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Recombinant ANW:
Appetites of Words

In opening Science and the Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead invokes "that adorable genius, William James" as a prime instance of the "modern mind," citing an observation James made to his brother Henry while, Whitehead notes, "he was finishing his great treatise on the Principles of Psychology": "I have to forge every sentence in the teeth of irreducible and stubborn facts," James wrote. Whitehead, repeating, splicing James's phrase into one of his own sentences, continues:

This new tinge to modern minds is a vehement and passionate interest in the relation of general principles to irreducible and stubborn facts. . . . It is a union of passionate interest in the detailed facts with equal devotion to abstract generalisation which forms the novelty in our present society. . . . This balance of mind has now become part of the tradition which infects cultivated thought.

"My theme," he concludes, "is the energising of a state of mind in the modern world, its broad generalisations, and its impact upon other spiritual forces."1

Whitehead's setting out of his theme within the frame of James's description of struggling with facts to find words and to shape sentences is especially useful in thinking about the particular accidents of time and space occasioning the moves in the American language game that, as I demonstrate in a volume just out, evolve into the [End Page 117] habit of mind we know as pragmatism. My subjects are Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, Henry James, Wallace Stevens, and Gertrude Stein, all of whom shared two important characteristics: a ministerial function in wanting to provide in their language a vehicle adequate to belief of some kind—"spiritual force"—and an active interest in understanding, insofar as possible, the natural-historical and scientific facts of their moments, and in using that information in shaping the "more than rational distortion[s]" of their styles, their thinking.2

My working title for this volume, The Fact of Feeling: A Natural History of Pragmatism,3 points to why I would have been sent back to Whitehead with the profound attention he gave, in describing his organism, both to the connection between scientific information and the contours of civilizations, and to that between "the environment of electromagnetic occasions" and "each" individual "occasion" which "takes its initial form from the character of its [immediate, local] environment."4 In addition, Whitehead continued, centrally, to theorize the perception of language articulated by James, most specifically in his seminal chapter "The Stream of Thought" in The Principles of Psychology (1890; retitled "The Stream of Consciousness" for the later teaching text, Psychology: Briefer Course [1892]), a perception that James himself derived from his deep immersion in the work of Emerson and Darwin, both of whom had realized language in its reciprocal relation to thinking, to consciousness, as a life form, an organism like any other, active and changing in response to "the exquisite environment of fact."5 In the course of demonstrating the reciprocal relation of language and thinking in Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (1927), Whitehead observes: "why do we say that the word 'tree'—spoken or written—is a symbol to us for trees? Both the word itself and trees themselves enter into our experience on equal terms; and it would be just as sensible, viewing the question abstractedly, for trees to symbolize the word 'tree' as for the word to [End Page 118] symbolize the trees."6 Notably, as I shall discuss in the following pages, Whitehead's development of James's work in elaborating the relation between language and thinking provides, in turn, a framework for considering the most recent investigations into the nature and behavior of thinking and consciousness offered by, among others, the neuroscientists Gerald Edelman, Giulio Tononi, Antonio Damasio, Francis Crick, and Christof Koch, each of whom equally acknowledges his debt to James.7

My title for this essay means to direct attention to two aspects of Whitehead's signal contribution that serve well to underpin the habit of mind of James's pragmatism, to tailor the fit of its occasion to the body of its environment of fact, fully articulated as it is in Principles. First is Whitehead's conceptualization of and focus on the motive force of thinking as "appetition," following James's earlier focus in Principles on what he called "interest." In renaming "interest" as "appetition," Whitehead grounded the most abstract of human activities in the most basic and sensual. He thereby gently opened, once again, the place of pleasure, the aesthetic, regarded feelingly, in its firstness, as it were, undressed—stripped of the pejorative frills with which it had been covered up in late nineteenth-century England and France as "aestheticism," much in the same way that Botticelli's flowery, pastel rendering of Venus on the half-shell, borrowed from the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod, covered the fact (albeit mythological) of the birth of the goddess of love from the foam up-pouring when Cronus's bloody member, hacked off by Zeus, fell into the sea. Secondly, I would like to call attention to the manner in which Whitehead's thinking replicated, in satisfying his own hunger for understanding, the pleasure he felt as he incorporated words and ideas that nourished him and enabled his thinking to survive and itself replicate most successfully. [End Page 118]

In Process and Reality (1929), Whitehead rephrases the problem that James had voiced to his brother, and observes:

Every science must devise its own instruments. The tool required for philosophy is language. Thus philosophy redesigns language in the same way that, in a physical science, pre-existing appliances are re-designed. It is exactly at this point that the appeal to facts is a difficult operation. This appeal is not solely to the expression of the facts in current verbal statements. The adequacy of such sentences is the main question at issue. It is true that the general agreement of mankind as to experienced facts is best expressed in language. But the language of literature breaks down precisely at the task of expressing in explicit form the larger generalities—the very generalities which metaphysics seeks to express.8

The adequacy of such sentences is the main question at issue, or, as Wallace Stevens expressed the same notion, "Where shall I find / Bravura adequate to this great hymn?"9 or Emerson—who, intent, like Stevens, to formulate a language that would align "the axis of vision" with "the axis of things,"10 was one of the first to alert us to the need for continual recalibration, even though the measurements derived from our most crucial instrument will ever be imperfect, following, necessarily, what Emerson identified as "the method of nature," ecstasy.11 (Emerson's terminological choice of "ecstasy" to describe nature's method was not simply a "poetic" figure, but a word chosen precisely and deliberately: fully informed by all he had come to know about points of force and electromagnetic fields through the work of Roger Boscovich and Michael Faraday, and about speciation through his having read, following his famous visit to the Jardin des Plantes, the same texts that Darwin was at the same [End Page 120] time diligently studying, including the work of Augustin de Candolle, who had already described natural selection, without drawing the conclusions that Darwin would later draw.)12 Here, then, Emerson in 1844, from "Experience":

It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made, that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man. Ever afterwards, we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorted lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects. Once we lived in what we saw; now the rapaciousness of this new power, which threatens to absorb all things, engages us. Nature, art, persons, letters, religions,—objects successively tumble in, and God is but one of its ideas.13

Whitehead recognized that the challenge posed by what he called the "quiet growth of science"—"the quiet commencement of the most intimate change in outlook which the human race had yet encountered,"14 the discoveries of the seventeenth century into those of the twentieth—created new appetites for words that might begin to satisfy, in their descriptive power, in what he termed their "concrescence," the yearning to imagine at least that "momentary existence on an exquisite plane"15 enjoyed by scientists as they plotted their figures and balanced their formulas. As he noted: "The new mentality is more important even than the new science and the new technology. It has altered the metaphysical presuppositions and the imaginative contents of our minds; so that now the old stimuli provoke a new response."16 Following James's calling attention to the [End Page 121] necessity of focusing on the "transitive" parts of speech in addition to, or rather than, the "substantive" forms especially preponderant in English and German—and given that the "new tinge" or inflection would still be phrased in the linear and sequential limitations inherent in any human language—Whitehead understood that experiences like these of the sublime real would have to be generated in the time and space between words, as much as, if not more than, in denotative functions or conventional grammatical arrangements.17 Out of this realization, Whitehead captured, or crystallized, his beautiful notion of "prehension" or "event."18 In this formulation, he bestowed on the ephemeral act of imagining the full weight of empirical fact. The actuality of so regarding imaginative products is paradigmatically exemplified in Charles Lyell's projected synoptic flight through aeons of our planet's life before landing on the argument that would propel Darwin into his revolution. His argument was a hypothesis rather than a proven or testable account; yet the hundreds of thousands of years he described as necessary for the existence of the geological strata he observed provided Darwin the extended frame in which to imagine the evolution of "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful."19 As Whitehead made explicit, "putting aside the difficulties of language, deficiency in imaginative penetration forbids progress in any form."20 Imaginative space is necessary in order to experience what James described as the "overtones" of thought, the range of probabilities, superpositions. Whitehead underlined the necessity that James adumbrated:

Human life is driven forward by its dim apprehension of notions too general for its existing language. Such ideas cannot be grasped singly, one by one in isolation. They require that mankind advances in its apprehension of the general [End Page 122] nature of things, so as to conceive systems of ideas elucidating each other. But the growth of generality of apprehension is the slowest of all evolutionary changes. It is the task of philosophy to promote this growth in mentality.21

