Emily Dickinson, “The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman” (1487); Twila Newey, “In the Plum”

Often I think about doing. It is a form of procrastination but potentially more. When Dickinson wonders about a man who trekked “so far so cold… / For little Fellowmen,” she speaks of a bold action packed with symbolism. What does such a deed mean? I’m tempted to think the one who made the journey a reverend tending to his following. He’s trying to emulate Christ, but his own ministry can’t quite compare, despite his kindness, despite their need.

The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman (1487)
Emily Dickinson

The Savior must have been 
A docile Gentleman— 
To come so far so cold a Day 
For little Fellowmen— 

The Road to Bethlehem 
Since He and I were Boys 
Was leveled, but for that 'twould be 
A rugged Billion Miles—

The problem: it is simply untrue the “Savior” was “a docile gentleman.” Luke 12:51–“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? Nay, but rather division.” Dickinson knows the radical nature of Scripture, the fields of bodies of the Civil War. Justice does not necessitate kind deeds, especially not deeds which reinforce one’s status (note the diminutive accompanying “Fellowmen”).

Her first stanza sarcastically dismisses actions we’d ordinarily consider noble. But her second, musing on “The Road to Bethlehem,” suggests a larger source for a number of actions. She changes her gender and places herself alongside Christ in time: “The Road to Bethlehem / Since He and I were Boys / Was leveled.” Just as one man looks to Christ to serve others in the cold, she also sees Christ as contemporary. This stanza drips with sarcasm, too, as apparently anyone can become the center of the Holy Nativity. The way to being Christlike has smoothed with time. The difficulties, the ruggedness, that made Him no less than a prophet have vanished.

Dickinson’s cynicism about the power of religion doesn’t mean her poem is wrong in how it situates the moral imagination. Often, good deeds of varying shapes and sizes trace back to someone we wish to emulate. But what thoughts exactly help build goodness? It makes no sense to try to replicate a specific moment in time just so we can act. But it also makes no sense to immediately equate one’s small contributions with the salvation of mankind.

*

Thought meets action, one may say, in the matter of value. How to see value when it’s hard to distinguish anything at all? Consider Twila Newey’s “In the Plum,” where birds in swift motion are confused for dead leaves:

In the Plum (h/t Guesthouse)
Twila Newey

What do I call
these small

               brown birds
               tumbling past

whose flight
I mistook

               for wind-
               blown leaves?

Life moves, non-life moves. “Small brown birds tumbling” are almost remembered as “wind-blown leaves.” This might be a tragic mistake, but the poem is “in the plum,” which sounds more like delight than anything else. What does one call the discovery of life?

The small brown birds do not care if they’re seen. They are committed to the motion, their way of being. They delight in doing as they please. No consideration of value, simply an embrace of value. I want to be like these birds—just write and write, enjoy what there is, and eventually be seen.

But I have to wonder if human life works like that. It does to a degree. Newey’s poem recalls Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, with its “bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.” Sonnet 73 presents a mind on display ransacking itself for justification. The birds of “In the Plum” are practitioners of Zen compared to that.

For myself, I think I can make a resolution. I can be like the person Dickinson seems to mock. Maybe a bit more bird-like than pretentious. Though there is a wrinkle to Dickinson’s poem still outstanding. She places herself alongside Christ not to praise herself but to show how dependent her own craft is on magical thinking. There may be no way to prevent overthinking, unless one can literally fly.

Robert Creeley, “The Rhyme;” Georgia O’Keefe, “Red and Orange Streak / Streak;” Ted Kooser, “Sitting All Evening Alone in the Kitchen”

“Loneliness makes you part of the largest group of people in the world,” I used to tell myself. It never worked. I felt miserable no matter how many words were applied.

Robert Creeley’s “The Rhyme” reminded me of myself when I encountered it recently. He rhymes “her” with “were” in lines of unequal length, but he also links “flower” with “recover.” The poem speaks absence, certainly. But what else does it offer?

The Rhyme (h/t Francine J. Harris)
Robert Creeley

There is the sign of
the flower—
to borrow the theme

But what or where to recover
what is not love
too simply.

I saw her
and behind her there were
flowers, and behind them
nothing.

