Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Joubert's Notebooks

The previous post occasioned another look at Joubert's Notebook or better, at Auster's Selections from Joubert's Notebook. If we can believe Auster, then Joubert came to realize slowly that "the notebooks were an end in themselves, eventually admitting that 'these thoughts form not only the foundation of my work, but of my life.'" (xi)

Perhaps Auster is right, but note that he speaks of "these thoughts" and not "these notebooks" (p. 99). Joubert makes sharp distinctions between words, writings and thoughts throughout the selection and he observes once that "a thought is a thing as teal as a cannon ball" (74). In fact he seems to be a Platonist of some sort who vows in 1802 "From this day forward, to give up Locke, and to agree never to read another word he has written" (78). One of his questions is "Whether thought can exist outside the mind in the same way a word can exist outside the mouth" (89). He seems interested in a "poetry of thought" (92) and argues a "thought is perfectly available only when it is perfectly available, that is to say when one can place it and detach it at will" (115). It must "be able "to survive outside the mind: which means outside any systems of intentions of the author." Furthermore, the words must "also clearly detach themselves from the paper" (121f.)

In other words, it is not the notebooks that are the foundation of his life and work, but the impersonal thoughts he strives to develop. The notebook is a means towards that end. I think this distinction is important.

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