The time and space between words expressed in Whitehead's notion of prehension/event is directly connected to his "theme" in Science and the Modern World, "the energising of a state of mind," conceiving of mind in its work with words as yet another activity of the spatiotemporal field in which we participate. ("In the language of physics, the aspects of a primate are merely its contributions to the electro-magnetic field. This is in fact exactly what we know of electrons and protons. An electron for us is merely the pattern of its aspects in its environment, so far as those aspects are relevant to the electromagnetic field.")22 In this conceptualization, "mind, the gap" (recalling the signs to this effect in the London Underground) means that mind is the gap where words stimulate not a one-to-one atomic correspondence or denotation to a fact or idea, but a "probability amplitude" in the neuronal network, the product of which will be, given the complexity of an individual's "receptive field," representations of the statistically most effective/efficient response that will permit action of some kind.23

As James observed in the chapter "The Functions of the Brain" in Principles, "only after arousing the mental sound of words" do we begin to entertain the possible "ideas" from among which the fittest, in the particular context of a present occasion, will be selected to "innervate" the "motor centres."24 Here it is apt to recall, as well, another example from "The Stream of Thought":

The state of our consciousness is peculiar. . . . [T]he gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps. . . . [O]ur psychological vocabulary is wholly inadequate to name the differences that exist. . . . There are innumerable consciousnesses of emptiness, no one of which taken in itself has a name, but all different from each other. The ordinary way is to assume that they are all emptinesses of consciousness, and so the same state. But the feeling of an [End Page 123] absence is toto coelo other than the absence of a feeling: it is an intense feeling. . . dancing in one's mind, striving to be filled with words.

"What then," James asks, "is the meaning of the words which we think we understand as we read? What makes that meaning different in one phrase from what it is in the other? . . . [I]s it not known and understood in an affection of consciousness correlative to it, though so impalpable to direct examination?"25

It is to this aspect of the "affection of consciousness" that the neuroscientists mentioned above, as well as others similarly following James's pointings, have recently directed close attention, thereby reflexively illuminating Whitehead's concept of the "appetition of thought" as itself a prehension of their findings. It is helpful here to consider the following description from one of the last articles coauthored by Crick and Koch before Crick's death in 2004:

The main function of the sensory cortex is to construct and use highly specific feature detectors. . . . The features to which any cortical neuron responds are usually highly specific but multidimensional. That is, one neuron does not respond to a single feature but to a family of related features. Such features are sometimes called the "receptive field" of that neuron.

Crick and Koch continue: "An important but neglected aspect of the firing of a neuron (or a small group of associated neurons) is its 'projective field'. . . . Both the receptive field and the projective field are dynamic, not merely static, and both can be modified by experience."26 Such is the form that a present-day "framework for consciousness" takes.

Whitehead couched his own descriptions of the momentous shift in mentality—from conceiving of consciousness and ideas in Lockean terms to conceiving of them as organic electromagnetic occasions—in the inherited language of philosophy, but he masterfully redeployed that language, his own terms designed to be elements that could be selected out and recombined, as he had, for example, selected James's "stubborn facts" and used the phrase repeatedly and variously in several of his works. In so periodically interpolating the phrase—which for him synecdochically expressed an "affection of consciousness," what he had feelingly responded to in James's project—into a received discourse, stretching the shape of philosophy's language with his musical restatement of a theme, he implicitly [End Page 124] legitimized the work of poets, used to stretching, inverting, and distorting the syntactic and grammatical categories of linear language and logic. Understood in the original and properly reenunciated Emersonian sense as the "makers" on whom we most depend to provide "what will suffice," poets, indulging and trusting imagination, disclose, feeling their way in words and their arrangements, "things as they are."

(The phrases just cited are from Wallace Stevens. The first, from "Of Modern Poetry":

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
    Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.27

The second, from "The Man with the Blue Guitar"—I quote here Stanza VI for its pertinence to the present discussion, but the phrase runs rather more like a mantra than as a refrain throughout the poem:

A tune beyond us as we are,
Yet nothing changed by the blue guitar;

Ourselves in the tune as if in space,
Yet nothing changed, except the place

Of things as they are and only the place
As you play them, on the blue guitar,

Placed, so, beyond the compass of change,
Perceived in a final atmosphere;

For a moment final, in the way
The thinking of art seems final when

The thinking of god is smoky dew.
The tune is space. The blue guitar

Becomes the place of things as they are,
A composing of senses of the guitar.28 ) [End Page 125]

