American Transcendentalism (II)

American Transcendentalism (II)


>>Everybody have a
good spring break? Anybody go anyplace warm?>>New York City.>>So I was told. I was in someplace warmer
about 13 hours away. Ok, good, lets, I hope everybody
came back energized and ready for the second half
of the course which contains the good stuff
as far as I’m concerned. You didn’t hear me say that. But I do want to go
back and make sure to reinforce certain
points about Emerson because there’s a certain
way, which Emerson’s going to frame our thinking
for the next few days and certainly even,
maybe even few weeks. And so we’ll continue
on with Emerson today, maybe set up Thoreau, and then
spend all of next time talking about Thoreau’s two
pieces that we read, Resistance to Civil
Government and Walden. So we’ll go back to that
idea of contradiction, right? The idea that Emerson somehow
uses contradiction as a kind of organizing principal in the
sense that a mark of genius is to be able to hold
contradictory ideas in your mind and not go mad. We’ll find that later on when
we get to Moby Dick, the whale, who the narrator Ishmael, thinks
of as somehow having a brain that perhaps exceeds the
human brain because it’s able to process two diametrically
opposed views. The views out of its eyes,
which are, as we know, precisely where our
ears would be, so they see completely
different perspectives. That idea is something that
I think we’ll want to carry over from Emerson when we get to
that moment in Melville’s novel. So one of the things I want to
suggest to you is Emerson thinks about the contradictions in
his writing as a byproduct of what we might call the
dynamic nature of culture and of the individual. So throughout his writings
there’s an emphasis on process. That idea, as he says,
that power consists in the shooting of the gull. The kind of darting to a name as
if he’s less really interested in the theology of his
thinking than in the process of getting to some kind of end. There’s a good example
of that in Self Reliance so maybe we should
take a look at it. It’s a well-known passage
at the bottom of 1172. In which he says this, Life only
avails, not the having lived, is exactly the moment
I was referring to. Power ceases in the instant of
repose, it resides in the moment of transition from a past to
a new state in the shooting of the gull, in the
darting to an aim, this one fact the world
hates that the soul becomes. For that forever degrades the
past, turns witches all witches to poverty, all reputation
to a shame, compounds a saint with the rogue, shoves Jesus
and Judaist equally aside. Well I referred to this passage
before the break but I wanted to make sure to kind of
engrave it in your mind. Why then, he says, do we
prate of self-reliance? It is much of the soul as present there will be
power not confident but age. All right, he’s interested
in the soul’s ability to act. Confidence it seems, he means
here it would suggest something less than dynamic;
something static. He’s interested in
the acting of a soul. The talk of alliance, he says, therefore is a poor
external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which
relies because it works and is. Who has more of a soul
than I masters me, though he raise not a finger. Right? So Emerson locates
the key here in progress and the fact that the soul
becomes, it’s forever changing. And that he believes saves
the individual from a kind of slavish devotion to the
past and from the restrictions that a rigid conformity
would sort of impose, right? You might call this a
problem of belatedness. Emerson understands us
to be belated beings. We come late into the world. Many things have
already happened, right? In one account that we’ve been
looking at this term, right, the puritans account of the
world, we are so belated that we’re all born damned,
unfortunately for us. We’re born after the
fall of human kind. Emerson doesn’t believe in that
and he wants us in some sense to think about the ways in which
we might overcome this problem of belatedness. Manifest itself in the idea as
he says at the very beginning of Nature, and since
we’re going to be looking at Nature this might be a good
time to turn to it on page 1110. He says our age is
retrospective. It builds the sepulchers
of the fathers, right. It’s an age, intellectually of
tomb building, memorials rather than thinking for ourselves. And that’s the problem, right? Emerson as you no
doubt have noticed, has a very exalted
view of the individual. He thinks of the individual as
the arbiter of meaning, right? At one point, he says suppose
you should contradict yourself, what then? And he’s not afraid, in other
words, to face up to the fact that individuals are frequently in what we might call
contradictory subject positions, right. They’re pulled one way and
another by different systems of thought, by different
experiences in their own life. And one of the things I want to suggest is Emerson’s
writings attest to the power of the individual human mind to, if not necessarily resolve
these contradictions, to be able to maintain
them and work through them. As we might say to contain them. So quite literally
the contradictions that are contained in his
writing become a model for the way, which
the human mind itself, might contain appropriate,
maybe even be energized by the fact of contradiction. Another thing we might say
about Emerson’s writing, that along with being,
giving itself a free license to explore contradictory
impulses, it’s also deeply
illusive and intertextual. So if you turn to any essay
you might find passages in which you’re going to get
illusions from, I don’t know, the bible, from Shakespeare, from Conte Coleridge
or Swedenborg. From Hindu, [inaudible] even
philosophies, in the first. In one very famous paragraph,
in the Beauty section of Nature, Emerson quotes, let’s see, shallast [assumed
spelling] given, he sights the Spartan
King Leonidas, the Swiss patriot
Winklereed [assumed spelling], Christopher Columbus, Henry
Vein, the Parliamentary and William Russell, and
finally ends the paragraph by making reference to Homer
Pindersucks, Socrates Position, and Jesus in quick succession. Very elusive, now you
might think of this as somewhat contradictory. Why is he quoting all
these guys if he says, what we’re not supposed to be doing is building
sepulchers to the past. Shouldn’t we just ignore them? Right. So this is another
point I want to make. Some people say that, you know,
Emerson kind of has infected us with a scorn of the past. I think Bart Giamatti who
was once president of Yale and was then even more
importantly commissioner of Major League Baseball,
or president of the National League. I guess he was MLB commissioner
as well; he’s the one who banished Pete Rose
from the game forever. He said that about him,
didn’t like Emerson. Liked baseball, thought Emerson
could have learned a few lessons from baseball about
the interplay of the individual
and the community. But he said that
Emerson infected us with a score of the past. But I want to kind of suggest
that as a misreading of Emerson. One that Emerson himself
leaves himself open to. But I think it’s not
about scorning the past, it’s about not being
tyrannized by the past. In fact being willing
yourself to tyrannize the past. He says that in one moment. We’ll take a look
at that when we get to essay The Poet
