Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I am just in love

with Locke, I have been ever since I first read him seriously in graduate school (in the context of a wonderful seminar on Milton, Marvell & Locke that put them all in the political context of Restoration England and that showed me--to speak more autobiographically--that what I really love to write about is something that this particular professor, with a nod to old-school intellectual history, called "the prose of thought), and now I'm rereading An Essay Concerning Human Understanding for the introduction to my breeding book and totally in love all over again.

Locke thinks and writes so clearly (and quite colloquially too) that it really feels as though he's just in the next room, I love that sensation. Here's a taste, in any case:

The memory in some Men, 'tis true, is very tenacious, even to a Miracle: But yet there seems to be a constant decay of all our Ideas, even of those which are struck deepest, and in Minds the most retentive; so that if they be not sometimes renewed by repeated Exercise of the Senses, or Reflection on those kind of Objects, which at first occasioned them, the Print wears out, and at last there remains nothing to be seen. Thus the Ideas, as well as Children, of our Youth, often die before us: And our Minds represent to us those Tombs, to which we are approaching; where though the Brass and Marble remain, yet the Inscriptions are effaced by time, and the Imagery moulders away. The Pictures drawn in our Minds, are laid in fading Colours; and if not sometimes refreshed, vanish and disappear. How much the Constitution of our Bodies, and the make of our animal Spirits, are concerned in this; and whether the Temper of the Brain make this difference, that in some it retains the Characters drawn on it like Marble, in others like Free-stone, and in others little better than Sand, I shall not here enquire, though it may seem probable, that the Constitution of the Body does sometimes influence the Memory; since we oftentimes find a Disease quite strip the Mind of all its Ideas, and the flames of a Fever, in a few days, calcine all those Images to dust and confusion, which seem'd to be as lasting, as if graved in Marble. (II.x.5)

For me it's the verb "calcine" that's the clincher, isn't that amazing?

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