Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 April 2021
In his well-known autobiographical essay, “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” Rorty observed two contrasting dispositions that he developed as a young boy. On the one hand, as the son of two radical, fellow-traveling Trotskyists, he absorbed a firm commitment to social justice and democratic politics. At the same time, as a solitary, even lonely child, living in rural isolation, he also had “private, weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests,” such as an obsession with various species of wild orchids that grew near his home in northwest New Jersey. Much has been written about Rorty’s politics, about his “Trotsky” side. But relatively little has been said about his encounters with wild orchids, “Wordsworthean moments” in which he felt “touched by something numinous, something of ineffable importance.” Rorty said “there is no reason to be ashamed of, or downgrade, or try to slough off, your Wordsworthean moments.” Yet no one said less about these moments than Rorty himself; he seemed to slough them off. Why? My argument is that even acknowledging having had such moments (which he rarely did) seemed to him to pose a threat to his antifoundationalism, to his remarkably extreme view of human autonomy, and to his resolutely anti-authoritarian temperament. Alas.