Strange Echo: Cavell and Thoreau

I recently came across this sentence (from an interview with Stanley Cavell (in the current Journal for Philosophy of Education):

“Wittgenstein gives a portrait of the modern subject that contains issues of diversity and anxiety and sickness and torment. Those are the things that I found in the Investigations at the beginning that disassociated my responses from those of virtually all of my friends who were reading the work. They took away the pain and solace from the book, which for me was exactly to miss its dark side . . .”

Now why  do I want to rewrite this?

Thoreau gives a portrait of the modern landscape, its wanderers and institutions, that contains issues of diversity and anxiety and sickness and torment. These are the things I hear in his writing, a pain and solace, a dark side along with the praise and thanksgiving.


5 comments on “Strange Echo: Cavell and Thoreau

  1. dmf says:

    A cicada shell;
    it sang itself
    utterly away.


  2. Ishmael says:

    Does Thoreau’s overcoming of “the dark side” through praise and thanksgiving summarize for you what you think dissociates your responses to Thoreau from those of your contemporaries? If so, in what ways, I wonder? Perhaps the difference is one of emphasis on HOW Thoreau struggles to overcome. Your strong emphasis seems to be on what you discern as the almost hymn-like quality of Thoreau’s writing, which is of course an important and perhaps neglected aspect of it. But the other, equally important aspect – which some of your contemporaries might overly stress – is the, so to speak, lyrics to the songs: the ideas that Thoreau is putting forward and how they hang together, if they do. One might ask, for example, how much the success of Thoreau’s struggle against the darkness depends on metaphysical or quasi-metaphysical notions of transcendence, and what specifically those notions are. It’s possible, of course, that the lyrics won’t stand reciting on their own, without the music; and that might be your point as well.

    I rather think, by the way, that the object of this blog is mainly to sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving and to encourage others to sing them in response – and never mind the belabored exegesis of Thoreau’s texts. I for one, who can’t carry a tune for the life of me, am more than ready to take my seat in the audience.

  3. Ishmael says:

    “I am grateful for what I am & have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite. …O how I laugh when I think of my vague and indefinite riches.” (HDT to H.G.O. Blake, Dec. 12, 1856) For some reason, this reminds me of Nietzsche (on a good day).

    I’m now reading through Thoreau’s letters, something I haven’t done since I was a kid. They’re very interesting and often reveal what a generous, good-natured, and playful guy Thoreau could be. “See how I play with my fingers! They are the funniest companions I have ever found.” Thoreau didn’t correspond much, and a lot of his letters are little more than notes that can be quickly passed over. But he had a few correspondents – Blake, Ricketson, and Chalmondeley among them – to whom he really opened up. To them he posted reflections as dazzling as any of his best journal entries.

    • efmooney says:

      Hey, Ishmael, when you come across a great passage addressed to Blake or Ricketson or Chalmondeley, why not pass it on? I’ve never read his letters. I trust your ear for their value.

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