Individuality and Universality: Fly Fishing as Philosophical Metaphor

Philosopher Henry Bugbee taught at Stanford University, Harvard, and finally the University of Montana, where he was a much beloved professor (my father was one of many students who admired him).  Bugbee was also a fly fisherman.  Following are two passages from his book, The Inward Morning:  A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form (first published in 1958).

Now the river is the unborn, and the sudden fish is just the newborn — whole, entire, complete, individual, and universal.  The fisherman may learn that each instant is pregnant with the miracle of the newborn fish, and fishing the river may become a knowing of each fish even before it is born.  As he fishes the ever-flowing current, it teaches him of the fish even before it is born, just in so far as this alert fishing involves “abiding  in no-abode,” or the “unattached mind.” If one is steeped in the flowing river and sensitized through the trembling line, one anticipates the new-born fish at every moment.  The line tautens and with all swiftness, the fish is there, sure enough!  And now, in the leaping of this fish, how wonderfully, laughingly clear everything becomes! If eventually one lands it, and kneels beside its silvery form at the water’s edge, on the fringe of the gravel bar, if one receives this fish as purely as the river flows, everything is momentarily given, and the very trees become eloquent where they stand.

Here, as concretely as may be, lies a basic point, one so strongly grasped in the reflections of Gabriel Marcel; Individuality and universality come hand in hand in experience.  Either they are appreciated simultaneously and concretely, or not at all.

Henry Bugbee, The Inward Morning: A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form, with an Introduction by Edward F. Mooney (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1999), 86-87.

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