Aspects, Metaphor: II

j. reports in a recent comment on Thoreau’s remark that things speak directly without metaphor while books speak in metaphor.  This leads me to reflect on Wittgenstein’s glancing comments on aspects dawning, and Thoreau’s picking us up into an experiential awakening to dawns — evoking dawns, letting us sing along unselfconsciously with dawns that come upon us, overtake us, making analysis or reflection-about drop away.  That’s very roughly put.

I think Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard both had a fear of the encroachment and entrenchment of the systematic that destroyed a sought immediacy with the world.  Thoreau wanted to produce satisfactory narratives, renderings of the flow of things that attained the status of something like scripture, with great immediacy of impact.  The ‘moments’ of dawning could be linked into ever wider patterns; whereas Wittgenstein settled for ‘micro-narratives’, satisfactions in disparate, unlinked, almost atomic single conversational exchanges, with no attempt to spin out connective narration, big Walden-type books.  Both Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard speak as if it would be fine if, having gotten a discrete point, or series of them,  we set their books aside as incidental to the rest of our lives.  At least Postscript reads that way.  I really think Thoreau wanted a different success; he wanted (crudely put) to be a best-selling author.  (And SK of the early pseudonymous works had that in mind too.)  And Thoreau thought there was a place for books to put under your pillow.  A book could be read over and over for its redeeming flow.  LW didn’t aspire to produce such books.  Thoreau wants a book of continual dawning  that   weaves into itself the world-ever-dawning.  Wittgenstein despaired of tying  things together and left us what he acknowledged were only fragments, or what Kierkegaard called ‘crumbs of philosophy.’

Here’s a hope: that when Thoreau says things speak without metaphor he speaks of a naturalness of expression that is unselfconscious, one that we might come to share more continuously.  If books seem filled with metaphor it’s because their speech lends itself to a kind of breakdown into the literal-and-figurative that can distract from a directness, immediacy, that has none of the detachment necessary for breaking out a figurative non-figurative contrast.  The phenomenology of hearing brooks sing will end with the hearing.  The phenomenology of my reading a poem in which brooks sing may begin with the poem and the brooks in it just singing, but often switches out of that immediacy of singing. We begin to place lyrics in the space of analysis in the way brooks don’t place their singing in the space of analysis.

My hope is that I don’t let skill and interest in analysis crowd out having evermore of my life consist in hearing language-as-it-sings, as in lyrics, where the satisfaction doesn’t at all require that I note the metaphors at work in the lyrics.  On such occasion, I just sing along, consciousness just sings along, like brooks, not like poems about brooks singing, or analysis of what it could mean for a brook to sing, or the ‘knowing’ that of course ‘it’s a metaphor — brooks can’t really sing.’  When they do sing for me I undergo transformation, minute by minute.  I think theater people read poetry-for-stage-performance in a ‘happy ignorance’ of analysis.  Thoreau aspired aiding and abetting that sort of life-flow-for-readers where his books and life were in ever amplifying feedback loops.  Wittgenstein didn’t have an aspiration to write that way, and I suspect, thought it ‘couldn’t be done any more,’  almost the way Adorno said lyrical poetry could not be written after Auschwitz.

All very rough and unfinished . . . thanks j.


10 comments on “Aspects, Metaphor: II

  1. dmf says:

    Well Wittgenstein certainly wanted “Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten” even if his own project was more of a therapeutic venture, if you haven’t already check out:

    • efmooney says:

      Perloff and others have found a bit of poetry in Wittgenstein — it’s there. But Thoreau, we could say is after extended lyric poetry and the bit of poetry LW produced was crumbs, tid bits. I think he didn’t rule out another philosopher of a different talent doing philosophy-as-poetry.

  2. efmooney says:

    Yes, that book’s a great collection. But it doesn’t build the bridge I seek between LW and the sustained book-bundled sort of multiple yet focused sort of aspect-seeing I find in Thoreau

    • dmf says:

      it may be that Thoreau is trying to make explicit the kind of animal faith that LW finds implicit in
      “grammar”, and that there is a Goethe-ish style (and perhaps M-Ponty on flesh?) approach to showing a unity via particularities/differences.

      • efmooney says:

        Thanks, d. — that’s a nice lecture. Three cheers for video-on-line. I wonder if W. ever read Santayana on ‘animal faith’? Folks are pursuing W. along lines unimaginable 20 years ago. A whole new generation finding new inspiration far beyond questions of ‘private language’, etc.

  3. A. Michels says:

    The immediacy theme here, particularly about word use, economy, writing motive, style, etc., reminds me of the value of the proverb, memorable quotes from Parker and Steinem, where the impact is immediate and resonating for its compacted flow, ie. “punchline.” compared to the brilliant, sometimes head-scratching Dickinson approach, or Bronte’s picturesque approach, Thoreau’s cadence. The love of words- relishing the kind of unique exchange itself through the read… motive, personality, art, literary devices, therapy- all cognitive matters, don’t exactly explain why we engage and re-engage.
    An interesting thing, is what we actually do read “…over and over for its redeeming flow,” -certainly, the pieces we read that we feel and keep feeling, and sometimes bother us or befriend us in time, connect with the soul, but also maybe it’s because we find real comfort and support in certain styles and personae in and behind the words. Usually, jokes and famous quotes genre do not remain under our pillows, unless you’re in sales.

  4. j. says:

    ed, your comparison re narratives interests me but its terms sound off. wittgenstein is known to have labored over the ‘natural’ arrangement of the ‘investigations’, and depending on where you want to cut it off, i think the first 133 or 188 or 240some remarks bear that out, despite the comments in the preface about landscape sketches. and i think that’s part of the usual difficulty of reading along, of responding (in writing) to the book – it can seem to keep going and going in such a way that you can’t take it all in, but if you try to get just a bit you’re liable to deaden or quiet the responsiveness that goes into each little bit.

    but that’s ‘natural’ regarding engagement with some interlocutor(s) (internally related somehow to author and readers) and their inhabitation of their language. wittgenstein doesn’t seem to want to coordinate this kind of narrative with the stretches of narrative that can be told about nature, so thoreau cares about a whole axis along which narratives could be extended, coordinated, reconciled, etc., that wittgenstein just leaves to ‘science’.

    • efmooney says:

      j. Thanks. Yes. Wittgenstein surely leaves a whole lot to science and to poetry. The remark about writing philosophy as poetry remains, at this point, a tease.

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