when we read Whitman. But we need a poet
with tyrannize. Alright, somebody who’s not
afraid to take what he wants out of history, culture,
the past and remake it anew. So Emerson feels free to quote
from all these authorities, except he doesn’t think
of them as authorities. They are just other thinkers of whom he might say he
is not only the equal, but in some sense superior
because he’s quoting them. You should take this as a lesson for how you should write
papers as an English major. The thing you should not do from
Emerson is be very contradictory and kind of meandering and jump
from high point to high point. We probably require you to
build a more orderly argument than that. On the other hand,
you should feel free to tyrannize your sources in the
sense of making them subordinate to the arguments that you make. That’s what I would advise you. In a poor strategy to set up
some poor critic as a strong man and then just kind of bash him and then just get your
own argument in sideways. Or even worse to cobble together
a paper that is a series of other peoples insights. Emerson would hate that. So there is something that we
can learn from Emerson, right? Get their insights, but subordinate them
rigorously to your own argument. When you write a paper, make sure it’s not being driven
either by the insights of others or by just something like
the sequence of attacks. So find ways, we
can talk about this; find ways to subordinate
rhetorically what other people have thought. You got to bring in
a critic or proof, or to show that you’ve
done your homework. Don’t set them at the
beginning of the paragraph. Put your argument first
and then set the critic into a subordinate position. They’re helping you
make your argument. They’ve already made theirs;
they don’t care about you. Ok. So that to the side, I want
you to see that Emerson wants us to make use of the past. And therefore, he
thinks, as he says, that there is not only creative
writing, but creative reading. And that’s part of
what he is trying to get you to do even to him. Ok. So that’s one thing I want
you to understand that because of his process of
creating reading, contradiction is contained and in a certain way the
paradoxical effect is that we all get a certain kind of uniformity rhetorically
in Emerson, right. It comes from all
these different sources and somehow it all
becomes Emerson. It all is subsumed into
Emerson’s consciousness. And I think that’s
one of the strengths in some of his writings. And it may also be one
of the limitations. A little bit later on, we’ll get
to why I think there’s a set, a kind of missed opportunity
in Emerson’s writing, which has to do something with a cosmopolitan impulse
that’s ultimately thwarted. But before we can get to that, I want to take a little bit
more time to look at Nature. We did manage to look at
some bits of it last time, but I’d like to think about
it again before moving onto the American
Scholar and Experience. Right. So one of the things
to say about Nature is that even though it’s
Emerson’s first major text, there’s a sense in which
it is, I would argue, not entirely characteristic
of all of his writings. In part because it seems
to have a formal structure in which one chapter
builds on one another. It’s influenced you might say,
because its subject is nature, by thinking of natural
historians or scientists. So that natural history
becomes one way for him to think about transforming nature
from just lots of data to be collected into some kind
of truths that we can read. So you can see if you read
Emerson’s journal that he’s kind of working on this and
sometime around March of 1836, in his journals he records that
he’s hit on this kind of scheme that allows him to
talk about his subject. Right. So we get a bunch
of chapter headings after the introduction that
would seem to mark a kind of ladder of thought and
a scent of a kind of moral and spiritual ladder from something that’s
lower to higher. Or you might say after
the introductory chapter on nature itself,
we move finally from you might say
commodity to higher levels of abstraction all
the way up to idealism and then finally spirit. And then each of the chapters, many of them are themselves
divided into numbered sections. So that would seem to
be a little more orderly than other forms of Emerson’s
writing that we’ve encountered. It doesn’t have that kind
of associative quality. Those kinds of leaps of
thought that we might see either in the American Scholar,
or especially in something like Self Reliance. But one of the things I want
to suggest to you is in fact if we look at this
kind of structure of leaping rhetorically, we see
that in a sense the structure of nature contradicts itself. But there is this kind
of leaping that goes on in almost every chapter. So in some sense every chapter
replicates this structure of associative thinking. Emerson in other words seems
to build his arguments in each of the individual sections. Not necessarily through
progress but through something that we might think of more
as some kind of accumulation, the accumulation of ideas
rather than a strict sequence. In effect, you might say every
chapter then recapitulates the others in having this kind
of structure of an ascent up a ladder and that’s one of the things I want
to suggest to you. That’s why many people
actually think that despite the apparent
projectory in the book as a whole, many of the chapters
seem somewhat interchangeable with one another. It’s often hard to figure out, as you’ll remember
reading something in Nature and sometimes it’s hard
to pinpoint where it is if you haven’t been
keeping careful track. And I think that’s an
experience that many of us who have spent a lot of time
reading Emerson, often have. Like, you know that’s
in there someplace but you can remember
quite where it is. All right, so that’s one of the
things I want to suggest to you, that Emerson is looking for a
structure because at this point in his career he thinks it
will help him articulate. But ultimately, he’s
going to chuck that idea of structuration all together. Now I said last time, and I
didn’t have a chance to talk about it very much,
that the epigraph to the book sends an important
clue and it comes from Plotinus who is one of the first
great neoplatonic thinkers. The epigraph on page 1110 is
this; nature is but an image or imitation of wisdom,
the last thing of the soul. Nature being a thing,
which duct only do but duct not know, right. And I think that that’s a
signal that Emerson is sending that he is writing not
only something that’s going to be a contribution to natural
history but also a contribution to theology and to
neoplatonic philosopher. Plotinus, as I think
the footnote tells you, actually it doesn’t
tell you very much. It tells you about when he
lives; I think roughly 205 to 270 after the Common Era. So he’s living about 200 years
after Christ and he’s regarded as the first neoplatonic
philosopher. And so there are
certain characteristics that we might say that
Emerson is signaling that he thinks he
shares with Plotinus. Especially the idea that there’s
some kind of higher level of reality other
than what you can see and touch and taste and hear. Other than, you might say,
the visible or the sensible. So this is the platonic
belief in forms or ideas that have a higher reality. Right, we remember the
whole; we don’t have to go through it again, right? The platonic idea of the table,