As Whitehead noted:

Philosophers can never hope finally to formulate these metaphysical first principles. Weakness of insight and deficiencies of language stand in the way inexorably. Words and phrases must be stretched towards a generality foreign to their ordinary usage; and however such elements of language be stabilized as technicalities, they remain metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap.29

Whitehead's gesture, of course, included retrospective acknowledgment of the poets of the past who provided and continue to provide such sustenance—poets like Lucretius, in whose De rerum natura Niels Bohr found descriptive analogues for the quantum behavior of atoms; like Dante, whose spiraling circles up to heaven and down to hell prefigure the Fibonacci series; like Milton, whose inverted syntax and tumbling grammar in describing the chaos of Pandemonium provided Darwin and Emerson the pattern for accidental speciation, the process of "imperfect replication" that is itself the motive force of evolution.30 Whitehead pointed, as well, to "some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought [rather] than to western Asiatic, or European thought" which make "process" rather than "fact ultimate."31 "The organ of language," embodying, in its recombinations, the mutations of thinking in relation to an ever-changing environment was, Whitehead realized, part and particle of nature's process.32

And so, to instance a more contemporary poet, we have Stevens, who, reading in The Concept of Nature (1920), Science and the Modern World (1925), and Adventures of Ideas (1933), spliced into his verbal genetic code Whitehead's "occasion." "The poem is the cry of its occasion," Stevens offered, repeatedly performing his understanding of Whitehead's "occasion" as process within the formal structure of the component parts of the body of his work.33 "Occasion" functioned for Stevens in the way "stubborn facts" did for Whitehead, as a [End Page 126] "receptive field" stimulating further projective operations. Here, Whitehead:

An actual occasion is nothing but the unity to be ascribed to a particular instance of concrescence. This concrescence is thus nothing else than the "real internal constitution" of the actual occasion in question. The analysis of the formal constitution of an actual entity has given three stages in the process of feeling: (i) the responsive phase, (ii) the supplemental stage, and (iii) the satisfaction.34

An occasion, to put it another way, is an embodiment in words that in and for a particular moment satisfy the appetition of thinking, a translation of perception into a platform for possible action. "The elucidation of immediate experience is the sole justification for any thought; and the starting point for thought is the analytic observation of components of this experience."35 The stages that in Whitehead's analysis here culminate in an occasion correspond both to C. S. Peirce's "firstness," "secondness," and "thirdness" and to Stevens's tripartite directions for creating what he calls the "Supreme Fiction," the "highest poetry": It Must Be Abstract, It Must Change, It Must Give Pleasure.36 The condition of "firstness" is undifferentiated and unmediated sensation, pure "reponsiveness"—in Stevens's example, "The sun / Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be / In the difficulty of what it is to be."37 It is abstract because not particularized in individual perception and expression: "The major abstraction is the commonal, / The inanimate, difficult visage."38 In "secondness," the individual announces itself in experiencing its relation to whatever happens to be stimulating the sensation, thus animating and changing the commonal abstract with its "supplemental" particularization. This is the stage that Martin Buber would elaborate in I and Thou, and that Stevens exemplifies in "Bethou me, said sparrow, to the crackled blade, / And you, and you, bethou me as you blow, / When in my coppice you behold me be."39 "Thirdness" gives pleasure, "satisfaction" because it is the stage that effects, translates into "concrescence," the experience of relation in "secondness," where, as Whitehead describes below, "the many feelings, derivatively felt [End Page 127] as alien, are transformed into a unity of aesthetic appreciation immediately felt as private."40 In the third stage, then, "the incoming of 'appetition,' which in its higher exemplifications we term 'vision,'" is fixed in some form, "the fiction that results from feeling," as Stevens describes it, a "momentary stay against reality."41

While this "fiction" is, in the inherited philosophical vocabulary, "ideal," in belonging to an individual "private" prehension, it is, nonetheless, a required platform for action, for affecting the "actual," and thus, in the Aristotelian terms that Whitehead uses in the passage cited more fully below, "the final cause" of the concrescence: a matter of finding the words, shaping the form, to satisfy the appetition of thought. In pragmatist terms, "the fiction that results from feeling" redefines "truth" as what "happens to an idea."42 The "'idea' idea" mutates into its Jamesian and Whiteheadian "ecstatic" processual and plural possibilities. 43 Here, then, again, is Whitehead:

