It’s as if listening to a blog-post is NPR’s morning edition, punctuated by music for early hours — yet sometimes as if listening to a call to prayer, or even as an invitation to respond musically — even through the fog of near-sleep. Kelly Jolley spoke recently of writing and teaching as letting one’s self-education be exposed. Catlin Lowe spoke of the affinities of a trinity (Emerson, Thoreau, Nietzsche): among other things, at least Thoreau and Nietzsche share (she proposes) an “ambition that [their] writing would attain to music” — and suddenly the broadcast is riveting.
I jump into the fray of early morning’s fertile imagination: writing as exposure, and mourning, and redemption, and no turning back. What if Thoreau is music, as if the birth of his writing is from the spirit of tragedy, a Dionysian singing through dismemberments — where does that path lead? . . . a trek barely after morning coffee, without grabbing for books, without looking back.
Thoreau juxtaposes the healing, saving melodies that spring from Hawthorne’s music box — borrowed in what was the darkest moment of his life — with a capacity to transform the only partial, incomplete mourning of ‘little Waldo’s’ death (just a month after John’s death) into the impersonal and perfect mourning all Nature undergoes. Here is a descent into the death-cycles of Nature experienced musically as redemption – a getting-down-into-Nature, into her blues — letting her earthy embrace envelope the mourner, letting her regenerative powers restore.
Just as John or Waldo at burial are returned to the earth for its restful embrace, so Henry will ‘rest in peace’ there just outside Concord, absorbed by the woods and fields, absorbed by their music, even as he is absorbed into the death of a once-was John Thoreau or ‘little Waldo’ through music. And if we can go there, he (and we) thereby become lost in the embrace of the dark earth from which new fields of trees will spring their eternally recurrent singing. Years later, Thoreau brings that music box to his sister’s funeral, too, as if music were, again, a more perfect mourning.
Cavell mourns (and hates) his father’s hatred even as he redeems his father through taking on, learning, receiving and passing on, his father’s genius for spontaneous and apt tales — Yiddish riffs — that pick up all listeners. He worked in his father’s pawn shop, the father recurrently failing, going West to Sacramento, then returning to Atlanta, going West again — over and over, six times as I remember — recurrent deaths and uprootings for the son. Cavell dropped off his own yet-undiscovered voice there at his father’s shop (where he worked, keeping accounts) to be redeemed decades later in the figure of a writer, as the writer he’s become.
A decade or so after leaving his unvoiced place behind the counter of his father’s shop, he left off his alto sax for Austin’s recitatives, and later still left off Austin’s voice, gradually, for blooms more his own. To find his voice is to find a voice redeemed, redeemed as one who hears writing musically — as riff and lamentation, among other things, lamentation of the father who wished him not to exist — riff and lamentation as redemption, as getting back what was lost or on loan, even as the loss and loan are etched in amorphous spirit forever. Writing is exposure and redemption of the pawn of voice.
Letting himself (Thoreau or Cavell) be exposed in witness and confession, aspires to something larger than the redemption of the Concord or Cambridge resident — aspires to redemption of one and all. This is pretty much what the bulk of Thoreau’s journal amounts to. It started as a day book, but on John’s death it stopped, and when it came to life again it was transformed, for he was. Thoreau is then a Dionysian going-under to retrieve the music of existence by singing it, measure by measure, and not looking back.
[Many thanks to “Distinctly Praise . . . ” and “Quantum Est . . .”,
whose authors may well think quite otherwise.]