Trees and Temples II

The capacity for attaining moments of affinity and understanding around issues like temples and trees, the sacred in the secular, the artistry of the divine and the divine in artistry, does not rest on any one authority, economy of power, set of rules, or system of essences. Cavell speaks to what it would be to proceed through these mists without despair, despite lacking trail markers. “It is,” he says,

” a matter of our sharing routes of interest and feeling, modes of response, senses of humor and of significance and of fulfillment, of what is outrageous, of what is similar to what else, what a rebuke, what forgiveness . . . all the whirl of organism Wittgenstein calls ‘forms of life.’ Human speech and activity, sanity and community, rest upon nothing more, but nothing less, than this. It is a vision as simple as it is difficult, and as difficult as it is (and because it is) terrifying.”[i]

These words are uttered in faith, or hope, and offer a promise in faith or hope, to be taken up in fear and trembling, yet affording the joy and delight so characteristic of Thoreau’s ventures. It is living in “communicative mutuality” in awareness that abandonment, loneliness, communicative misfires, and outright evil, although surely afoot, do not exhaust our ways of becoming. (Of course, communicative mutuality can fall dead in its tracks. Thoreau’s hope is only as strong as our ability to hear it.) 

“I do not know that Knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel & grand surprise on a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we had called knowledge before — a discovery that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy. It is the lighting up of the mist by the sun.”

[‘Walking,’ 3 pgs from end, and Journal, Feb 27 1851.]]

[i] Stanley Cavell, “The Availability of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy,” in Must We Mean What We Say?, Updated Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 44–72, p. 52. Arguing for a convergence between Cavell and Kierkegaard on authority and grounds is an alluring prospect.


10 comments on “Trees and Temples II

  1. dmf says:

    I would think we are in the realm of speaking of ar(t)s as practice, ways of relating, such as the art of medicine is the practice of medicine, and in some sense not the mere application of academic or “pure” sciences, not social engineering of one size fits all laws.

  2. Ed, where’s that passage in Walden?

    • efmooney says:

      Ah, I’m far from my books, relying on memory is not good. As I google around, it’s not Walden. It’s from his Journals. My first stab is Feb 27, 1851. [The old Dover edition has it Feb 9.]

      • efmooney says:

        And the quote, slightly amended, and improved by the memory of Hamlet’s line, appears in ‘Walking,’ too, a page or so before his walk on Spaulding’s Farm.

      • Oh. I just wondered–not because I didn’t think it was in W, but rather because I seem never to be able to find anything in that book. Thanks, Ed.

  3. efmooney says:

    I needed to hunt it down, Kelly, and in the process I found why it’s hard (for both of us) to find what we’re looking for: each sentence is captivating, so I get slowed down and distracted, and ultimately find myself relishing (rather than searching). T would approve.

  4. mgasda says:

    “Sacred in the secular” could be inverted: what about finding the secular in the sacred?

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