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February 18, 2019 at 5:48 pm
Posted in: General Discussion
“I felt as if I could spit a Mexican with a good relish…” This is an example of the Dionysian in Thoreau. He is swept up by the martial spirit of music from the village and feels himself capable of violence but instead sublimates his energy into tending his bean-field, doing battle with weeds, or exercising his “chivalry” upon a woodchuck.
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February 18, 2019 at 5:38 pm
That’s why Thoreau says: “We are not wholly involved in Nature.” The “dancer” and “Nature” desist from the dance. Thoreau’s double consciousness is of himself engaged in the “field of action,” as HDT, where he must be ethical, and “outside” the field of action as Spectator (non-judging). Awareness of judging/non-judging attitude in Thoreau helps us to discern some of the seeming paradoxes in his writing.
February 18, 2019 at 5:27 pm
The dichotomy, me and not-me, and the “spectator” is relatable to the Contact passage in “Ktaadn,” where Thoreau distinguishes between spirit (which he says “I am one”) and matter (which he says “has possession of me”). This is, in fact, the condition of purusha (roughly spirit) and prakriti (matter) in the Sankhya Karika Yoga text, which Thoreau read (Sattelmeyer), where the Spectator is watching, or entwined with, the Dancer.
For further evidence that Thoreau read about the “Spectator” in Hindu literature, here’s a quote from “Friday,” in “A Week”: “
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A Hindoo sage said, “As a dancer, having exhibited herself to the spectator, desists from the dance, so does Nature desist, having manifested herself to soul—.”
February 18, 2019 at 5:02 pm
Wonderful Mike, so good of your to allow your full PDF to be shared here!
I urge anyone interested in this problematic to consult Mike’s Transcendental Ethos, p. 22 ff.
Here Cousin gets a fuller gloss and appropriate context, I learned much from it.
I wish I had caught this earlier, but better late than sorry 🙂
February 18, 2019 at 4:54 pm
Also, see: http://commons.digitalthoreau.org/docs/frederick-transcendental-ethos-a-study-of-thoreaus-social-philosophy/
Victor Cousins is discussed in “Transcendental Ethos,” page 22.
February 18, 2019 at 4:41 pm
I agree with Mike that Emerson’s notion of the “me” and “not me” in his essay “Nature” (1836) may also be at play here. Interestingly, Victor Cousin in his Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1828-29; Boston: Hilliard et al., 1832), some years before develops the following argument: “The fundamental fact of consciousness is a complex phenomenon composed of three terms, namely, the me and the not me, bounded, limited, finite; then the idea of something different from these, of the infinite, of unity, &c.; and again, the relation of the me and the not me, that is – of the finite, to the infinite, which contains and unfolds it: these, therefore, are the three terms of which the fundamental fact of consciousness is composed” (159). Cousin then goes on to develop the argument over the following pages. From Walter Harding’s Emerson’s Library (1969), we learn that Emerson owned Cousin’s tomes in the original French. Regarding Thoreau, in turn, we learn from Sattelmeyer’s Thoreau’s Reading (1988) that he extracted Cousin in the English translation (quoted here above) from the Institue of 1770 library at Harvard College, twice in 1837.
The Emersonians will surely have all this covered already, but it is interesting to note that Cousin’s focus is chronological (finite-infinite), whereas Emerson and Thoreau seem more concerned with the spatial (here-not here).
February 18, 2019 at 2:38 pm
I’m unaware of anyone having pointed this out in the literature about Thoreau, but the “grooved walking stick” in this paragraph is related to the central motif of the book, “Walden.” Read para 5 and 11 in “Solitude” and compare with para 11 in “Conclusion,” Artist of Kouroo (paragraph numbers correspond, both 11). Then compare with the last para of “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” “time is but the stream….” Together the three paragraphs inform us of Thoreau’s imaginative rendering of time and eternity.
February 18, 2019 at 2:25 pm
Compare “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” and paragraph 11, the so-called “doubleness” passage, in chapter 5, “Solitude.”
February 18, 2019 at 2:19 pm
For the “spectator,” see Sankhya Karika by Ishvara Krishna. Allen Hodder in his book, “Ecstatic Witness,” identifies the “Karika” as a source for this passage. I would add that the passage is related to Emerson’s notion of the “me” and “not-me” in his essay “Nature.” The passage is also related to time and eternity, especially if we define “eternity” as outside of time, as many spiritual traditions do. The passage is central to the Thoreau’s life and thought.
February 17, 2019 at 5:50 pm
Posted in: Panel of Experts
In his new book, Cryptic Subtexts in Literature and Film: Secret Messages and Buried Treasure (New York: Routledge, 2019), Steven F. Walker offers a new interpretation of Walden’s 1854 subtitle, “Life in the Woods.” It is well known that that subtitle was hardly original, having appeared in several publications prior to the publication of Walden, including an article of that name by Charles Lane which appears in the final issue of The Dial. Walker grants that Thoreau may have used the title “ironically,” that is, “as a vigorous rejoinder to the thesis of Lane’s Dial essay” (13). More intriguing, however, is Walker’s argument that Thoreau may have associated “life in the woods” with a phase of life known in Hindu as “vanaprastha” (literally translated as “life in the woods”)—“the third stage of life—that of the solitary, contemplative hermit living in the forest on the outskirts of the village—as described in The Laws of Manu” (14) which Thoreau read in Emerson’s library in 1840. “Such a new framing,” Walker says, “certainly provides a new perspective on Thoreau’s life-in-the-woods enterprise, which, for all its Yankee originality, also can be seen as a spiritual retreat based on an ancient Hindu paradigm of the stages of life” (16).
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