sang when these arrow heads which the rain has made shine so on the lean stubble field-were fastened to their shaft.  Thus the birds sing round this piece of water-some on the alders which fringe-some farther off & higher up the hills.-It is a centre to them.  Here stand buttonwoods an uncommon tree in the woods.   naked to look at & now covered with little tufts of twigs on the sides of the branches in consequence of the disease which has attacked them.  The singing of birds implies fair weather.  I see where some farmer has been at pains to knock to pieces the manure which his cattle have dropped in the pasture so to spread it over the sward.  The yellow birch is to me an interesting tree from its remarkable & peculiar color---like a silvery gold.  In the pasture beyond the brook where grow the barberries-huckleberries-creeping juniper &c are half a dozen huge boulders which look grandly now in the storm covered with greenish gray lichens alternating with the slateish colored rock.  Slumbering-silent like the exuviae of Giants-some of their cattle left.  From a height I look down on some of them as on the backs of oxen.  A certain personality or at least brute life they seem to have.  C. calls it boulder field.  There is a good prospect Southward over the pond-betwen the two hills-even to the river meadows now.-  As we stand by the Mt on the Battleground-I see a white pine dimly in the horizon just north of Lee's Hill-at 5 1/2 Pm, its upright stem & straight horizontal feathered branches-while at the some time I hear a robin sing.  each enhances the other.  That tree seems the emblem of my life-it to me as to a bird whose perch it is to be at the end of a weary flight.  I not sure whether the music I hear is most in the robin's song or in its boughs.  My money should be all in pine tree shillings.  The pine tree that stands on the verge of the clearing-whose boughs point westward.  Which the villager does not permit to grow on the common or by the road side.-   which is banished from the village.-   In whose boughs the crow and the hawk have their nests.

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The best way to learn to read Thoreau is to observe him reading.

You might read the passage above as one that Thoreau didn't polish.  Or, you might read it as a more careful relating of the movements of his mind on April 21, 1852 in a specific place.

This passage shares at the sentence level something of the paragraph structure of A Week.  It's as if from a position in the landscape Thoreau is surveying the small pond that's in front of the small hillside covered with hemlocks.   Thereafter the sentences move by power of imagination and association through quite a compendium of observations and associations.  You might feel the sentences are random and disjunct, but, I think only by some imposed standard of narration.  In actuality Thoreau has provided a multi-dimensional picture in words.   We get to survey the view with him.

Placed in a particular setting.....you might say the sentences above are a bit like making your shopping list before heading to the grocery.  Whatever comes to mind when it does goes down on the list.  And this list then could be said to function as a record of the movement of your mind.   I doubt that one could or should make too much of this by suggesting "Oh you thought of oranges right after you thought of unsweetened chocolate."  You know what that means!

But Thoreau is situated differently, less focused on a particular task, and it could be that the sweep of observations and what's observed is really a simulation of what he actually saw as he saw it.   In which case, the narration of it above is a deliberate act and not merely "what came to mind".   The object in reading this passage I think ought not to be explaining the train of associations....but rather....seeing them as a whole. and leading to to a point of  integration into the observed landscape ..."That tree seems the emblem of my life....

I want to suggest that this passage can also be read as "writing off the self".  In  the course of this long flight of words the subject who "sat under the dark hemlocks" has migrated and transformed into the pine tree that points westward, on the verge of the clearing.    That tree which is banished from the village.    The self has dissolved int 1b08 o Nature.  Yet Thoreau is still writing off that self in the Journal.  
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