Reflecting on Tuesday’s post, I knew that Thoreau had said something pertinent, something specific about letting wondrous things be — not immediately boxing them to fix within causal chains.
Of course Thoreau was a premier scientific researcher — his meticulous field notes are still extremely valuable to those who study the ecology of Eastern Massachusetts (especially those ecologists who want regional historical time-lines). And Thoreau had a number of worthy ecological and geological hypotheses. For example, he speculated tellingly about ‘the succession of forest trees’ — why, after a fire, the new growth is not just a mimic of the old-growth species, now destroyed. But the scientific stance, looking for causes and explanatory hypotheses, was not the only way to be in the world among things.
On December 7th, 1838, Thoreau wrote out in his Journal this brief but striking philosophical desire:
Thoreau wants to distance himself from immediate “reference or inference.” I take it a ‘reference’ would be a kind of file-identity attached to the ‘object’ of wonder, and ‘inference’ would be the start of causal explanation. Neither of these would be “befitting poetic response.” (In my post, I wrote, “The poetry of life deserves to be preserved by befitting poetic response.“) To give an example of befitting response we could turn to any number of passages from Walden (say). But here’s a response on the occasion of wonder that is, to my ear, “without reference or inference.” I’d call it a “befitting poetic response.”
Some eight months before Thoreau’s Journal entry, on April 1, 1838, a literary philosopher from Copenhagen reported in his Journal: