19 December 2014

Too Much With Us

I find myself lately considering Wordsworth’s line, “The World is too much with us late an soon.” Certainly the sentiment figures prominently in the final chapter of my book, The Classroom: Encounter and Engagement, the latter an unabashed advertisement for an overpriced but much-loved work. Perhaps it stems from my own personal situationas I explained to AR last evening, to my own existential condition—but I find it hard of late to lose the world for even briefest amount of time. Once, access to the world was immediate: it occurred in the daily activity of work and play, with the engagement in relationships, both intimate and casual. The idea of ‘losing the world,’ as perhaps Wordsworth imagined, occurred in Nature, away from the environments of people and their busy environments. In Nature there was no access to the world outside Nature’s solitude, a solitude broken only by the troubled consciousness of the individual. And I could choose to cast off the world if I so desired: to return to the cabin, so to speak, where the troubles and turbulence stemmed from within.
But now there are few refuges from the world too much with us late and soon. We carry our attachments on our bodies, in our overburdened bags and pockets: we are rarely more than a thumb click away from access to everything. So many of the means of bringing the world to us, of immersing us in the world, we now carry with us that the world is always immediately about us. As devices become smaller the world becomes larger not so much in size but in presence. There is, it would seem, no escape from it. Even the effort to lose the world by viewing media on these devices delivers pieces of the world immediately to us and solitude becomes a rare, even an undesirable, event. We choose rarely to be alone—solitary—as if there it were to admit to some personal failing. Thoreau complains (though I lately find that word not at all appropriate to him),  “Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals not having had time to acquire any new value to each other.” We are never alone: the social media drown us in talk and image.  When we do finally meet, what is left to say?  “We should come home from far, adventures and perils and discoveries every day, with new experiences and characters,” but we must be engaged in our activities in the world that is not too much with us late and soon but that remains open for our questions to which the world is the answer. But the answers come not from our quests and studies but from the instant advice of our immediate contacts. There is no space or time for ourselves. “I find it wholesome [and therefore, I presume, healthy] to be alone the greater part of the time.” And perhaps this aloneness prepares him for the time he revels in society. Thoreau acknowledges that he loves society as much as the next: but he desires to bring to society, and that it return the gifts, something of value. He does have three chairs for at the cabin for society, though at times the company must sit at far ends from each other so that their sentences might have enough room to wind out sufficiently.

I am immersed in the media and cannot imagine giving it up, and I regret my immersion even as I crave it. Nevertheless, as Thoreau suggests, “All news to a philosopher is gossip, and those who read it are old women over their tea.” Alas, I drink my tea with honey. But I wonder, when the bell rings, why do I continue to heed it when it is my own music to which I would tend?


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