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Please help me understand the following paragraph better.

When standing before certain men the philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist that perishable tissue has to think. Thus to deplore, each from his point of view, the mutually destructive interdependence of spirit and flesh would have been instinctive with these in critically observing Yeobright.

From The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.

  1. What does he mean by "the artist that perishable tissue has to think"?
  2. Who is he referring to when he says "with these"
  3. Why does the artist regret that perishable tissue has to think?
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    It’s a parallel construction: The philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist [regrets] that perishable tissue has to [must] think. – Jim Feb 14 at 21:55
  • And here “perishable tissue” means “mortal flesh”, an ordinary living body that must one day die and rot away. – Orbital Aussie Feb 14 at 22:01
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    These refers to the philosopher and the artist: Thus to deplore the mutually destructive interdependence of spirit and flesh would have been instinctive with the philosopher and the artist... – Tinfoil Hat Feb 14 at 22:11
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    It is, I’m sorry to say, a truly ghastly passage, whose meaning threatens to disappear up its own impeccable syntax. But I have strayed into literary criticism. What is the case is that most readers, including myself will have to read it more than once to be sure. – Tuffy Feb 14 at 23:34
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    This Q is better asked on Writing – Kris Feb 15 at 6:19
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What does he mean by "the artist that perishable tissue has to think"?

Perishable tissue here means perishable human tissue. The above statement means that the artist regrets that humans (perishable tissue) have to think.

Who is he referring to when he says "with these"

These refers to the philosopher on the one hand, and the artist on the other.

Why does the artist regret that perishable tissue has to think?

This question really gets to the crux of the passage. Their is a dichotomy set up in the text. On the one hand you have the thinking philosopher: rationality, calculation, reflection, pensivity. On the other you have the creative artist: emotional, sensual, feeling.

The artist regrets that humans have to think because that is the domain of the philosopher, the artist does not sit and think while creating art, for the artist thinking is a distraction.

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If written in a slightly less arcane style it would be

When standing before certain men the philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist , that perishable tissue , has to think.

"That perishable tissue" is a "parenthetical", and can be omitted without greatly changing the sentence:

When standing before certain men the philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist has to think.

Of course then you notice that it's a run-on sentence -- the remaining comma should be a period or semicolon or colon or dash:

When standing before certain men the philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue: the artist has to think.

Given all the problems in the sentence it's not surprising that it's hard to understand. But then, Thomas Hardy was known for his often arcane style.

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    This is not how I understand it. I read "that perishable tissue has to think" as a that-clause describing what the artist regrets. The sentence would be equivalent to "the philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist regrets that perishable tissue has to think." – herisson Feb 15 at 3:18
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When standing before certain men the philosopher regrets that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist that perishable tissue has to think. Thus to deplore, each from his point of view, the mutually destructive interdependence of spirit and flesh would have been instinctive with these in critically observing Yeobright.

This could be expanded to the following:

When standing before certain men, the philosopher regrets that thinkers are just perishable tissue, and the artist regrets that perishable tissue has to think. Therefore, when critically observing Yeobright, both the philosopher and the artist would instinctively deplore the mutually destructive interdependence of spirit and flesh, although they would deplore it from different points of view.


Answers to the questions in the body.

Who is he referring to when he says "with these"?

"These" are the philosopher and the artist.

What does he mean by "the artist that perishable tissue has to think"?

Why does the artist regret that perishable tissue has to think?

The surrounding context helps to answer these questions. The preceding paragraph says "He already showed that thought is a disease of flesh, and indirectly bore evidence that ideal physical beauty is incompatible with emotional development and a full recognition of the coil of things. Mental luminousness must be fed with the oil of life, even though there is already a physical need for it; and the pitiful sight of two demands on one supply was just showing itself here."

This is saying that mental development has a negative effect on the body and competes with it for resources ("the oil of life"). An artist, who presumably would appreciate physical beauty above all else, would regret that Clym Yeobright's physical appearance had been negatively affected by his thoughts, and would prefer that all of the "oil of life" had been left to feed his flesh.

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