The satisfaction is merely the culmination marking the evaporation of all indetermination; so that, in respect to all modes of feeling and to all entities in the universe, the satisfied actual entity embodies a determinate attitude of "yes" or "no." Thus the satisfaction is the attainment of the private ideal which is the final cause of the concrescence. [We can see here, clearly, the platform of pragmatism, where the function of thinking is to arrive at the "determinate yes" that permits belief and, so, action.] But the process itself lies in the two former phases. The first phase is the phase of pure reception of the actual world in its guise of objective datum for aesthetic synthesis. In this phase there is the mere reception of the actual world as a multiplicity of private centres of feeling, implicated in a nexus of mutual presupposition. The feelings are felt as belonging to the external centres, and are not absorbed into the private [End Page 128] immediacy. The second stage is governed by the private ideal, gradually shaped in the process itself, whereby the many feelings, derivatively felt as alien, are transformed into a unity of aesthetic appreciation immediately felt as private. This is the incoming of "appetition," which in its higher exemplifications we term "vision." In the language of physical science, the "scalar" form overwhelms the original "vector" form: the origins become subordinate to the individual experience. The vector form is not lost, but is submerged as the foundation of the scalar superstructure.

Whitehead adds, importantly: "In this second stage the feelings assume an emotional character by reason of the influx of conceptual feelings. But the reason why the origins are not lost in the private emotion is that there is no element in the universe capable of pure privacy."44

And here is Stevens, as though illustrating, in an "imperfect replication," Whitehead's description:

"The Well Dressed Man with a Beard"

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house . . .

It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.45

As this poem exemplifies and as Stevens abundantly illustrates in his performances with words, not only can it, here, the mind, never be satisfied, but its activity gives pleasure. He felt, in the full sense in [End Page 129] which Whitehead uses "felt" and "feeling" above, that the ongoing seeking and satisfaction of pleasure are the index and indicator of "an original relation to the universe,"46 the occasions when we accurately perceive our "bond to all that dust."47 The persistent rhythm of hunger and satisfactions, indetermination and determination, sets up a psychic polarity that keeps the mind turning toward light, toward understanding, repeatedly seeking for at least temporary balance, for the homeostasis on which all systems depend, Whitehead's "balance of mind." ("Achieving survival coincides with the ultimate reduction of unpleasant body states and the attainment of homeostatic ones, i.e., functionally balanced biological states.")48 As Plato indicated in the Phaedrus, and as Darwin reiterated in his Notebooks, the private and public, the particular and universal collapse into one on and at and in this point, pleasure, the satisfaction of "appetition"—particularly, for our species, the pleasure of "a speech / Of the self that must sustain itself on speech." (It should be noted that Darwin revised On the Origin of Species five times, not only to get rid of, as much as possible, the teleological design built into conventional definitions and usages, but to ensure the successful survival of his text by making it pleasurable—having observed, as counterexample, of Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos, that though it had monumental significance, it would not survive because Humboldt had not attended to the pleasure of the text.) Further, in the Cratylus, Plato plotted the line connecting the nostalgic searching of the hero—for return to his place of origin—to the querying of all sounds, all words by the philosopher intent on finding forms of expression adequate to describe the relation between the human and the universe he inhabits. This search Plato describes as informed by pleasure, what he names precisely as the erotic, eros having its etymological root in the word for "questioning."

Whitehead observed the pattern of this search and sustenance, illustrating at the same time why "there is no element in the universe capable of pure privacy":

All relatedness has its foundation in the relatedness of actualities; and such relatedness is wholly concerned with the appropriation of the dead by the living—that is to say, with "objective immortality" whereby what is divested of its own living immediacy becomes a real component in other living immediacies [End Page 130] of becoming. This is the doctrine that the creative advance of the world is the becoming, the perishing, and the objective immortalities of those things which jointly constitute stubborn fact.49

This "appropriation of the dead by the living" manifests itself biologically in the ongoing "imperfect replication" of the coded information for protein synthesis on the genome. It manifests itself, equally and analogically—as Whitehead realized and exemplified in his thinking and writing—in the work of cultural production where the ideas that have worked toward successful survival are passed on, rephrased and interpolated in varying idioms, as in a conceptual calculus with words behaving as actual "wave packets," through textual reproduction.50 Of his own intention, Whitehead noted: "The three books—Science and the Modern World, Process and Reality, Adventures of Ideas—are an endeavor to express a way of understanding the nature of things, and to point out how that way of understanding is illustrated by survey of the mutations of human experience."51 We recall Emerson's observation, "Genius . . . is itself a mutation of the thing it describes."52 Whitehead's appropriation of William James's phrase, stubborn fact, and Stevens's of Whitehead's own occasion serve as illustrations.