Creeley speaks of a borrowed theme, “the sign of the flower.” It strikes me as apt because of his specific presentation. “There is the sign of the flower” places him at some distance from the sign, let alone the flower. And he declares the theme borrowed, as if the sign and flowers are only the most fleeting parts of a fleeting imagination. I get this. The times so remote from romance that it was awkward to see couples on television. Or when acceptance could only be dreamed, never recognized as reality.

The poem speaks absence almost incredible, except for the fact we can ask anyone about being alone and hear story after story. Part of the problem with an imagination subordinate to loneliness is that the way to recovery mixes with the way to despair. Both engage “what is not love.”

Creeley concludes with a third stanza that serves as a painting. “I saw her / and behind her there were / flowers, and behind them / nothing.” He pictures a woman in front of a wall of flowers, so full of flowers it cannot be real. It’s an image of the unreal—maybe love was had, maybe it looked or looks real—but nothing grounds it. This is “what is not love,” a vision. It can cause pain, be recognized for what it is, or both.

*

“The Rhyme” introduces the problem of absence, ending with a glimpse of a possible present.

Those struggling with loneliness can appreciate a number of pictures, though. I remember wanting to be absorbed in the awesome. To witness and partake in the spectacular and share.

Georgia O’Keefe speaks of “Red and Orange Streak / Streak” as inspired by lightning. A landscape made and seen by godly power, it appears volcanic, primordial. A red orange streak like an empty patch of sky cuts across the canvas, above it a cloud-shaped darkness. But the painting is dominated by a giant arc, brilliant as lightning but evoking sunlight. Its center is yellow leaning white-hot. One might feel, from its position, that it emanates from the viewer.

Georgia O’Keefe, “Red and Orange Streak / Streak” (1919), oil on canvas. Courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Wikipedia. http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/83648.html https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55075272

Awe cuts through cloudy confusion, reshapes the world. But does it empower? So much depends on the ability to share, to give and receive. As I write this, people around me loudly talk on the phone to each other. They’re barely able to hear each other but the noise is immense.

*

Ted Kooser’s “Sitting All Evening Alone in the Kitchen” returns us to a quiet, all-too-personal loneliness. “Personal,” perhaps, deceives. His first stanza: “The cat has fallen asleep, / the dull book of a dead moth / loose in his paws.” In addition to speaking loneliness and violence, he recalls Frost’s “Design.” There, a spider traps and kills a moth. The not-so-subtle implication of Frost’s imagery—he describes the spider as if it were a baby—is that doctrine centered around Creation tries to deny the truth. Innocence kills. Kooser alludes to the weight of “Design:” “the dull book of a dead moth.” But the alienation he feels moves away from a more cosmic scope to things literally at hand.

Sitting All Evening Alone in the Kitchen
Ted Kooser

The cat has fallen asleep,
the dull book of a dead moth
loose in his paws.

The moon in the window, the tide
gurgling out through the broken shells
in the old refrigerator.

Late, I turn out the lights.
The little towns on top of the stove
glow faintly neon,
sad women alone at the bar.

The tide the moon directs ends up in the old refrigerator. The last glow after the lights are out is from the stove, calling to mind others at a bar, alone, drinking. The only solution to human problems is through humanity. The “sad women alone at the bar” have more than the narrator, even if one gives him the cat, dead moth, moon, tide, refrigerator, lights, and stove. To that end, “loneliness makes you part of the largest group of people in the world” is less a statement of consolation and more of a difficult—perhaps impossible—imperative. What crushed me before was that necessity, which requires not just recognition, but emotional resources and those beyond.

Adam Zagajewski, “Moths”

Moths, gathering. Watching us, separated by a glass barrier. Attracted to the light.

There’s not a lot of things political philosophy can do, but it should speak to how a nation loses its ability to grieve. At this moment, 243,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. 73,000,000 of us seem to think it’s a joke or hoax. A number of the 73 million use religion to dismiss the significance of the dead.

Moths watched us through / the window. I don’t have answers, but I can say how this feels. It feels like spirits gather outside our domain. They’re not violent or harmful. They’re never going to mass such that they choke the air. They are simply a potential reminder of absence. Of loss.

There’s a lot of them.

Seated at the table, we’re inside. Comfortable, dining. Our only focus on the meal, on those we’ve chosen and who have chosen us. We are skewered by… [the] lambent gazes of the moths. Each gives off a small glow, highlighting their individuality and strangeness.

I wonder if each tiny glow adds together. If a whole realm comes into being because of the radiance of moths.