this is one manifestation of a table but it’s false to many other manifestations
of the table. So what’s really real
and true is the idea of the table, which exists. I don’t know. Somewhere in the ethos
[inaudible] or in our minds. Ok. So Plotinus is kind of
taking that and mapping it in some sense onto
Christian theology and he becomes an inference
for the Puritans as well, who believe fundamentally,
that what exists in heaven is what’s real and
what exists on earth is false and any number of ways. So that’s one thing that
Emerson is signaling. Also perhaps, several
other things. A belief that the universe
is fundamentally good. That’s one of the kind of
Plotinian revisions I suppose. And, or one of the things that
exist in Plotinian accounts of Christianity that then get
somewhat sidetracked later on by Calvinism. And a kind of preference for
what we might call intuition or revelation above simply
empirical investigation. So empirical investigation,
being a kind of materialist philosopher
is the only place to start. It’s just gathering data. But ultimately, we’re looking to create a fertile
ground for revelation. All right, so one of
the most famous moments of revelation is one of the
ones we looked at last time. That idea of the transparent
eyeball when Emerson’s walking through the bear colony
all of a sudden gets short, has the currents of the
universal being flowing through him becomes his
transparent eyeball, wonderful. So that’s a moment
of revelation. That’s the kind of thing
that Emerson is looking for. You go wandering around,
but not even, you don’t have to wander around, you don’t
have to leave your room. You can have these things so
long as you are not tyrannized by the past all the bad stuff. In other words Emerson
believes that each of us has a soul that’s
connected to something that later on he goes on
to call the over soul. And that you might say,
you’ll get to this especially when we start reading the
essay called The Poet, is one of the things
that’s a goal of poetry. To help us with our
individual souls connect to that larger over soul. And when we can make that
connection, then we can, you might say participate in
this economy of revelation. So poetry eventually helps
us to experience revelation. Or at least the kind of poetry
that Emerson has in mind that he hasn’t found yet,
that he is happy to find when Walt Whitman
sends him a little book of poems called Leaves
of Breath. But we’ll get to that. Ok, another influence that
I didn’t get to last time, but I just wanted to
register, is Swedenborg; who’s more important
really in the early Emerson. So he gets quoted here and
then some of the essays that we read then in the later. It’s a kind of Christian
reinterpretation of neoplatonic thoughts. So it takes some of the
insights of Plotinus and really Christianizes them. He was a, lets’ see, a Swedish
scientist, Christian mystic, theologian philosopher who
lives in the late 17th century; 1688 and into the 18’s,
up all the way to 1772. And so Swedenborg very quickly
maintains that, you know, there’s a kind of infinite
and indivisible power and life within all creations
and that is God. And so he believes
creation has its origin in the kind of divine love. He says that all created
things are there for forms or manifestations, fundamentally
of that love and wisdom. And therefore, he comes up with
the doctrine that gets known as the doctrine of
correspondence. They correspond on the material
plane to some kind of concept on the spiritual plane. So when Emerson talks about
this idea of correspondence all over nature’s data,
in some sense, is where he’s getting it from. I guess one example of
that, a good example, would probably be the chapter
on language when he talks about the ways in which,
let’s take a look at that on page 1118 he says a third
use which nature subserves to man is that of language. Nature is the vehicle
of thought and a simple, to a simple double, simple
double and threefold degree. So then, he goes on to say that, words are signs of
natural facts. Right. He’s thinking
about the process of what we now call
signification. Now word is a kind of arbitrary
sign, why should any set of sounds ands set of
symbols correspond to an idea. So it’s only a sign
of some other facts. But then he also thinks that those facts themselves
are merely symbolic of spiritual facts. So therefore, he says
nature ultimately has a kind of symbolic function, it
symbolizes this other world. And that’s all stuff that
he gets from Swedenborg. Just so, you know, that’s where
a lot of this is coming from. Now, nature, therefore I
want to just suggest to you, brings a lot of these things
together, this little volume. It begins, we might as well take
a look at the beginning again because I think it kind
of helps us to get an idea of the way an Emerson,
Emersonian kind of rhetorical strategy works. He begins it somewhat
conflictually. Right? I mean he sets up a
kind of problem we’ve talked about this several times. Our age is retrospective; it builds the sepulchers
of the fathers. It writes biographies,
history, criticism right. So the subject of criticism
arises immediately in Nature, in the volume Nature, only
to be scorned right away. Right, so there’s a whole set of
undesired, and I said don’t set up a strong man, well
he does actually. He sets it up to be
these old genres. These are the false ones. Biographies, history, and
criticism is a true one, are the ones he wants
to promote. They are genres of insight
he says, revelation. Those kinds of genres,
and he’s thinking, therefore about somewhat
discredited genres still like poetry. So he’s interested in originality rather
than retrospection. Revelations shouldn’t only be
something that we assume is in the past, but that we
should think of as possible, not only possible in the
present, but possible if we promote a certain
view that he comes to call self-reliance. So you might say that
in contrast to some of the other writes that we were
looking at before the break, like Charles Brockden Brown
perhaps or Edgar Allan Poe who are suspicious of
human consciousness, who worry about the
limits of consciousness to control thought, or what
happens when we go to sleep, or what happens when
we’re dreaming, or what happens when we go mad? Emerson, you might say
perhaps too easily, that’s one critique of Emerson. Emerson pushes some of
those concerns aside. He celebrates the individual’s
power to conduct reasoning. And he believes that
reasoning is a high faculty that comes essentially
from the divine. So he refuses to acknowledge
that there’s any phenomena that human beings can’t
eventually figure out. Nothing, he says, that really
could be called inexplicable. Take a look at the second
paragraph of Nature on 1111. Undoubted we have no questions
to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of
creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity, the
order of things is awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy every
mans condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those
inquiries he would put. He acted as life before
he apprehended his truth. And that’s part of why there’s
all this stress in Nature. It’s almost like our actions,
become our, we have to figure out how to understand our
actions and the way we live as symbolic as something else. The truth is inside us,
