Not Till We Are Lost

Not till we are lost, in other words, till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

~~H.D. Thoreau, Walden ‘the Village’, p. 115 (Norton ed.)

All ways it surprises me how one reading leads to another.  I am reduced, though it is my gain, to admit that in being lost one becomes more intimately aware of relations, if not relatedness itself (how such should ascend the stage would be quite the imponderable — how to raise the curtain which by nature connects all to itself?).

The best Wiki could offer

Is n’t being lost amidst a sea of pages similar to being lost amidst the calm of wintering trees?

But I am reduced in conveying the value of ‘lostness’.  How can an example be helpful if the experience itself is paramount?  Let it be understood I mean less to point at than to indicate; it is merely ironic that I should at last find an acquaintance with S. Cavell only after being dis-covered 9for all reading is being read — an idea I believe I am borrowing from Cavell here9 to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.

In reading one can hardly help multiplying ‘relations’ as I believe Thoreau would have them.


For Thoreau ‘reading’ in such manner is seeing everything in the light of being darkened to the world which sets its watch by the locomotive and is employed not in living but in holding onto what scraps of life are allowed — turning away from that enslaving which is ownership so that the ‘read’er may find life in its sport rather than be made sport of as life runs past:

[L]et not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport.  Enjoy the land, but own it not.

~~ibidem “Baker Farm” p. 139

The path to such reading can only be seen if one has ‘been turned round once in this world’ (p. 115).  To find oneself can only come by means of being lost.  Till then, till one is lost and finds that she is everywhere at home — till then sight must be sought.  And that is reading in its truest form.

My reading of Wittgenstein has led through Cavell and into Walden all too naturally, but it is only because I am growing used to the lost element in reading that I find them such near relations.


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