Moths (from A Book of Luminous Things)
Adam Zagajewski (tr. Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, C.K. Williams)

Moths watched us through
the window. Seated at the table,
we were skewered by their lambent gazes,
harder than their shattering wings.

You’ll always be outside,
past the pane. And we’ll be here within,
more and more in. Moths watched us
through the window, in August.

We won’t admit loss or accept pain. We skewer ourselves in our triviality. Their shattering wings, their floating and flying, confirms we’ve locked ourselves in place.

But how? There seems to be love in this room. Food, warmth, things to be grateful for and gratefulness.

It’s so strange to think of gratefulness as potentially evil. As denying the reality of others. Exiling the lost and loss itself. You’ll always be outside, past the pane.

When so many are dead and so few care, it is literally suicide to not question our fundamental moral ideas.

*

Machiavelli writes in a dark, comic vein. His tone may not be altogether appropriate for the horror he describes. It certainly isn’t appropriate for ours now.

Still, there’s a story he tells to which I often return. Following Livy, he speaks of the Samnites, a tribe which wants to fight Roman domination but does not have the capacity. Machiavelli quotes Livy in praising their ardor for liberty: “they could no longer stand either by their own or by external forces; nonetheless they did not abstain from war, so far they were from tiring even of freedom they had unsuccessfully defended; and they would rather be conquered than not attempt victory” (Discourses 1.15).

The Samnites employed a horrific ritual before assembling for one battle. They brought their men up to an altar, one by one, and made them swear they would not flee, kill anyone who did try to flee, and follow every order vigorously to the letter. If this was not done, they and their family would be killed. A number of Samnites decided to die on the altar rather than swear the oath.

The ones that remained were given a fearsome appearance. The Roman general who was to engage them scoffed. He pointed out that the Samnites were now scared of their fellow citizens in addition to the Romans. He also noted that the Romans were far better armed. The Romans completely routed the Samnites.

Machiavelli concludes this regarding the Samnites: “one sees that to them it did not appear they could have any other refuge, nor try any other remedy from which they could take hope of recovering lost virtue. This testifies in full how much confidence can be had through religion well used.”

I return to this story as if it is the defining story of the United States. Ironies abound in that assumption. Machiavellian logic would, of course, pronounce better armaments for a superior army to be “religion well used.” Virtue made effective. The Romans might be considered Americans on this reading.

But then there’s the spectacle of a fanatical people who love liberty so much they deny it to their most loyal. A people who want to go into battle without proper arms, who think belief is fear and that the strength of their belief, the strength of their fear, can reach their enemies. They’re engaged in mass projection. They’ve killed their own citizens and made themselves fearful, thus they will kill that many more Romans while instilling fear. It’s “religion well used” in the sense that religion has broken them. They don’t know what they’re fighting for, they just know they want to fight. This, too, is America: the never ending spectacle of violence against ourselves and others.

There’s no sense of loss. No ability to admit that pain, especially the pain of others, is too real to toy with.

*

You’ll always be outside, / past the pane. And we’ll be here within, / more and more in. Inside, the quiet but intense violence of neglect and abandonment. The freedom to say someone does not deserve a thought, let alone love. “We’ll be here within, more and more in.” It’s hard to conceive how a society could be formed from this sentiment. Something like society forms—we’re around the table, after all, dismissive of the ungrateful—but all the spirits are outside. Those we most need are missing.

The moths almost seem to know collapse is a matter of time. Moths watched us / through the window, in August. Hedonism endures throughout its summer. Those we’ve abandoned can only look in, a ghostly justice. They can never partake in our ritual. Like the Samnites, we won. We exiled the memory of others, creating a fear no one would dare. We proved ourselves loyal to our liberty. A moth, smartly, only wants to be around the light. It may watch us, but it does not take our feasting seriously.

References

Machiavelli, N., Mansfield, H. C., & Tarcov, N. Discourses on Livy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Emily Dickinson, “I had no time to Hate” (478)

Right now in the United States, we worry. There was an election. One man won with millions more votes for him. The party opposing him did not fare terribly, gaining more seats in one legislative chamber. But recently the losing party has decided this is not enough. For a day or two after the election results became certain, they were quiet. Then, as if coordinated by a single mind, they began relentlessly accusing everyone else of fraud with the flimsiest evidence.