we don’t realize it. We act, we need to
step back and think about what the truth is
that’s contained inside all of those actions. Right? And again,
this is leading to a rather abstract
understanding of what the individual is. Right? In the next paragraph he
talks about the aim of science, being defined a theory
of nature. He says we have theories
of races and of functions but scarcely at a
remote approximation to an idea of creation. Clearly indicating
that the biblical idea of creation is insufficient. We are now so far
from the road of truth that religious teachers
dispute and hate each other. And speculative men are
esteemed unsound and frivolous but to a sound judgment, the most abstract truth
is the most practical. Whenever a true theory appears,
it will be its own evidence. Its test is it will
explain all phenomena. Now many are thought, not only
unexplained but inexplicable. And these are some of the
things you might say that, some of the things that
were in those other writers that I mentioned, Brown
and Poe and others. Language, sleep,
dreams, beasts, sex. Emerson says they’re not, they
shouldn’t be, we shouldn’t worry about them because if
we spend enough time on it we can answer
these things. And then he goes on at
the end of this to talk about this really constrained
conception of himself. The me is only the soul. Everything else belongs
to nature and its therefore
separate from me. So he divides everything
philosophically into the me and the not me. And what I want you
to do is really think about the strangeness of that. It means that you,
what you typically look at in the mirror
is not really you. I mean it’s just sort of a
contingent aspect of you. You happen to be a woman, you
happen to have brown hair, you happen to be 5 foot 3,
you happen to have light skin. All of that is contingent,
it isn’t you. Now typically we think
in a different way. We think about what makes
us unique, we look at many of those characteristics. And he would have
said even beyond that, a certain characteristics
of mind or thought. So it’s a rather abstract
version of the individual. And what I want to think about
a little bit is the way in which that is highly compatible
with a kind of strain of liberal philosophy
about the individual that is proven to
be very powerful. Right. So there’s a certain
way in which you might say, Emerson is in parts in cahoots
with kind of a discourse of individualism that in other
times he would seem to scorn. So, any questions
about that so far? About these ideas
of nature itself, individual contradiction. Are we good? Ok, let’s take a
look, oh I don’t know, let’s take a little bit
of a look inside nature and maybe a place to go would
be this chapter on beauty. This starts on page
1114, 11 yeah. He’s trying to understand
beauty, right. To think about, so this
we might say is the idea of aesthetics here. And one of, the only thing
I want, what I want you to see is just part of the way
in which the rhetoric works through a kind of
weird confusion of what we might call
the natural and cultural. And there’s asens in which
Emerson is doing is pushing all of those things aside on the
not me side of the ledger. So take a look at
the top of 1115. In other hours, nature
satisfies the soul purely by its loveliness and
without the mixture of corporeal benefit. I have seen the spectacle
of morning from the hilltop over against my house
from daybreak to sunrise with emotions, which
an angel might share. The long slender bars of
clouds float like fishes in the sea of crimson light. From the earth, as ashore, I
look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its
rapid transformations. The active enchantment
reaches my dust and I dilate and conspire with
the morning wind. How does nature dayafy
[assumed spelling] us with a few and cheap element. Give me health in a day
and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous. The dawn is my Aseria, the
sunset and moonrise my papoose, and unimaginable realms of fairy
broad noon shall be my England of the sense and
the understanding. The night shall be my Germany
of mystic philosophy and dreams. Now this is supposed to be a
section about beauty that’s about simple perception
of natural form, right? And he starts that, he’s
looking at the sunrise, but look how immediately
his mind leaps. His mind leaps into
the past of humanity. And while he’s setting nature
up over against the kind of traditions of
history and thinking, he might say there’s a certain
way in which his perceptions of those things are
never the less parasitic on an understanding of
history and culture. So one of the things we
might suggest here is that nature is quickly in
Emerson’s thought incorporated into a kind of cultural
system that then spread out and comprehends all of western
and eastern civilization. So you might say that one
of the things it’s doing, we have the mind
here unifying things that are often kept apart, nature and culture
on the one hand. And then you might say not
only bring them together but separating them
off from thyself. Both of them become the grounds for which we might call
self-investigation. So that’s one of the
thing is want you to see. If you should look through
these pages, you will see that different kinds
of boundaries that we typically keep apart
or use to separate things, Emerson pushes together on the
one hand and then puts them all out there as if they were
all simply the grounds for what he calls self-reliance. They become, nature and culture
equally become the grounds through which we
explore the self. There’s a funny way in which
Emerson is using both culture and nature what we might
call instrumentally. They are just, you
know, things according to which you might want to apply
this idea of the tyrannize eye that he talks about in
the essay, The Poet. Now let’s look at
the end of this. It’s a little bit strange. It’s a section that’s called
Prospects and it starts on page, I think, well let’s
go to page 1132 that seems like a good place. That’s where, yeah ok, in fact
we’ll just go to prospects. One of the things about prospects was it
was the final chapter. Is it Emerson says at the
end we’re still very far away from a true theory of
the universe, right. So you might say there’s a
sense we’ve been building up through this, what
I said was a kind of seeming progression
of thought. Upwards, up a ladder of moral
and spiritual philosophy. I suggested that the structure of each individual
chapter be looked at. That each of them is
built on these leaps. But finally one of the things that these prospects are looking
for, this chapter suggests, there’s been something
inadequate about the whole scheme
all together. Or you might say there’s
something inadequate about natural science itself. So he forced to do
something other than strictly speaking
natural science and what he does
is to tell a fable. And this is a characteristically
Emersonian moment and one that next time we will see, we will see Thoreau
make use of as well. So take a look on page 1135. The middle of the page, he says
I should therefore conclude this essay with some traditions
of man and nature, which a certain poet sang to me. And which as they have
always been in this world and perhaps we appear to every
borrowed maybe both history and prophecy. And of course, the
footnote tells you that the poet is
Emerson himself. And this poet gets described
