Marginalia, no.220

Contribution to the Understanding of the Color of Water

~ Title of a book by Franz Boas

It sometimes happens that you meet a person obsessed with an idea or problem the interest in which is inconceivable to you. Sometimes (you are surprised to find) this person is your own past self, met again in the reminiscence of a friend or the page of a journal. The object that so utterly blocked your light five years ago has been made invisible by a trick of time. New objects press in from the sides and distract from the old one or re-frame it into an irrelevant bit of distant scenery. You are only temporarily acquainted with yourself.



Filed under Marginalia

5 responses to “Marginalia, no.220

  1. Nothing more true to the experience of the self than the experience of its weird discontinuities. As Emerson has it in “Circles”: “Our moods do not believe in each other. To-day I am full of thoughts and can write what I please. I see no reason why I should not have the same thought, the same power of expression, to-morrow. What I write, whilst I write it, seems the most natural thing in the world: but yesterday I saw a dreary vacuity in this direction in which now I see so much; and a month hence, I doubt not, I shall wonder who he was that wrote so many continuous pages. Alas for this infirm faith, this will not strenuous, this vast ebb of a vast flow! I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.”

    Many a web-logger, in surveying his accumulated timber, might well say the same.

  2. Ian Wolcott

    Emerson had read his Montaigne. You could almost believe it was a quote from the Essays.

    Even when I’m not embarrassed by myself I am always befuddled.

  3. Spot on, as always, Ian. From “On the Inconstancy of Our Actions”: “Our ordinary practice is to follow the inclinations of our appetite, be it to the left or right, upwards or downwards, according as we are wafted by the breath of occasion. We never meditate what we would have till the instant we have a mind to have it; and change like that little creature which receives its colour from what it is laid upon. What we but just now proposed to ourselves we immediately alter, and presently return again to it; ‘tis nothing but shifting and inconsistency:

    Ducimur, ut nervis alienis mobile lignum.
    [We are turned about like the top with the thong of others. —Idem, Sat., ii. 7, 82.]

    We do not go, we are driven; like things that float, now leisurely, then with violence, according to the gentleness or rapidity of the current:

    Nonne videmus, Quid sibi quisque velit, nescire, et quaerere semper Commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit?
    [Do we not see them, uncertain what they want, and always asking for something new, as if they could get rid of the burthen. —Lucretius, iii. 1070.]

    Every day a new whimsy, and our humours keep motion with the time.

    Tales sunt hominum mentes, quali pater ipse Juppiter auctificas lustravit lumine terras.

    [Such are the minds of men, that they change as the light with which father Jupiter himself has illumined the increasing earth. —Cicero, Frag. Poet, lib. x.]”

  4. Ian Wolcott

    “We do not go, we are driven; like things that float, now leisurely, then with violence, according to the gentleness or rapidity of the current.”

    That’s very nice. Not the Donald Frame translation. Is it Ives?

  5. It’s the Charles Cotton translation (1685-86), as edited by William Carew Hazlitt in 1877. Available at Project Gutenberg:

    I am on the road. Don’t have the Screech translation I’ve been reading & so plucked that passage off the web. I like the English.

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