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Descartes‘s methodical stove (Soba metodicã a lui Descartes)…

September 23, 2013

In his Discours de la Méthode (Discourse on the Method), which laid down the foundations of modern philosophy, Descartes tells us, very strangely, that the idea of ”Je pense, donc je suis“ (Cogito, ergo sum) came to him while he was alone ”in a stove“ (”enfermé seul dans un poêle“). It was, indeed, in the deep of winter, and our philosopher tells us, in old French, that: ”n’ayant, par bonheur, aucuns soins ni passions qui me troublassent, je demeurois tout le jour enfermé seul dans un poêle, où j’avois tout le loisir de m’entretenir de mes pensées“ : I was locked up alone in a stove, where I had the pleasure to be alone with my thoughts“. 

The image is so strange, that translators, in all languages, have always introduced a ”room“ there: a room heated by a stove, or, in Romanian: ”o camera cu sobã“. Well, well… Descartes being such an economical maniac of logic and words (a pre-Wittgenstein with Freddy-Mercury-style moustache and leather boots), he wouldn‘t have bothered to mention the existence of a heated stove in the room in winter. ”Enfermé seul dans un poêle“ must mean the very thing. I had to go to Afghanistan in winter to understand Descartes: in many Central Asian houses, in winter, the room IS the stove, with the heating device in the middle, and everybody getting under a thick blanket as closer to the source of heat as possible. 

This gave me the explanation of a strange semantic shift: why the South Slavic (Serbo-Croatian) word for room: ”soba“ was borrowed into Romanian with the meaning of: stove. Because our ancestors were using the same kind of survival heating. Unfortunately, no Descartes came out of our stoves. But then again, Descartes was using the plum brandy only as medicine, otherwise he wouldn‘t have been able to ”s’entretenir de ses pensées“.


From → Paraphernalia

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