as later the orphic poet. But take a look at
what the poet says. Perhaps we don’t want you to
read it all but maybe the bottom of the page, second
to last paragraph. A man is a God in ruins. When men are innocent, life
shall be longer and pass into the immortal as gently
as we awake from dreams. Now the world would
be insane and rabid if these organizations should
last for hundreds of years. It is kept in check
by death and infancy. Infancy is the perpetual
Messiah, which comes into the arms of
fallen men and pleads with them to return to paradise. Man is the dwarf of himself. Once he was permeated and
dissolved with spirit, he filled nature with
his overflowing currents. Out from him sprang the sun
and moon, from man to sun, from woman to moon,
the laws of his mind, the periods of his actions
externalized themselves into day and night, into the year
and seasons, but having made for himself his huge shell,
his waters were tired. He no longer fills with veins
and veinlets [assumed spelling]. He shrunk to a drop. So what we have here is a
kind of alternative creation. Emerson suggests that
we live in a world that fundamentally we
have forgotten we created. And part of his goal
is for us to remember that we’ve created these things. And again this is
somewhat counter intuitive, especially for a thinker
who believes in something that he calls God at
times and the over soul who believes in the soul. But again, you can think of it
as a number of different ways. You can say of course we created
it because again part of us, the most important part of
us is linked to the divine. Is consubstantial
with the divine. So we participated in the creation you
might say of ourselves. But now as he tells us
where we’ve become timid and apologetic and
even forgetful. We’ve forgotten that his
essays are an attempt to get us to rethink our paradigms, to get
us to rethink our relationship to nature and to take
dominium over which is ours. And there’s a sense in which
Emerson picks up the idea of dominium that we find in
the first chapter of Genesis and invokes it at the bottom of
1137, at the end of the essay. Landowners let’s take a look
at that, it’s about, well, just we’ll do the second
line from the bottom of 1137. The kingdom of man over
nature which cometh not with observation, a dominion such as now is beyond
his dream of God. He shall enter without more
wonder than the blind man feels who has gradually
restored to perfect size. And in that idea of
dominium and then that idea of being beyond his dream. Which cometh not
with observation. Which that phrase
comes from Luke. Emerson is creating a
kind of idea that suggests that finally what we need
to do is take control of nature for ourselves. And it’s hard to tell
at certain moments where Emerson is thinking kind
of metaphorically, nature, philosophically, or whether
as some people have suggested, that it fundamentally
puts in, one of the things that Emerson has been compatible
with is a certain kind of materialist use
of the natural. Which makes him anything other
than a kind of naturalist. So we’ll talk about that
next time when we think about the uses to which his
disciple Thoreau puts nature. But one of the things
I want you to see. This is what I mean when Emerson
uses nature instrumentally. It’s a tool only to be, that’s
interesting not for its own self but only because
of what it tells us about ourselves as human beings. The kinds of insights
it can be fundamentally, therefore Emerson, I
would suggest doesn’t care about nature, he
cares about people, himself, and individuals. Now, The American Scholar’s
a little bit different. It’s a speech, it was
given for an occasion but there are certain ways
in which it picks up exactly where he leaves off
at the end of nature. I mean it’s delivered
the next year, a year after Nature is written. A year after it’s published. It’s delivered at an annual
Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard University. And it’s supposed to be
a kind of, perfunctory, well not perfunctory but
there is a certain genre to which it belongs of
the commencement speech and there’s traditional topics. One of them is the place of
the Scholar in an American kind of commercial society. That’s the kind of
typical topic. Another you might say is the
state, probably the low state of American literature. One of the things that Emerson
does is to combine these topics, the function of a scholar, the
idea of an American literature. Under the rubric of what
he comes to call here, the problem of self-distrust. All right, in the
positive sense, you might say it’s
self-reliance. And that’s an organizing
principal for all of Emerson’s writings in
this period from about 1837 through the publication of
the first series of essays and Self Reliance comes
from that series of essays. It’s a certain kind of egoism. Remember in Nature,
in the moment of the transparent eyeball, he
says all mean egotism vanishes. That doesn’t mean all egotism
vanishes, we need some of it. We just don’t want it to be. There’s a kind of
idealized egotism that Emerson finally
calls self-reliance. The problem with American
thinkers in this moment is that they lack self-reliance. In a way there are things that
he says now about intellectuals, one of the things to know about
this essay is it’s written in the, in a moment
of economic decline. There’s a panic in 1837,
which makes prospects for the scholars,
for people graduating from school seem even
dimmer than usual. And one of the things Emerson
is suggesting is that you need to not be afraid as a
scholar, as somebody graduating from a school like Harvard. Even in the face of
a commercial society that generally scorns what you
do and also is proving itself to be somewhat unreliable. So, he takes up the idea here
of creative reading and he sets up the idea of process. So he’s all about certain
kinds of redefinition and part of the reason I say he takes up
where he left off in nature is that in nature he ends with
the idea of the orphic poet, he beings American
Scholar with another fable. Take a look at it. It’s at the bottom of 1139. He says I’m going to
tell one of those fables, which out of an unknown
antiquity can convey unlooked for wisdom. That the gods in the
beginning divided Men in men that he might be more
helpful to himself just as the hand was divided
into fingers, the better to answer it’s end. And then he goes on. The old fable covers a
doctrine ever new and sublime. That t here is one man present to all particular
men only partially. So partially, wants
you to see the kind of neoplatonic way of thinking. There’s an idea of man, each one of us is not only a particular
manifestation of that idea of man, but we only get
a little part of it. We’re definitely partial. I guess in the same way
that that table is partial. It has wheels instead of
legs, it just belies a lot of other kinds of tables. You must take all of the
society to find the whole man. So he says man is not a farmer
or a professor or an engineer, but he is all Man with a capital
M. Man is priest and scholar and states man and
producer and soldier. But now look at what he says,
in the divided or social state, these functions are
parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims
to ado his skint of a joint work while
each other performs his. Remember I said last
time that in the kind of individualistic idea of
