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1. This dictum is reiterated, perhaps more clearly, in his next letter to Blake:

When, in the progress of life, a man swerves, though only by an angle infinitely small, from his proper and allotted path … then the drama of his life turns to tragedy, and makes haste to its fifth act. When once we thus fall behind ourselves, there is no accounting for the obstacles which rise up in our path, and no one is so wise as to advise, and no one so powerful as to aid us while we abide on that ground. Such are cursed with duties, and the neglect of their duties. For such the decalogue was made, and other far more voluminous and terrible codes. (Letter to Blake, May 2, 1848, Correspondence, 1958, p. 221) [BACK]

2. What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words? … Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know. But I confidently affirm myself to know that if nothing passes away, there is no past time, and if nothing arrives, there is no future time, and if nothing existed there would be no present time. Take the two tenses, past and future. How can these “be” when the past is not now present and the future is not yet present? Yet if the present were always present, it would not pass into the past: it would not be time but eternity. If then, in order to be time at all, the

present is so made that it passes into the past, how can we say that this present also “is”? The cause of its being is that it will cease to be. So indeed we cannot truly say that time exists except in the sense that it tends toward nonexistence. (Augustine, Confessions 11. 14. 17)

Augustine's discussion echoes philosophical debates among Platonists, Aristotelians, and Stoics, and he follows a skeptical course, inasmuch as he concludes that the human mind cannot formulate an “answer.” [BACK]

3. James quotes E. R. Clay (The Alternative [London: Macmillan, 1882], p. 167) approvingly:

“…Time, then, considered relatively to human apprehension, consists of four parts, viz., the obvious past, the specious present, the real present, and the future. Omitting the specious present, it consists of three … nonentities—the past, which does not exist, the future, which does not exist, and their conterminous, the present; the faculty from which it proceeds lies to us in the fiction of the specious present.” (James [1890] 1983, p. 574)

James goes on to make his own comment:

In short, the practically cognized present is no knifeedge, but a saddleback, with a certain breadth of its own on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time…. The experience is from the outset a synthetic datum, not a simple one; and to sensible perception its elements are inseparable, although attention looking back may easily decompose the experience, and distinguish its beginning from its end. (Ibid., pp. 574–75) [BACK]

4. Peck reads Thoreau as ravaged by the trials of time (the death of John Thoreau) and as psychologically endeavoring to immerse himself “in the flow of time in order to overcome time … and confront and experience the destructive force of history in order to recover from it his own and his region's lost past” (Peck 1990, p. 35). Thoreau's preoccupation with history and memory in A Week is thus explained by Peck as an elaborate psychological catharsis initiated by a grief response, whereby “remembrance becomes redemptive” (ibid., p. 14). My emphasizing the centrality of Thoreau's preoccupation with time reflects my indebtedness to this work in many respects. [BACK]

5. Note that this is quite a different reading from the many interpretations of the circle or sphere in Thoreau's oeuvre, where, in placing man in the center of the circle, Thoreau follows 1) a Romantic egocentric epistemology (Tuerk 1975, p. 51), 2) an Emersonian construction (elaborated in “Circles,” 1983d) which regards God as a circle whose center is universal and whose circumference is nowhere (Tuerk 1975, pp. 14 and 58), or 3) a cyclic view of time, an “eternal return, and in no matter what part of a cycle man may be, something in him remains constant” (ibid., p. 40). In these respects, the symbolism of Walden Pond itself may be variously interpreted according to these modes of circularity. [BACK]

6. I am not concerned here with Augustine's vision of time's linear progression, i.e., time's eschatological progress, but with how Augustine, like Aristotle (Chadwick 1991, p. 230), as well as certain neo-Platonists, perceived time as a function of the soul. Aristotle spells out his views of time in the Physics, and in book 4 he refers to time's relation to the soul (if there cannot be someone to

count, there cannot be anything that can be counted either; it is impossible for there to be time unless there is soul [223a]); the cyclic nature of time as related to the homogenous primary movement in a circle or sphere (223b); and time's character in the now (220a): “Time depends on the now both for its continuity and for its differentiation into parts, as movement does on the moved body, and the line on the point. And … if it is by virtue of its nows that time is numbered, we must not suppose that nows are parts of time, any more than points are parts of a line. There is no least time as there is no least line” (Ross [1923] 1995, p. 91).

