[ilds] Tunc 1.1 - the "thinking weed"

Brewster Chamberlin chamberlinkw at gmail.com
Mon May 16 11:45:57 PDT 2016

Pascal wrote about a "thinking reed". Where did the "weed" sneak in?

On Sun, May 15, 2016 at 5:34 PM, James Gifford <james.d.gifford at gmail.com>

> Hi Bruce
> On 2016-05-14 8:52 AM, Bruce Redwine wrote:
> > 2.  Re Charlock as “thinking weed,”
> I'm not sure if "weed" carried the same meaning in the UK at the time
> (others??  Peter...).  Isabelle Keller-Privat has described the phrase as
> "stand[ing] for the rhizomatic impulse," but I think it's actually a
> quotation from Blaise Pascal (I've always associated it with Hans Jonas who
> paraphrased it in some of his comments on the Gnostics):
> "Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking
> reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop
> of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man
> would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that
> he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him, the universe
> knows nothing of this." (Pascal, Pensée X)
> The follow up from Jonas is that this burdens humanity with being
> conscious and even self-conscious in an unconscious, unthinking
> universe...  I invariably think to Otto Rank, Ernest Becker, and the modern
> Terror Management Theory paradigm in that stream.
> I'm away from my desk though, I so I can't check if Pascal's word is
> "roseau" in the original or something else for "reed" vs. "weed." Anyone?
> I do have the Jonas handy:
> "As a thinking reed [man] is no part of the [universal] sum, not belonging
> to it, but radically different, incommensurable, for the res extensa does
> not think, and nature is nothing but res extensa -- body, matter, external
> magnitude. If she crushes him, she does so unthinkingly, while he, being
> crushed, is aware of being crushed. He alone thinks, not because of but in
> spite of his begin a part of nature.... Thus that which makes man superior
> to all nature, his unique distinction, mind, no longer results in a higher
> integration of his being into the totality of being, but on the contrary
> marks the unbridgeable gulf between himself and the rest of existence."
> (Jonas 117)
> I think of Charlock as the "thinking weed" in precisely this sense, and
> anticipating /Monsieur/ as well as looking back across the deep anxiety
> over mortality across Durrell's works ever since the ankle bone in /Pied
> Piper of Lovers/ (the protagonist Walsh's first recognition that he'll one
> day die too).
> In other words, like with the Dostoevsky epigram that points to an
> anti-utopian theme in the novel paired with an unreliable narrator, we have
> the problems of rationality, reason, consciousness, self-consciousness, and
> alienation -- that's not bad for an epigram and the first paragraph,
> really...
> > 3.  Re ruins and architecture: the importance of
> > the Parthenon (p. 35; 2.1) and Stonehenge (p. 250;
> > 5.2).  Caradoc writes a history of architecture
> > (p. 240; 5.1).  Maybe this is just part of Durrell’s
> > Romantic Classicism (cf. Rose Macaulay’s /Pleasure
> > of Ruins/ [1953]—the two were friends), but he
> > spends a lot of time on ruins, reminiscent of
> > Cavafy’s “black ruins of my life” in the translation
> > of “The City” at the end of /Justine./
> I think this might need a serious discussion on its own.  And I'd need to
> have the book in front of me to make any real comment!
> All best,
> James
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