society that Emerson is drawing on and then pushing forward, society is regarded
as a secondary thing. It’s a kind of necessary evil. So look at what he
calls it here. Society the social state
is the divided state. And he means that in
kind of a double way. We divide people up so that each
person has a particular function professor, scholar, statesman,
producer, soldier, whatever. But there’s also the implication
that we are divided beings. We are divided from
our true nature. And he goes on to
talk about that. The fable and prize
of the individual to posses himself must sometimes
return from his own labor to embrace all the
other laborers. But unfortunately, this
original unit, this fountain of power has been so
distributed to multitudes, it’s been so minutely
sub divided and peddled out that it is spilled into
drops and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members
have suffered amputation from the trunk and strut about
so many walking monsters, good finger, a neck, a stomach,
an elbow, but never a man. That’s kind of a
literary device. What it is? If you have to identify
that with a literary device, what would you call it? Yeah?>>Synecdoche.>>Yeah, it is a
synecdoche. Good one to know. Synecdoche, part for the whole. So you might say that
something has happened, it’s a kind of weird process of
metaphorization that’s going on. We’ve all become
synecdochised [assumed spelling] in the social state. We’ve just become
partial, which is bits and pieces walking around. And as a result, he goes
on, man is metamorphosed into things, into many things. So we started as [inaudible]
synecdoche happened and it gets even worse
because now we are people to who metonymy has happened. Right? The association
of one thing with another in which it is continuous
in our experience. So man is metamorphosed into
a thing, into many things. The planter who is set
out into the fields to gather food is seldom
cheered by any idea of the true dignity
of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart,
and nothing beyond and sinks into the farmer instead
of man on the farm. So I want you to see
how that works, right. Partly synecdoche, we are
like a pinky walking around or a nose or our hands. And remember I told you at some
point, I know I said that one. When we think about synecdoche,
we think all hands on deck. But that’s not ideologically
neutral. It suggests that we are in
fact valued when we’re a sailor and said all hands on deck, it’s because we’re only
valued for our manual labor. That’s part of what’s
going on here. But look at this, metonymy
means now we don’t think of ourselves even as that. We’re completely alienated. I’m a farmer, I just think of
myself in terms of my cart. I mean, how bad is that, right? The tradesman scarcely ever
gives an ideal worth to his work but is ridden with the
routine of his craft and his soul is subject
to dollars, the priest becomes a forum,
the attorney a statute book, the mechanic a machine, a
sailor a rope of a ship. This is what the divided or
social state has done to us. It’s synecdochised
us, it metonymies us and it’s therefore alienated
us from our true nature. In this distribution
of functions, the suckaller [assumed spelling]
is the delegated intellect. In the right state, which is
not this divided social state, but in his right state he
is man thinking, right? So Emerson wants to
stress the participle. Thinking is process. Yes?>>I hate to be that
student, but a lot of what he’s
saying here and a lot of language you use
like [inaudible]>>Anticipates Marks?>>I guess, I guess so.>>Yeah, I think that’s
right. I think he’s compatible
with Marks. If fact I’ll go on to say a
little bit more about that. You think that’s a bad thing?>>No, I do not know
like you said [inaudible]>>I mean you know, Marks
is
partially, Marks is interested in a critique of what’s
happened in this divided or social state, right? Later on Lukash will go on to
talk precisely about the thing that Emerson is talking,
and it was Lukash’s idea of reification [assumed
spelling] as well. We’ve all become thingified
[assumed spelling]. Lukash talks about
that as a result of the kind of labor that we do. I mean it’s even worse,
this, what Emerson is talking about here becomes
only intensified by the industrial revolution. One of the things is
the critique of Emerson, when he says things
like, we can’t, all of our operations taken as
a whole don’t affect nature. We can say, well he has no
idea, right, about the extent to which we’re able
to affect nature. And yet you can see
that there’s a funny way in which he’s a little
optimistic perhaps about what man can and
can’t do to damage nature. But there’s a sense in which
he anticipates some of the kind of late 19th century
disasters in the making. So I think you’re absolutely
right that he is compatible with a certain line of
Mark’s [inaudible] thinking. And so Marks again is
interested in trying to find a social system that
will enable us to get back to what he calls
our species being. All right. And that’s, again if you look
at some of that language, it’s, where’s it going
to be different? The fundamental difference
between Emerson and Marx; where’s that going to be?>>Individually.>>Yes, that’s right I
suppose. That’s right although Marx,
what I’m suggesting to you is that this is a weird kind
of individualism right because there’s a something
communal built into his idea of the individual, right? He’s talking about we are
individuals but we are linked to some larger fountain of
power, we need to right? Ok. But no, now where is the
real difference going to be? And even that difference
is mitigated somewhat. What is it that Mark calls
the opiate of the masses?>>[inaudible]>>[inaudible] right. So Emerson has a, Emerson
has a distrust you might say of the ways in which
religions have been organized. But fundamentally, he
remains a religious thinking. Wouldn’t you say? I mean his language is
shot through with the soul. And the thing that we talked
about last time we were talking about Emerson, the problem
with idealist philosophy is that it leaves the
God out of me. That is not something
that Marx would write. So there’s where you would
draw the line between them. And yet you might say that
Emerson is also a dissident. Marx wants to chuck
religion all together. He thinks it’s the
opiate of the masses; it’s a tool of social control
that the upper classes have used to help with this creation
of false consciousness so that the lower classes
think that the interests of the rich are their
own interests. And religion becomes one
tool so that that happens. Excuse me. [ Door slams ] But Emerson has more of a,
so Emerson doesn’t believe as Marx seems to that God
is a fiction created by the, you know, one class to
keep another in control. Emerson really believes
in God in some kind. So there we would draw
the line but yet he like Marx is dissatisfied
with the state of things in the culture he
loos around and a lot of that dissatisfaction comes
from the idea of the ways in which the soul, as he puts
it here, is subject to dollars. And this isn’t what
I was going to do, but why don’t we
do it now anyway. Let’s take a look at; well
no it’s all right, in fact, thank you for that, that’s not
a bad way of getting to this. One of the things I want
to suggest to you is that there is a certain way
in which Emerson is compatible with a form of Lockean
