Thoreau had no desire to be a clergyman or professor, though today he inspires plenty of both.  He would not have thrived there, any more than he did teaching 5th graders.  His speech, like Emerson’s, belongs outside church or university walls.  Not that either he or Emerson were averse to public speaking.  Here’s a reflection, posted today, from  The Vitalist:

For [Clive] James, the Vienna of the early 20th century represents a model to counter the dullish atmosphere of contemporary academic intellectual life — a Viennese genius was as equally likely to pass his time playing chess and drinking coffee, while discussing the ideas of the day, rather than teaching undergraduates or hoping for tenure. . . . Whether we are examining Athens five hundred years before the birth of Christ or Vienna twenty-centuries after, what we notice is that art and science seem to be generated out of the rhythm of the life of those places, and not say, an abstract imperative to research or write. What James so admires about coffeehouse culture in Vienna is exactly what one could admire about Athenian philosophical discussion — it took place in public and was accessible to the general citizenry. Science, literature, art, and music were not esoteria known only to a few specialists, but the common clay out of which a public, general culture was formed.


4 comments on “Outside

  1. dmf says:

    hmm, was Viennese coffee culture really open to the general citizenry?
    that aside the idea of philosophy in the factory, as Dewey hoped for, or in the settlement home as Addams practiced is certainly an admirable goal. Rabinow is trying to take it into the lab frontiers of genengineering: http://www.anthropos-lab.net/
    back to the rough ground!

  2. dmf says:

    from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, (trans. W. Kaufmann), p2 s16 ON SCHOLARS:

    As I lay asleep, a sheep ate of the ivy wreath on my brow – ate and said, “Zarathustra is no longer a scholar.” Said it and strutted away proudly. A child told it to me.

    I like to lie here where the children play, beside the broken wall, among thistles and red poppies. I am still a scholar to the children, and also to the thistles and red poppies. They are innocent even in their malice. But to the sheep I am no longer a scholar; thus my lot decrees it – bless it!

    For this is the truth: I have moved from the house of the scholars and I even banged the door behind me. My soul sat hungry at their table too long; I am not, like them, trained to pursue knowledge as if it were nut-cracking. I love freedom and the air over the fresh earth; rather would I sleep on ox hides than on their decorums and respectabilities.

    I am too hot and burned by my own thoughts; often it nearly takes my breath away. Then I must go out into the open and away from all dusty rooms. But they sit cool in the cool shade: in everything they want to be mere spectators, and they beware of sitting where the sun burns on the steps. Like those who stand in the street and gape at the people who pass by, they too wait and gape at thoughts that others have thought.

  3. dmf says:

    Out of the bunch grass
    out of the cheat grass
    a bunch of grass waddles
    my way.

    Quill-tips bleached by winter four
    inches down: crown of glory dark
    at the roots: a halo
    catching the sun’s
    final song:

    No way could such steady
    oblivion possibly live
    up to legend, whatever
    fear I might have had
    is gone, but still I stop

    Short on my after-dinner walk, no
    collision course if I
    can help it, thinking
    at first it’s the wind,
    nudging a path out of the field

    Or one of a covey of tumbleweed
    lost like those today on the freeway,
    racing ahead of my car that whole long drive
    here to the banks of the Snake, to friends
    so close they know
    when to leave me alone.

    As though I were nowhere around, the porcupine
    shuffles the edge of the road,
    in five minutes crosses
    a distance I could have covered
    in less than one

    And disappears at last into cattails
    and rushes, sunset, a vespers
    of waterbirds, leaving me
    still unwilling to move.

    I am a sucker for scenes like this.
    The slowest beauty can rush me.
    And here I am,
    all of my defenses down.

    “Porcupine at Dusk” by Ingrid Wendt

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