Shortly before the widespread, unsubstantiated claims of fraud, we were told to embrace those making the accusations. Embrace those who gleefully hurt their fellow Muslim citizens. Who dressed up as “walls” to celebrate the sadistic violence against those at the border. Who endorsed the separation of children from migrant parents with the baseless assertion this was done previously. Who dismissed a virus as a “hoax” as it killed 200,000 because it was inconvenient to admit their leader was a failure. It is strikingly clear why some would dismiss the election as a fraud. For once, it is being stated that some things are actually wrong. It is notable this message cannot be delivered by a number of churches.

Thus, when I stumbled upon Dickinson’s I had no time to Hate, I chuckled. Was a voice from another century telling me to calm down?

I had no time to Hate (478)
Emily Dickinson

I had no time to Hate —
Because
The Grave would hinder Me —
And Life was not so
Ample I
Could finish — Enmity —

Nor had I time to Love —
But since
Some Industry must be —
The little Toil of Love —
I thought
Be large enough for Me —

I had no time to Hate — / Because / The Grave would hinder Me. Can’t be hateful, can’t be angry, because death makes hate and anger worthless. After I’m gone, who will care for my cause? The injustices unique to me are truly unique, and therein lies the problem.

This does not convince at the moment. For many in the United States, politics is a game. Their taxes may go up or down, but their citizenship is never in danger, their rights are always assured. The feeling that politics is a game is their security. If one had to take the rights of others seriously, one would have to confront that one’s own rights are a delicate matter. For a few, this is a wake-up call. They look to help, to make common cause. Others radicalize. They’re not even clear why there are other voices in the first place.

Hate and anger are sometimes the only response to deadly complacency. We have to hate the status quo and understand our anger as a sign that we’re taken for granted. But hate and anger too easily get out of hand. And Life was not so / Ample I / Could finish — Enmity. Even held righteously, enmity presents too much to complete. It stands to reason there are better things to embrace.

*

For Dickinson, perhaps, the first and second stanzas have equal weight. Hate and enmity are awful things, but in the context of trying to get a relationship started, they aren’t always accompanied by the sense the world is collapsing. Nor had I time to Love—yeah, sometimes we’re not feeling it.

For those in the current situation, Nor had I time to Love is an invitation to a different world. Hate and enmity are bound up with the necessity of political change. But the world of the second stanza assumes a neutrality. Not much is happening, as Some Industry must be attests. I cannot say I have been on the front lines helping others in immediate distress. I donate to causes, look for opportunities where I can make a difference, try for an honest understanding of the world and convey that understanding. That doesn’t sound like much, but I don’t ever feel like Some Industry must be. Rather, I feel there’s so much more I could be doing, but what I’m doing now needs to be done well, too.

The little Toil of Love — / I thought / Be large enough for me. Since something must be done, despite the lack of time, might as well love. I marvel at the precision of Dickinson’s construction of space. “Time” could be devoted to hate or love, but the poem ends with “The little Toil of Love.” As if the “Toil of Love” were independent of time, or within it. I submit it is both. A space “large enough for me,” where Dickinson feels free to do as she will. And also subject to time, as her efforts exhaust what she can give. Ultimately, work devoted to love shapes time itself from within time. Weirdly enough, the hate of the first stanza finds a slant justification. It is tragic people would waste time by provoking negativity. It is tragic because love doesn’t cost time as much as makes it.

Descartes’ Insulting Language in the Preface to the Meditations on First Philosophy

“The Meditations will inevitably be read by weak minds who will believe and be consoled by the promise of immortality, but it is addressed to les plus forts esprits (4th Replies, to Arnauld).”

–Richard Kennington, The “Teaching of Nature” in Descartes’ Soul Doctrine

*

One criticism of Leo Strauss is that he pays far too much attention to trivial details. For example, Socrates swearing by the gods. Why do the times Socrates says “By Zeus!” warrant further consideration? In my own studies, he curses when especially frustrated with an interlocutor. This can mean a lot of things. Maybe the interlocutor cannot understand the proper explanation of a concept like “justice” or “rule,” and so Socrates must give a useful but incomplete teaching. Moreover, the scene in question could also have specifically comic purpose; Socrates featured prominently in one particular comedy. Or, in the case of Xenophon, Socrates’ frustration at a nameless young man elected commander recalls two other times he was frustrated with Xenophon himself. The text, in that last case, demonstrates a peculiarly literary quality. It goes beyond the validity of an argument or the specific drama of a scene. Rather, certain details suggest a certain route, allowing for speculation. And it looks like the author built this into the text so readers could be invited to see more.