thinking that he would seem to be critiquing, right? Locke, as I said, and
the you had a little, we had a little handout
electronically that had excerpts from the second treaty
of the government. But the basic idea that I wanted
to get at is that Lock comes up with an idea of the self
that is based fundamentally on the idea of property. And that’s what the Mark, the Neil Marxist
political philosopher, Crosserd [assumed spelling]
calls possessive individualism. So when we talked about
this with Jefferson. Lock has this idea, life,
liberty, and property. Those are the things that we
want to be able to guarantee. And he thinks of
them as inextricable. Why would you include property? Well remember where he’s
coming from, all right. English Civil War, lots of
unrests, so Hobbes is kind of mortified by all this. [Inaudible] looks for
a philosophical basis to justify absolutism and
yet still keep some idea of the concept of
the government. So Hobbes famously says
that the war, that the state of nature is intolerable. It’s the war of all
in which the life of man is nasty,
brutish, and short. So in order to avoid lives that
are nasty, brutish, and short, we give up some of
our freedoms in order to preserve [inaudible], right. Typical social contract theory. And it becomes, so what we
do is we delegate it all, we give all of our power to the
King and he acts as our agent, so in some sense he’s
our delegated agent. Of course, once we’ve
delegated our agency, our agency is delegated
and it’s gone. So it becomes a kind of round
about defense of the absolutism in which basically, we have
delegated all of our ownership to the king and then the king
can delegate it back or not. Lock isn’t like that. Lock wants to find a way of
creating, siphoning off some of that property for
us as individuals. So he comes up with this idea that in fact property is
something that you are born with and the first property
you have is your body. Then again map this onto the
kinds of things, you know, see think about how
does that work with what Emerson is saying. Your body is not
really yourself. Well hasn’t Lock
alienated the body from you, as well by suggesting it’s
the property that you own. But what McPherson means by
possessive individualism, is that there’s a funny
logic of fundamentally who you are is what you own. Or you can be who you are
because of what you own. Taken too far, this leads to
shopping at I don’t know where and accessorizing and what
Beverly would later call conspicuous consumption. Think about it, your
property is your body. Because you own this body,
you get to own other stuff. Why? Because your
body can do stuff. You can own what you do. You own your labor. When you take nature stuff and
use your labor to effect nature, you’re creating more stuff and that stuff is
yours, its property. So the mixture of labor and
nature creates more property. And it’s all based on the
property that is self. McPherson doesn’t like
that idea, and in a way, McPherson the Marxist
thinker is entirely compatible with Emerson, the
non-Marxist thinker because they both think
that’s a degrading way of living and seeing yourself. That it is reducing you to
just a set of market relations. That’s what Emerson means when he says the soul
is subject to dollars. He doesn’t think that’s the
right way of thinking at all. So he actually goes after,
precisely this sort of thing. Let me see if I know where the,
take a look at, to get a sense of what this is let’s take a
look in Self Reliance, maybe. How about 1173 after the
place where we were before. Right, so again if you’re
interested in points of contact in Emerson and then later
Marx, you might thing about this passage here. It’s in the middle of 1173. But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of
man nor is the soul admonished to stay at home to put
itself in communication with the eternal ocean. But it goes abroad to beg a cup
of water of the earns of men. We must go alone. Isolation must proceed
through society. I like the silent church before
the service begins better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how
chased a person’s look, begirt each one with a
precinct or sanctuary. So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults
of our friend or wife, or father or child because they sit
around our hearth or are said to have the same blood. All men have my blood
and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt
their petulance or folly even to the extent of
being shamed of it. But your isolation must not
be mechanical, but spiritual, that is must be elevation. So I think Marx would probably
find that problematic, right? There’s a sense in
which one of the things that Emerson is doing
is he sort of says that various ones disavow all
of these social relations. So that would seem to be, so
the idea of what, you know the, that Marx is developing
is the idea of the math in which there will be power, if
mass can learn to work together. For Emerson only
becomes the mob. What I want you to see is, and
so people will point to this and say this is Emerson,
he’s anti-society, he’s all about egotism, but
[inaudible] is that this is kind of a process of deconstruction
and reconstruction. Now we are a mob. In order to reconstitute
ourselves, as you might say, the right state of society,
we need to disengage, think for ourselves, create
the sense of isolation; but it’s a weird kind of
isolation, or special kind. It’s going to be
spiritual, not material. So for him, the material
is a problem. So that’s where he
shares with Marx. The solution is going
to be different. The solution is a kind of weirdly individualistic
grass roots solution. And therefore you might
say it draws on the logic of Lessays Fier [assumed
spelling], but in a kind of idealized way. All right, so that’s, it’s getting a little bit more
abstract than I intended, but. So Marx wants to reject
the logic of Lessays Fier, that we find in Adam
Smith, right. The idea of the somehow
capitalism is a sum total of Market relations if everybody
maximizes his own self interest, the whole society’s self
interest is maximized and the system will
regulate itself through what he calls
the invisible hand. It’s a very nice story. Emerson is drawing on that,
but again, and he’s drawing on the logic of the marketplace to launch a critique
of the marketplace. So he’s trying to make a
market in something else and that market is
in individuality. So it’s almost like a
kind of grassroots thing. Everybody’s got a seed of
their own self-reliance and eventually we’re going to
renovate the domestic state. Another place to look,
let’s take a look on back, I’m skipping around a little
bit, but let’s take a look back in The American Scholar. This is on page 1147. This is the other moment of massification
[assumed spelling]. In the middle of the page,
he’s talking about men in history as the herd. This is the kind of passage that Nietcha [assumed spelling]
liked, because he agreed. Men are, begins in the first
full paragraph, 5 lines down. Men are become of no account. Men in history, men in the
world today are bugs, are spawn and are called the
mass and the herd. In a century, in a
millennium, that is to say one or two approximations of the
right state of every man. All the rest behold in the hero or the poet their own
green crude being. Ripened, yes, and are
content to be less. So that may attain
to its full stature. Any Yankees fans? Do you see A Rod and think