For the neo-Platonist Plotinus, time “is in every soul … and in the same form in every one of them, and all are one” (Ennead 3.7). Augustine shares the Platonic view that the true “I” was the incorporeal soul, but differs from Plotinus, who “begins with the universal soul and moves to individual souls which are somehow one with it, while Augustine … begins with individual human souls and moves to a universal mind or soul that embraces all of time” (Teske 1996, p. 54). But for each, time is primarily a distention of the soul by which form is given to the world; and because of the soul's dual individual and universal nature, time is experienced not only as subjective and private but also as objective and public (ibid., pp. 48 ff.). [BACK]

7. It is interesting to compare this passage with a similar one found in the “Sunday” chapter of A Week. The shallowest still water is unfathomable. Wherever the trees and skies are reflected there is more than Atlantic depth, and no danger of running aground. We noticed that it required a separate intention of the eye, a more free and abstracted vision, to see the reflected trees and the sky, than to see the river bottom merely; and so are there manifold visions in the direction of every object, and even the most opaque reflect the heavens from their surface. Some men have their eyes naturally intended to the one, and some to the other object. (Thoreau 1980 a, p. 48) [BACK]

8. Much of this discussion follows Porte's (1966) presentation, but while he uses Thoreau's mysticism to contrast Thoreau with Emerson, I am concerned rather with how the mystical aspiration forms a component of Thoreau's metaphysics of the self, serving, in a sense, as a counterpoint to his scientific epistemology. Further, I disagree with Porte's conclusion that “unlike the other Transcendentalists, his [Thoreau's] concern was ecstasy—and ecstatic illumination— rather than ethics” (p. 164); instead I see Thoreau's mysticism as part of the greater moral enterprise which informed all of his activities. [BACK]

9. Besides Thoreau's frequent allusions to Eastern mystics (e.g., the “Monday” chapter of A Week), Porte makes note of the inspiration Thoreau apparently drew from the great mystic philosopher Plotinus. “The union that Plotinus advocated was one involving a man's total being: the coincidence of ecstatic feeling with perfect vision. This was Thoreau's goal as a naturalist” (Porte 1966, p. 166). That union ties together Thoreau's naturalist project with his metaphysical inspiration. In his Journal (June 14, 1840,Journal 1, 1981, p. 127), he quotes from Plotinus's Ennead 6: “a kind of tactual union, and a certain presence better than knowledge, and the joining of our own centre, as it were, with the centre of the universe” (“Annotations,” ibid., p. 519). Porte writes, “Being

‘on the mount’ was a way of describing that ‘contact’ with the One of Plotinus which led to the ‘greater presence of knowledge.’ Like Plotinus, what Thoreau brought back from his experience of union with the center of all things was teasingly ineffable” (1966, p. 166). [BACK]

10. Thoreau described these experiences in various ways: the “vision” or “insight” of inspiration (e.g., December 29, 1841,Journal 1, 1981, pp. 348–49); the accidental and transient quality of the experience (e.g., November 21, 1850, Journal 3, 1990, p. 148); the intractability of capturing the experience in consciousness and then translation into writing (e.g., December 11, 1855,Journal, [1906] 1962, 8:45); and in public testament: “The most glorious fact in my experience is not anything that I have done or may hope to do, but a transient thought, or vision, or dream, which I have had. I would give all the wealth of the world, and all the deeds of the heroes, for one true vision” (A Week, 1980a, p. 140). [BACK]

11. See n. 6 to Introduction. [BACK]

12. As Robert Milder comments: “Fallen into history (or adulthood), we are obliged to press onward through history in a pilgrimage toward the timelessness beyond it. In heightened moments, however, we miraculously pierce the veil of time to glimpse the ‘perennial,’ and if we are disciplined, or worthy, or fortunate enough, we can hope to string such moments together to make a beatific life” (1995, p. 31). See Giorgio Agamben's strikingly rich and original essay on the sources of history, memory, and language in infancy (1993). A theme I develop in chapter 5 concerns the selfreflective arc that commences with the primal recognition that we discern the world by splitting “pure experience”—that presemantic world of infancy and early childhood—into two domains: the knowing self and the world known, thereby constituting ourselves as the subject of language. [BACK]

13. Stanley Rosen's essay “The Lived Present” (1999) offers a close parallel to this construction of time and its ethical structure from an entirely different perspective (that of a critique of Plato, Kant, and Heidegger). Rosen begins by rejecting conceptual analyses of time, whether in the language of mathematical physics or of ontology, and he also discards attempts to explain the present as some kind of synthesis of past and future. Instead, he builds on the provocative metaphor of time as played out as a “secretion” of living and uses the image of a spider's web to serve as the “structure” of temporality.

