Books are the best of things, well used: abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire. I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world of value is the active soul,—the soul, free, sovereign, active.

One must be an inventor to read well.

Emerson, “The American Scholar” 1837

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Emerson—too long. I was taken aback by his discussion of texts in this essay. Part of me remembered how important it was, the other had forgotten how scandalous. Between those who would dismiss texts and those who would idolize them he strikes the perfect, impossible balance. Texts must engage us with truth. To that degree they leave themselves behind, their work being done. The closer we are to our full humanity, the more they become instruments. And by closer he means a kind of openness, an eagerness to engage nature, a vulnerability to reality as that which is greater than we are.

To be an inventor…Emerson believes we are closest to the divine when we create. How this stands the lazy conception of truth happily on its head! For too many truth is that which we repeat. At this point the books become noxious, the guides tyrants, horizons walls.

4 thoughts on “Books

  1. Can one safely assume that the author meant to say divine instead of diving?

    TRUTH – /tro͞oTH/ – the quality or state of being true

    Truth is the state of being true, or having the quality of being true. Ah, but can one ever define a truth outside of oneself? How can one be so bold as to declare a single truth for all of humanity? I daresay that would be impossible, for the truth that one sees as absolute is often perceived as a falsehood when seen by another. Truth is whatever ones makes it to be. Truth is merely a belief, and a belief a thought that has been thought repeatedly, until a truth forms from it. Truth is always subjective. One could say that this is the most important truth of all, and if one could be so bold, perhaps the single truth for humanity.

    If so, one can take from this post that defining ones own truths could be considered the ultimate goal. For what are we without truth? Without a single truth to ones name, one could be seen as a vagrant, bouncing from idea to idea, from place to place, never being able (or willing?) to create in oneself that which defines them. Yet the opposite side of that coin is one who grasps at truths that are told to him, blindly accepting that which is fed. Is it better to have no truth or to have a truth that is truly the truth of another inside of them? Truth. Truth is what defines us all. Who are we without truth? Can one exist without truth? Or, is it simply by existing that we become a truth in and of itself? Isn’t our very nature as a living being a state of being true and therefore a truth?

    The truth of this passage is as clear as Emerson could have made it. And by truth, one surely means the subjective analysis and skewed reality that is the sum of all moments in life before this one. One must be an inventor to read well. One must be able to construct (invent) their truth from the fragments that surround them, that are given to them, and for some, by the shards of another’s truth that may forced upon them. One must be able to discern which pieces fit them and which pieces they must dispose of.

    Oh Emerson, how you ignite fires of thought within one who is receptive, the small flying embers setting ablaze all surrounding ideas. One must consider that no matter how fast they can type their fingers cannot keep up with the blaze inside their head, aching from the swirling possibilities that are left after all but the heart, the seed, of this passage has burned away. Be an inventor. Create your own truth. Touch the Divine within.

    Invent. Create. Divine.


  2. Thank you for catching my typo. It’s a wonder more do not slip by. Chalk it up to a kind of inveterate blindness I have toward my own mistakes. My mind conveniently sees what I intended in place of what I produced.

    The question of truth is a recurring idea in many of my older posts, and I have touched on it in more detail in reflections on Nietzsche and Peirce

    Your description of truth reminds me of Rorty’s in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. I’ve been wanting to revisit it for many years now, and I think I shall soon. I studied with his friend and nemesis at Boston University, Robert Neville.

    I really appreciate the time you put into your comments!


  3. Dare I make a generalized statement? The majority of humans function in the same way that you do, often seeing what we intended in place of what is produced. They say “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and I have to wonder about how many other areas of our life are affected by this affliction? How many times have I see what I intended and thought was good only to later see what I had truly produced, which was often so vastly different from said intentions that my intentions had left no mark on the production?

    I look forward to reading your thoughts today on Nietzche and Errors, as well as the Fixation of Belief. I think I shall start with the latter, unless you feel otherwise. Perhaps you put them in the order you wish them to be read, and by my supplanting that I may lose something that you tried to give me. On the other hand, maybe my desire to read them backward from the order that you placed them in is a subconscious rebellion, a desire to find my own way. Perhaps God is speaking to me through this desire to read the second post first, pointing me in the direction that will yield the highest satisfaction, the strongest connection with the words that are lain before me.

    Ah, I fear there has not yet been enough godly nectar imbibed yet today and I may not be making sense.


  4. Oh certainly, which makes Socrates’s paradox that no one knowingly does evil seem almost plausible.

    The order isn’t important, and neither piece is exhaustive, though the one on Peirce is more thorough.


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