One might argue that this sort of thing has no scholarly consequence. But I’ve found it to be important. Not so much for debates of the form “this thinker really means X, everyone else argues Y, they’re all wrong,” but for seeing how one theme implies a host of other themes which we have not even considered. In the above example, if there’s a hidden autobiography of Xenophon, then the question of growth is outstanding.

I am not an expert on Descartes. I have some thoughts on how to read him, but in the end I defer to everyone else who has covered this ground far better than I ever will. Nonetheless, I found it interesting that he spends time in his Preface to the Meditations calling others “feebler” minds. Or dismissing other arguments as merely “atheistic.” Or pronouncing his independence from the “vulgar.” A “Preface to the Reader” resides in the 1911 Haldane edition and I thought it was worth listing when in those seven paragraphs he does not strike an entirely positive note. In what follows, I hold he indirectly reveals some specific ideas about what constitutes a philosophic mind. He’s not merely shaping his audience for the rest of the work, but outlining intellectual commitments they must make.

God, the Soul, and “Feebler Minds”

Descartes begins his Preface by saying that in the Discourse on Method, he “slightly touched” on “these two questions of God and the human soul,” namely whether God exists or the soul is immortal (1-3). He says he did not want to treat them “thoroughly” at the time, that he wanted to hear the “judgment of the readers” for how he should proceed. So far, Descrates strikes a slightly defensive tone, but nothing sounds terribly out of the ordinary. Then, he launches into this:

“For these questions [God and the soul] have always appeared to me to be of such importance that I judged it suitable to speak of them more than once; and the road which I follow in the explanation of them is so little trodden, and so far removed from the ordinary path, that I did not judge it to be expedient to set it forth at length in French and in a Discourse which might be read by everyone, in case the feebler minds should believe that it was permitted to them to attempt to follow the same path.” (1-3)

Descartes says talking about God and the soul was so important, and his explanation so extraordinary, that he could not merely write it in French. What if “the feebler minds… believe… it was permitted to them to attempt to follow the same path?”

This probably strikes a 21st century reader as haughty in the extreme. I am inclined to agree with scholars who hold there is a strategy of esotericism at play here. Consider the implications beyond the Discourse. The Latin version of the Meditations, as it will be read by clergy, more than likely has to avoid phrases or ideas which might turn them against him. It is likely the French version of the Meditations has more openness about the scope of Descartes’ project.

What is the project? Following Kennington: roughly, the replacement of Aristotlean notions of physics with those far more mathematical and mechanical. Again, I’m not an expert here. I’m sure some of you reading this have your hands on a manuscript from 1270 or something where someone creates a perfectly mathematical and Aristotlean physics which anticipates Newtonian forces and lends itself to teleological considerations. I’m just wondering about “feebler minds” myself. I’d like to know how to better insult people as I write and have them keep reading.

What is Descartes’ strategy in asserting that he could not write for fear of “feebler minds?” He draws attention to his being on the cusp of saying something controversial, while presenting himself as a genius who ought to be read and discussed. I believe two things can be asserted at this point. First, he wants to give his defenders his own words to work with. E.g. “See, he’s concerned with not leading people astray. He did not write on theological matters in the vernacular.” Second, he dares his readers to imagine what he might mean. “Feebler minds” is a taunt. He wants readers to imagine where his considerations about God and the soul might go if treated at length.

Beyond the “the ordinary atheistic sources”

Perhaps Descartes wants philosophic minds to be daring. “So what?” you might ask. “Shouldn’t a philosopher be daring no matter what?” It can be replied that a philosopher should be contemplative. Thoughtful, able to elaborate how and why for various objects. Pondering, quietly finding new relations and questions. Not desiring to overthrow an established order or challenge what is obviously false, but rather calm, devoted to their inner life, respectful of tradition and maybe even pious.