Living is distinct from the spiderweb, which is not life but the structure of time…. [Thus] if human activity produces time rather than filling or occupying it like a place or a structure of places that already exists, then it makes no sense to ask for the temporal location of this activity. More precisely, it makes no sense to locate it in the present, as for example by saying that I (= anyone) am now, that is, presently, and so in the present, producing time, including the present. But neither does it make sense to locate this activity in the past or the future. In short, if I produce time, then the activity of production must be atemporal. (Pp. 24–25)

The present as a characteristic of human existence then becomes presence. In this formulation, Rosen is attempting to capture the immediate and embedded character of human experience in the world, but even more radically, the primacy of

human existence as rank-ordering—the production of a world constituted and ultimately determined by human value. This socalled “erotic ascent” (Plato) interprets human activity as atemporal: the experience of the present is neither the moment, nor the synthesis of past and future, but the primary act of “opening” or making our world (in a sense, Heideggerian self-authentication).

This “opening” is not temporal in itself; it is neither the present, the past, nor the future. Instead, we should think of it as the founding of presence as the atemporal condition that makes possible the articulation of past, present, and future. (P. 32)

Presence then is “the nontemporal foundation of the temporal present” (p. 33) and thus cannot be an object of perception but is praxis itself (p. 32). So the “present” is selfconsciously constructed, while “presence” is human praxis or experience—immediate and unreflexive, “the pulsation of eros, that is the rankordering and world-constituting force of the human soul” (p. 33). These are themes highly resonant with my own reading of Thoreau. [BACK]

14. This Romantic ideal was clearly enunciated in again a different mode by Emerson (“Self-Reliance” [1983c]), and perhaps most celebrated by Nietzsche. George Stack (1992) has made a compelling case that Nietzsche was heavily indebted to Emerson, not only in a general orientation regarding their respective philosophies of the self, but more particularly in the enunciation of man's relation to fate and the moral imperative of asserting responsibility for our destiny. One readily appreciates the general affinity of Emerson and Nietzsche in Emerson's insistence on the “intensification of subjectivity” and thus “forming his ideal of the man who has faith in himself, who values above all the integrity of the self, who is willing to stand alone, who strives to think, act, and live truth” (Stack 1992, p. 11). But beyond these general notions, which might have arisen independently, Stack documents how Nietzsche carefully studied Emerson (e.g., pp. 42 ff.), providing marginalia that clearly express his admiration (“the author richest in ideas of this century” [ibid., p. 45]), and shows how certain key Emersonian ideas were explicitly developed. Of concern here is the idea of the eternal recurrence. Each begin with the cyclicity of the moral development of the individual; and more broadly, for both Emerson and Nietzsche, the “circle” is the ideal representation of reality (ibid., pp. 198–99). From this point they each affirm that “the powers of the self are as real as the power of fate” (ibid., p. 200), and in regard to the eternal recurrence, “if we ourselves are fate, then we are part of the processes of fate, and in a sense, we ‘condition it for all eternity’” (ibid., p. 205). Stack credits Emerson with the basic principles, albeit undeveloped, with which Nietzsche erected his own vision of the eternal return. In regard to the genesis of Nietzsche's idea of the eternal return, Stack concludes:

Nietzsche would have had to have read Emerson with meticulous care and sympathetic understanding to have joined together four separately discussed conceptions in one of nature; the affirmation of life, of the entire circular process; and the notion of a lived experience of immortality. Given the symmetry between Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence and his emphasis upon the experience of eternity and Emerson's disjointed remarks on these topics, there is no doubt that he had assimilated and, consciously or unconsciously, synthesized these theoretical conjectures. (Ibid., p. 209)


Nietzsche of course was more of a philosopher than Emerson, and his thinking is sharper, deeper, more subtle, and more farranging than his. But it cannot be denied … that Nietzsche could not have constructed this part of his philosophical edifice without Emersonian foundations. (Ibid., p. 211)