Just before quoting the sentence from James's letter to his brother cited at the opening of this paper, Whitehead commented, in calling attention to the appetite for new words to express the new relation to the universe in which human beings found themselves after the quietly momentous discoveries of the seventeenth century: "What I mean is just that slightest change of tone which yet makes all the difference."53 Whitehead seized on the phrase "stubborn facts," repeating it, as quoted above and elsewhere in Process and Reality and in his other works, to indicate what he had taken into account but what, as he noted, the greater part of nineteenth-century philosophy had excluded from relevance.54 In engaging the real work of providing [End Page 131] an instrument recalibrated to the exigencies of what had newly been apprehended, it is necessary, he understood, to describe fact caught in the making, the fact of fiction (from the Latin fingere, to form or shape) and of poetry (from the Greek poiein, to create)—to value imaginative experience as "concrescence," the "intellect constructive,"55 as Emerson put it, in relation to the shape of the universe, exhibiting "thought . . . passing into realization."56 Whitehead recognized William James's "adorable genius" in his having located in language the site of these "mutations of human experience" and in having pointed to precisely that portion of the code into which the reconfigured elements should, in fully taking account of the Darwinian information, be spliced. Observing, in his "Stream of Thought" chapter, that sensationalist philosophers, "unable to lay their hands on any coarse feelings corresponding to the innumerable relations and forms of connection between the facts of the world, finding no named subjective modifications mirroring such relations, . . . have for the most part denied that feelings of relation exist," and that intellectualists have made the opposing mistake, that relations must be known in something that is not feeling, James goes on:

If there be such things as feelings at all, then so surely as relations between objects exist in rerum natura, so surely, and more surely, do feelings exist to which these relations are known. There is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading or other of relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought. . . . the relations are numberless, and no existing language is capable of doing justice to all their shades.

Famously, James then concludes:

We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold. Yet we do not: so inveterate has our habit become of recognizing the existence of the substantive parts alone, that language almost refuses to lend itself to any other use [as, for instance, thinking of "nature" and "nurture" as substantives in contrast to Whitehead's focus on the transitive in "process" and "appetition"]. . . . All dumb or anonymous psychic states have, owing to this error been cooly suppressed; or, if recognized at all, have been named after the substantive perception [End Page 132] they led to, as thought "about" this object or "about" that, the stolid word about engulfing all their delicate idiosyncrasies in its monotonous sound. Thus the greater and greater accentuation and isolation of the substantive parts have continually gone on.57

Whitehead, acutely sympathetic to the defining characteristic of mathematical thinking's persistent activity of tending to the "in between"—"imaginative penetration forbids progress in any form other than that of an asymptotic approach"—recognized that James's "interest" (literally, inter-esse), his focus on attending to "being in between" thinking and words, mimics, in the manner of the number system, the process of organic life, growing, developing from within, in a simultaneous recursive and progressive process, going back to the model, incorporating structural procedures, and opening into a new space.58 Again, Emerson had prepared the ground:

All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end, it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.59

Understanding what William James offered because himself moved by James's expression as much as by his insight, Whitehead embodied that feeling response—the aesthetic—showing it to be thinking's manner of feedback, the recognition of his own perception in another's phrasing, what Emerson had early on called attention to: "In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."60 In so doing, Whitehead revealed the process of thinking itself as a recursive, self-reflexive gesture, the "occasion" characterizing the modernist "event." And, more specifically, in underlining the recursive-generative activity of thought becoming aware of itself, he demonstrated the identity of that process with that of organic form, continuing the work of "that adorable genius" and of "the sage of Concord" before him: naturalizing spirit, embodying mind.

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1080-6520
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1063-1801
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-24
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