“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Emersonian Zuhandenheit

Here are some lovely lines from his essay “Experience” which I'm chewing over today:

I take this evanesence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch the hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition.
Notice his use of “unhandsome,” which rings a certain bell of Zuhandenheit (un-hand-some)...

Fox and woodchuck, hawk and snipe and bittern, when nearly seen, have no more root in the deep world than man, and are just such superficial tenants of the globe. Then the new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.
Emerson talks ontic givenness and how there is a rift between this and the deep structure of things. It's about how we co-exist in lacking a world (in the language of The Ecological Thought). That humans aren't that different from nonhumans, not because we are embedded in a lifeworld, but because we aren't.

There is a certain magic about [a man’s] properest action, with stupefies your powers of observation, so that though it is done before you, you wist not of it. The art of life has a pudency, and will not be exposed.
Causality floats in front of objects like a magical display. (I”m ignoring that Emerson is only talking about “men” here.)

Life has no memory.
The fact of retroactive positing means that the significance of an event is always in the future, to-come. This is what gives beings the feeling of temporal flow.

HT Cary Wolfe for putting me onto this essay.


Joe Clement said...

Reminds me of Michael Wex in "Born to Kvetch":

"Up until the Nazis, poverty, not anti-Semitism, was considered the most serious problem facing the Jews, and much, if not most, modern Yiddish culture developed in an environment of almost incomprehensible deprivation.

Gentiles also live in poverty, they also have to worry about demons and evil spirits, but the world around them is the one they're meant to be in. Oylem Haze, 'this world', is their world. Religious Christians might see themselves as pilgrims on earth, sojourners waiting to die to go live with Jesus, but there's a big difference between a pilgrim and a refugee, even when both shlep along the same road. The Christian ideal is to be in this world, but not of it; the Jewish problem, the problem of the Jews in goles, is being of this world but still not in it. We eat, sleep, go to the toilet, and die. We pay taxes and serve in the army and do business, but we're shut out, excluded from all the usual sources of pleasure--we're on Turtle Island, and turtles are treyf."

Joe Clement said...

Gah. I forgot that I was going for a longer quotation. It continues:

"The chief sources of joy, shabbes and Torah, aren't part of this world, either. Traditional Jewish culture has everything but oylem haze, which means 'sensual pleasure' in Yiddish, the today for which hedonists live. Where the gentile world is an endless series of sequential 'nows', the Jewish world is nothing but 'thens', thens of the past and thens of the future: 'then we were . . . then we'll be . . . now we're nothing'."

All of that is on page 195/196.