A concurring opinion is offered by George Kateb (1995, p. 149), who offers an interesting comparison of Emerson and Nietzsche around the theme of individuality and selfreliance. Kateb essentially agrees with Stack's appraisal: “I believe Emerson's influence on Nietzsche's formulations is direct and profound” (ibid., p. 149). Thus an intriguing triangulation between Emerson, Thoreau, and Nietzsche is suggested. [BACK]

15. In the context considered here, Nietzsche's own use of the cycle of time, which he called the eternal recurrence, is of most interest. Not to stretch their similarities, it is not too farfetched to suggest that despite the great differences in their respective philosophical projects, the ethical structure of Thoreau's cycle of time and Nietzsche's own view of time share strong resemblances. Nietzsche's conception of the eternal return is coupled to two basic premises: 1) the circularity of the eternal process of becoming, and 2) a morality that had neither revealed status nor universal standing nor philosophical foundation—to wit, no ethical imperative other than the force of our will and the imperative of exercising choice. If God is dead, then our morality must be based on our selfwilled sovereignty (e.g.,On the Genealogy of Morals). The will, alone on its own axis, unself-consciously knows no past or future, only the present. Responsibility then resides solely in the self, which lives in a radical present; the past and future are only constructions of the now. Time is framed not in the past or future, but it accompanies us, moving steadily forward within the present. The present vision of the self thus defines the past, and if the present is accepted, then all that has led to that juncture has been enjoined. Most important, the past as forming the future is acknowledged. Thus to accept the present in Nietzsche's terms is to have willed—or willed to choose to accept—all that led to this moment. The eternal recurrence, as an ethical mandate, becomes the ultimate assertion of individual free will and choice.

The present is, in a sense, pulled out of time—inasmuch as it has become the only mode of temporality. Further, being placed in eternity, the notion of time's passing has been radically altered. As life is eternally cycled, Nietzsche's recurrence does not refer to a life precisely like this one, but to this selfsame life. (This interpretation is informed by Arthur Nehamas [1985]; my own views are extended in Tauber 1994.) He would thus imbue every moment with the quality of eternity and lead us to a supreme selfawareness of our ultimate and inescapable responsibility for our acts. The last element of his ethic, then, is to accept the irrevocability of every choice, thereby allowing us to assume the mandate of responsibility for our life, a life to be lived again and again, eternally. In short, if life is to be eternally recurrent, then we must accept living in the present in its full and selfsufficient complement. If we deduct the extravagant poetic quality of the eternal recurrence, we might appreciate that the ethical structure of Nietzsche's formulation is essentially the same advocated by Thoreau, namely

the assertion that each moment is not only immutable but precious, making us forever accountable to ourselves. By living each moment as if it is to recur again and again into eternity, Nietzsche sought to inspire an acute awareness of our “presentness.” Indeed, in facing eternity, we must face ourselves. In this respect, there are strong similarities with Emerson and Thoreau, because the eternal recurrence is a metaphor for personal responsibility, which arises from an Emersonian-Thoreauvian sensibility, one shared by many other Romantics. While I am not attempting to pose Thoreau (or Emerson for that matter) as a proto-Nietzschean, Nietzsche does, nevertheless, serve as a useful foil for understanding Thoreau's metaphysics of time. [BACK]

16. Considering the centrality of the present for Thoreau, it is intriguing how Jonas reads the progression of Nietzsche's thought to Heidegger's own philosophy of time:

[The] “present” remains practically empty—at least as insofar as modes of “genuine” or “authentic” existence are concerned…. Actually a great deal is said about the existential “present,” but not as an independent dimension in its own right. For the existentially “genuine” present is the present of the “situation,” which is wholly defined in terms of the self's relation to its “future” and “past.” It flashes up, as it were, in the light of decision, when the projected “future” reacts upon the given “past” (Geworfenheit) and in this meeting constitutes what Heidegger calls the “moment” (Augenblick): the moment, not duration, is the temporal mode of this “present”—a creature of the other two horizons of time, a function of their ceaseless dynamics, and no independent dimension to dwell in…. No present remains for genuine existence to repose in. (Jonas 1963, p. 336)

If we accept Jonas's interpretation of Heidegger, and in turn accept Heidegger's interpretation of Nietzsche's deeper metaphysics, the “present” assumes a very different meaning from Thoreau's understanding of it. [BACK]

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