August 14, 2008

Instruments of our passions

Thelonius Monk / me typing, from Pinamar
Botany is a study for an idle and solitary person: a point and a magnifying glass are all the apparatus he needs to observe plants. He walks about, wanders freely from one object to another, examines each flower with interest and curiosity, and as soon as he begins to grasp the laws of their structure, he enjoys, in observing them, a painless pleasure as intense as if it had cost him much pain. In this idle occupation there is a charm we feel only in the complete calm of passions, but which then alone suffices to make life happy and sweet. But as soon as we mingle a motive of interest or vanity with it, either in order to obtain distinction or to write books, as soon as we learn only in order to instruct, as soon as we look for flowers only in order to become an author or professor, all this sweet charm vanishes. We no longer see in plants anything but the instruments of our passions. We no longer find any pleasure in their study. We no longer want to know, but to show that we know. And in the woods, we are only on the world's stage, preoccupied with making ourselves admired. Or else, restricting ourselves to armchair and garden botany at the most, instead of observing vegetation in nature, we concern ourselves only with systems and methods - an eternal matter of dispute...
From the Seventh Walk in Rousseau's The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, p 98
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