Just Trees (Poem)

Just Trees (After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks) | The War Eagle Reader.

A little poem to memorialize the Toomer’s Oaks.

Just Trees
(After the felling of the Toomer’s Oaks)

Aren’t they just trees?
–Yes, they are—they were.
–And weren’t they dying anyway?
–Yes, they were—and I am—and you are too.
Dying.  But someone killed them.
(Yes, you can kill something that is already dying.
If you doubt that, shoot someone with a terminal illness,
then plead your innocence.)
–But they were just trees.
–Yes—they were.  But all trees have a kind of dignity,
A dignity revealed in the way they call on us to contemplate them:
St. Augustine knew that, and Arthur Schopenhauer too.
And these trees, wrapped as they were in celebration,
Wrapped as they were in meaning,
Called on us more insistently than most—even demanded contemplation.
Poisoning them, destroying their roots, was an attack on meaning,
A meaning that some, wrapped in unmeaning, could not bear.
Meaning has weight.  You can crumble under it, or understand it, your call.
–Just trees.
Yes, just trees.  And these are just my students, this is just my university,
This is just my life.
–But the meaning of all these things—you just put it there, gilding and staining,
In burnt orange and blue.  It is not real.  It is a collective delusion.  Tradition
Is no mode of access to what is real.
–Of course it is, it always has been, and it always will be.  Tradition makes
Values available for appreciation, for appropriate response:
And your response is the tree’s judgment on you.  Luckily for you, they are, they were,
Just trees.

The Sublimity of Logic

PI 89:  A nodal point in PI–a point where numerous intimate connections can be traced.  I am not going to trace them now, not all of them.  But one is that the problem of the sublimity of logic is, at least partially, the result of our subliming of logic, of our relationship to the problem.  We are not wholly confused in subliming logic–logic is sublime.  But its sublimity must square with its not supplying us with new facts, with its investigation of the hardly memorable and easily forgettable.  –Can we so square the sublimity of logic without feeling that Wittgenstein has changed the subject?

These considerations bring us up to the problem: In what sense is logic something sublime?

For there seemed to pertain to logic a peculiar depth–a universal significance. Logic lay, it seemed, at the bottom of all the sciences.–For logical investigation explores the nature of all things. It seeks to see to the bottom of things and is not meant to concern itself whether what actually happens is this or that.—-It takes its rise, not from an interest in the facts of nature, nor from a need to grasp causal connexions: but from an urge to understand the basis, or essence, of everything empirical. Not, however, as if to this end we had to hunt out new facts; it is, rather, of the essence of our investigation that we do not seek to learn anything new by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand.

Augustine says in the Confessions “quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio”.–This could not be said about a question of natural science (“What is the specific gravity of hydrogen?” for instance). Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, is something that we need to remind ourselves of. (And it is obviously something of which for some reason it is difficult to remind oneself.)

Quod Erat Faciendum: Philosophical Investigations and Confessions

I am currently at work on a new essay on Resolute Readings of TLP.  I am coming at the topic sideways, as it were, beginning with a debate over PI between O. K. Bouwsma and Gilbert Ryle.

With that on my mind, I had a brief but useful conversation with my friends Reshef and Dafi Agam-Segal.  We were talking about PI and about Wittgenstein’s comment to his students that he did not want to make them believe anything they did not believe, but rather to do something they would not do.  It occurred to me then that perhaps a useful way of understanding Wittgenstein’s work, PI included, would be to take it to be punctuated by QEFs (quod erat faciendum:  which was to have been done) rather than by QEDs.

Since I have mentioned Augustine here recently, I will note that I think this distinction applies, albeit somewhat differently, to Confessions too.  Augustine said of Cicero’s Hortensius that it “changed his way of feeling”.  That phrase describes the work of Confessions–to change the reader’s way of feeling, to encourage Christian inwardness to flower:  “Be it granted, be it fulfilled, be it opened.”

A Thought or Two on Augustine’s Book of the Interior

Augustine’s Confessions opens and is an opening upon the vastness of God, a vastness that somehow is contained in even while it contains our inwardness.  Augustine’s opening paragraphs vault toward God and are the vault of the book’s lexicon:  Thou (Lord, God), I, pray, praise, power, wisdom, man, creation, desire, nature, death, sin, witness, pride, satisfaction, restlessness, rest, know, understand, believe, preach, seek, find, call, faith, gift.  The book opens in search and closes in rest.  It moves, like Plotinus’ Enneads, simultaneously inward and upward.  Plato’s dialogues end in aporia, wholly stymied by Socrates; Augustine’s confessions begin in aporia, absolutely humbled before God.  Augustine is born early in the book.  But his later new birth, at its center, represents the book’s true autoboiographical beginning.

The inwardness of the book fascinates me.  Has anyone so opened himself to himself?  Who has more searchingly charted the interior?  Who before him knew that prayer was the proper vessel for such exploring?  Confessions is The Art of Travel Inward.

I directed myself to myself and to myself I said, “You, who are you?”  And I responded, “A human being.”

What am I, then, my God?  What nature am I?  My life is many and various and violently without measure.

Augustine will know who and what he is.  He will know himself as person and as nature.  What he will know he can ask provisionally of himself but must ask ultimately of God (since being a person is in some sense a function of being a human being, and the provenance of our being a human being is God).

Montaigne writes, “I do not portray being.  I portray passing.”  What he portrays is a passing being.  Augustine wants to portray that too; but only against the backdrop of a unpassing being, with whom there is no shadow of turning.

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