In the fifth paragraph, Descartes gives a hint as to what might constitute a daring mind. He confesses that he has been attacked “by arguments drawn from the ordinary atheistic sources” (1-4). He declares that he will not even state those arguments, because they may influence those who make “feeble and irrational” judgments (as opposed to those “who really understand… [his] reasonings”). Again, Descartes indulges insults, but it is clear he has a distinct notion of how his audience should think. Consider:

“I shall only say in general that all that is said by the atheist against the existence of God, always depends either on the fact that we ascribe to God affections which are human, or that we attribute so much strength and wisdom to our minds that we even have the presumption to desire to determine and understand that which God can and ought to do. In this way all that they allege will cause us no difficulty, provided only we remember that we must consider our minds as things which are finite and limited, and God as a Being who is incomprehensible and infinite.” (1-4)

The atheist, according to Descartes, always makes an argument that personifies God, making Him more human than divine. Or they assume our minds are strong enough that we can “determine and understand that which God can and ought to do.” The first of these accusations against atheists has philosophic value. People do ask questions about God’s justice or mercy or supposed interventions in human affairs by conceiving God as a human being. And atheists often respond to them not by discussing what a divine nature could be, but by challenging the specific concept of justice or mercy involved, or the wisdom of an intervention. Descartes implies that a strong mind, a daring mind, would not try to reason about what God is by thinking about what humans ought to be. God is not analogous to man, strictly speaking. Rather, one has to know one’s own mental limits. How does one, with a “finite and limited” mind, speak the “incomprehensible and infinite?”

One can say that Descartes veers into mystical rhetoric, and that is true. But the mystical rhetoric has another side. We do learn to speak of larger issues slowly, bit by bit. Issues with near infinite significance which can be explored for centuries, such as how galaxies form. I imagine he could therefore be speaking of how scientific progress is made. Sometimes we have to make assumptions—we have to trust the fundamentals we are taught, or trust another’s theory—to practically test an idea of our own and not be paralyzed with our lack of complete knowledge. Our finite minds have to be aware of what is not known in order to find something that can be known.

A daring mind has a discipline. It does not personify everything. It tries to understand the limits it has with regard to a field of inquiry.

The Discipline of Building

I am tempted to accuse myself of reading too much into any of one of Descartes’ sentences. What I am doing is looking to see if there’s a logic, a hidden story, to where he chooses to cast aspersions. It feels like overreading because it implicitly asks if Descartes did design the Meditations with an incredible level of care. I cannot answer that question, but I do suspect the following. Great authors write so that their ideas connect in various ways, ways which sometimes suggest unusual avenues into a text. My overreading is not fruitless, and it might even be backed by Descartes himself. Please note the sixth paragraph of the Preface, where Descartes bemoans that he expects no “praise from the vulgar” but does want 

“those [to read him] who desire to meditate seriously with me, and who can detach their minds from affairs of sense, and deliver themselves entirely from every sort of prejudice. I know too well that such men exist in a very small number. But for those who, without caring to comprehend the order and connections of my reasonings, form their criticisms on detached portions arbitrarily selected, as is the custom with many, these, I say, will not obtain much profit from reading this Treatise. And although they perhaps in several parts find occasion of cavilling, they can for all their pains make no objection which is urgent or deserving of reply.” (1-4)

Descartes desires his readers to “detach their minds from affairs of sense,” to cancel their prejudice. The Meditations depicts his effort to doubt the external world and his own body. But one should consider that reading a text closely and trying to articulate how it works can be entirely an exercise in logos and form. One brings a certain set of assumptions to close reading, but a working assumption is far from prejudice. If Descartes said that the incomprehensible nature of God resulted in the study of Creation being fruitless, I would have to revise how I approach his words.

As it stands, a disciplined mind with a specific daring has to not only know its own limits, but be willing to build. Descartes outlines how that building should be effected. One must not make “criticisms on detached portions arbitrarily selected,” but rather care to “comprehend the order and connections of my reasonings.” It is the order and connections one can establish, the ones you can demonstrate to yourself, that make the mind Descartes wants.

Conclusion

One can object that by picking the passages where Descartes lobs insults, I have advanced an argument via “detached portions arbitrarily selected.” I’ll live with that criticism. Of more interest to me is how “the order and connections of…[his] reasonings” are understood. I do not believe this is entirely a matter of textual fidelity. Rather, it seems to be a matter of mimicking his mind as he puts it on display through his Meditations. That imitation can lend itself to absorbing an entire scientific system, one such as what Descartes published in The World. But it can also speak to individual possibilities, for example, the existential and self-creative possibilities of the cogito. I cannot say for sure this is what Descartes intended. A reader provoked, however, determines to find their voice no matter what.