Wäldchen vom Philosophenweg

The above translates, literally, as "Woods from the Philosophers' Way," but the real meaning is that of groves, small stands of trees, tangles of growth--and thus, by implication, various and sundry entwined matter--brought forth along the "path of philosophy." There is a dual inspiration for the title. The first is Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), a philosopher, critic and Lutheran pastor whose ideas have fascinated me for years. In 1769 he published a set of studies--short essays and sketches, mostly--in aesthetics and philosophy titled Kritische Wälder (each part being a separate Wäldchen), making an allusion between the German "woods" and the idea of abundant, unsystematized material or writings. The second inspiration is the Philosophenweg, an old, heavily wooded path which winds above the Neckar river overlooking the Heidelberg Altstadt. Since Heidelberg is a university town (its university is the oldest in Germany), and has been the home of some of Germany's most eminent thinkers, it isn't surprising that walking along this path has long been associated with philosophical reflection. The above photo is a good representation of the gorgeous, overgrown views which the Philosophenweg provides one of old Heidelberg; the other photo is of me on the path, from June 1999.

I don't claim anything like the depth of thought exhibited by some of those who've encountered random insights along the Philosophenweg. But I am a fan of walking down rambling paths, guided by little more than my own personal Sehnsucht, a romantic longing for understanding. Moreover, I find it an excellent metaphor for the kind of thinking and writing I'm most comfortable with: not a definitive exploration, but a wandering (sometimes leisurely, sometimes with confusion and exasperation) through thickets, punctuated by sudden, unexpected vistas. My writings on this blog are like Herder's: just random matter, basically raw material, from my own ongoing walk in the woods, along my own personal philosophical way. If they happen to get you walking down new paths, working through groves you'd missed before, I'll be delighted. Just don't forget to enjoy the view.

Photograph by Thomas Gade

Photograph by Melissa Fox

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