After a dry summer we’re having a rainy day, with lines of thunderstorms moving through. Tomorrow is also supposed to be rainy. I find such days calming, especially when the storm is coming down hardest. At its most furious the storm is most calming. It’s hot & muggy now, I could use another downpour.
- Menand begins with the figure of Oliver Wendell Holmes, jr. A figure better known to the history of law than to the history of the Transcendentalists.
- Emerson wrote to Holmes, “A scholar need not be cynical to think that the vast multitude are almost on all fours . . .”
- Whenever I read about the Transcendentalists & post-trancendentalists, I reach for my volume of Wallace Stevens. I think Stevens is the last member of the generation of The Metaphysical Club. The underlying philosophical questions remain the same in Stevens.
- The word pragmatism’s earliest meaning according to the OED is akin to sophistry, or empty language. That meaning then fades out as the more modern meanings emerge.
- Menand writes that pragmatism is an account of the way people think. I’m particularly interested in the ways language enters into this explanation.
- “Truth is what happens to an idea.” –Wm. James
One of the main problems with being sick is that time inflates & at the same time the number of things one can do to fill the time is reduced. And as time thins out, fantasies & obsessive thoughts emerge from the void. Small things are magnified. Generally, I can slide away from such thoughts, but some days it can be difficult. When I can focus, I work on poems, but I’m looking for projects that will absorb my attention even when I’m feeling scattered. Suggestions? Note: I don’t watch movies.
The metaphor is not original with me, but moods have the quality of the weather. I’ve been experiencing changeable weather the last couple of weeks. Like the weather, moods are notoriously difficult to describe. In my case, I go from a kind of nervous distraction in which I cannot work but cannot rest, either, to a kind of generalized sense of well-being during which I can focus & even write. But it’s difficult to sense why I shift or when a shift is coming. The best I can do is be mindful of the state of mind I’m in at a particular moment & let go of it if it is not productive or at least comfortable.
- Menand makes the point that for the generation that came of age in the middle of the 19th century, the Civil War was the same sort of traumatic experience as WWI & Vietnam were for later generations.
- Those experiences shook up the settled conventions that James, Peirce, & the other post-transcendentalists might have been expected to adopt had the war not come along to “tear a hole” in their lives. Menand says they were not so much alternative thinkers as men of their time who confronted a crisis of history.
- Philosophy emerges from the lives these people lived; it was not adopted as an abstract system. So much is obvious & well-known, but building a philosophy from the experience of one’s life is not a simple matter. “Visions and revisions.”
- For this group of thinkers, ideas are always contextual & are to be valued not for their immutability but for their adaptability to different situations, and for their impermanence.
With my friend CR, I’m going to be rereading Louis Menand’s book, The Metaphysical Club and posting comments here. I’ll start a post with a quotation & range of pages or chapter headings, then the discussion will move to the comment section of the blog. Everyone who has read the book is welcome to comment along with Chris & myself.