And old draft that I was never able to get back to and complete:
There’s nothing like being temporarily freed from a responsibility to remind us of our neglected other responsibilities. The first Tuesday in a while that I didn’t have to be on campus found me walking the fields with the dog and thinking of obligations I had set for myself that I had not met – foremost being the duty to post regularly to the blog on my job search, on writing, and on life on the farm. The first two can wait, as it is the last I’m prepared to do now. But I was thinking about writing in general, too–writing as fulfilling certain goals rather than an end in itself. One of the primary goals of writing is not only the transmission of knowledge, but its acquisition: through the process of solidifying one’s thinking into a formalized sequence of thoughts, that thinking becomes a bit externalized and is itself the object of critical thought, and though that self-reflexive and self-critical process is certainly possible without the concrete act of writing, it is not possible to the same degree. One not only becomes aware of the content of one’s though, but its limitations, both accidental omissions and places where it has not reached–has not reached or cannot reach.
Acquisition of knowledge would certainly be a major reason why one would set out a writing task, and in writing about the farm I felt, and I feel, that I could come to a greater understanding of a place that I love and the reasons that I love it. I’m also curious to explore what kind of knowledge writing about nature would allow for. If, following Emerson, and in this as in many things I do, we start off from the notion that nature is everything that is not the observer (“the NOT ME”) nor under the observer’s control, we quickly find that
the NOT ME, that is, both nature and art, all other men and my own body, must be ranked under this name, NATURE. In enumerating the values of nature and casting up their sum, I shall use the word in both senses; — in its common and in its philosophical import. In inquiries so general as our present one, the inaccuracy is not material; no confusion of thought will occur. Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf.
Another spring day, and I find again that I haven’t been keeping up with my writing. And I haven’t been keeping up with my desire to know more about and experience more the wildlife that surrounds me here on the farm. The CDs of frog calls and insect noises haven’t been listened to, and I haven’t been keeping up with birdsong recognition or identifying migratory warblers either. I haven’t been out at night to find the frogs, owls, foxes and bats that I tell myself I need to be finding. Writing, knowledge, and my immediate surrounds have all become knotted together in this notion of responsibility. I feel responsible to know about, and to write about, my surroundings because I have a deep emotional commitment and attachment to them.
Following out from the Emerson passage above, he goes on in his book Nature to describe how the NOT ME, the natural world, is in fact ME – that there is an occult relation between one’s surroundings and one’s spiritual essence. Expressed as baldly as that, it seems a little harebrained, like a lot of Emerson when you try to line it out and diagram it. Yet, there’s more too it. Emerson is picking up on a centuries long tradition of American – particularly American, I think – attitude to the landscape: that attitude is to assume one’s responsibility to understand the landscape because of a notion that one’s self is somehow nurture, defined, and sustained by it. A sublimation of agricultural pursuits into the philosophical, perhaps. And although it’s not a notion that survives any particular philosophical scrutiny, it is one with a powerful rhetorical and aesthetic force.
And guilt. Let’s not forget that. So I’ll turn it to something more useful. I feel guilty I haven’t been writing here. I’ll do it more often – even regularly now. I promise.