oh its ok that he makes all that money because, never mind. Mets fan, sorry. [ Laughing ] I’m not going to
say that rooting for the Yankees is a
little bit like rooting for Microsoft, I mean. [ Laughing ] I wouldn’t think that, would I? All right, where were we, yes. All the rest, can we cut
that out of the tape? [ Laughing ] Actually, keep that in the
tape, fine put it up on YouTube. All the rest behold. What a testimony full of
grandeur, full of pity is born to the demands of his own
nature by the poor clansman, the poor partisan who rejoices in the batting average
of his chiefs. [ Laughing ] The poor and the
low find some emends to their immense moral
capacity for their acquiescence in a political and
social inferiority. So that kind of hero worship,
again you can think of Emerson and his resiliencies with
Carlisle [assumed spelling], Carlisle’s hero and
hero worship. That’s not good. What we need to find is
the heroic in all of us. What’s keeping us
from doing that? It’s this divided
or social state, which is so linked to economy. So the next paragraph. Men such as they are very
naturally seek money or power. Power because it
is good as money. The spoils, so called,
of office. And why not? For they aspire to the
highest, and you might think of Edgar Huntly here, and this in their sleepwalking
they dream is the highest. All right, now like that
invocation of sleepwalking, but again, why I want you to see
the fundamental difference is for Browne, sleepwalking
is a kind of allegory of the human consciousness,
of the limitations of it. Edgar has no idea that he’s
asleep, he walks around, he mucks up everything,
and he learns nothing by the end of the novel. Emerson thinks that sleepwalking
is like one of these errata that Franklin has identified. You can fix it; all you need to
do is have more self reliance, to think clearly, separate
yourself out from the mass or the herd, create this
kind of spiritual separation, connect up to the over soul and
the idea of where you came from, and you will realize
what the true goods are. Wake them he says,
and that’s his job. They shall quit the false
good and leap to the true and leave government
to clerks and desks. This revolution is to be wrought
by the gradual domestication of the idea of culture. The main enterprise for
the world, for splendor for extent is the up
building of a man. Here are the materials
strewn on the ground. The private life
of one man shall be of more illustrious monichy,
more formidable to its enemy, more sweet and serene in
its influence to its friends than any kingdom in history. Right. This is what
Emerson at one point in his journal has called the
infinitude of a private man. Right. So what I want you to see is there’s a funny
thing going on here. In a certain way, it’s
a rejection of the idea of possessive individualism. In some sense, it’s a kind of
idealization, or sitting it on a higher plane, or trying to understand the
idea behind the idea of possessive individualism. And yet other people
would say because it draws on the same kind of logic, it’s
strangely continuous with it. It’s strangely; it’s almost
parasitic on that thing that it would disavow. One of the things that
Emerson says at one point is that society is a kind
of Joint Stock Company. In, that is in Conspiracy Against the Manhood
of its [inaudible]. I believe that’s
in Self Reliance. Let me see if I can
find it for you quickly. [ Flipping through pages ] And what I want, when he says that about the joint
stock company, he is in some things making
reference back to the model that we saw earlier on, which I
think I brought for you today. Yeah, remember this
moment in Winthrop? Right. Thus stands the God,
the cause between God and us, we are entered into
covenant, right? Winthrop is worried that
his brethren are going to devote too much
energy to upward mobility and individualistic things. And I suggested, when
we talked about it here, that Winthrop is making use
of a kind of logic of covenant and a logic of contract in order to create this larger
sense of community, right. So you might say that
Winthrop is trying to harness the language of
materialism in its double sense. Right? Materialism
as in acquisitiveness and also materialism
as in this kind of philosophy that’s
rooted in the world. Harness it but ultimately push
a kind of idealistic metaphor. And again, I think the, one
way to think about that fable at the beginning of The American
Scholar, the doctor never knew in sublime that there was
one man, is to think of this as Emerson’s take on
this particular moment. One of the things
that Emerson is trying to do is also present a way
of thinking about society that can kind of
harness the energies of materialist modes
of thinking. But ultimately set them
in the service of kind of idealist modes of thinking. So that’s what, that might
be an Emersonian rejoinder to the critique that he is
too compatible with these kind of locked in modes of thinking. Emerson would say he’s
appropriating these locked in modes of thinking in the
service of something else. One of the things I want to
suggest to you about Emerson is that fundamentally, he has
a kind, there is a kind of cosmopolitan opportunity
that’s being presented in his writing. And I’ve talked; I think
I’ve talked a little bit about cosmopolitanism before. This is a quote that comes from
the intellectual historian, David Hollinger, and he suggests
that there’s a difference between cosmopolitanism
and universalism. And I’m thinking that we might
think of Emerson fundamentally as a kind of universalistic
thinker. If you look at his technique,
he is trying to think about ways in which we are all alike. So he’s trying to offer
prescriptions about society that are going to be
rooted in the individual. And fundamentally, what he
wants to do is shift the grounds of inquiry away from the social,
to the individual in order to be able to make
generalizations about society. So for common denominator
can be the soul, and if we all have that, that underwrites his
understanding of society. You can make generalizations
about each individual as human being and they become
true of all human beings and that’s what makes him
a kind of Universalist. And so for him, the ways
in which we are different, are actually a problem,
Hence the me and the not me. If we have that very rarified
understanding of what the me is, we get rid of the
problem of difference. Difference becomes
contingent, incidental; we don’t have to worry about it. What Hollinger says, is
that for cosmopolitans, diversity is not
something contingent that you can pair away. So cosmopolitism starts out as a
critique of nationalism but ends up being something more. It becomes an understanding of the way universalism is
kind of, is problematic. If you think about
it, one of the reasons that Emerson might
seem dated to us today, is that he tells us a lot about
the ways that we’re the same but he gets short drift
to the ideas and ways in which we’re different
and were at a moment where we’re trying
to think more, in terms of cultural
criticism, as you might say about the interplay of
sameness and difference. But what I want to
suggest to you is that there’s a funny opening in Emerson’s writing
for cosmopolitism. I mean think about the way
in which he brings a variety of different sources
into his writing. His writing is extremely
eclectic. I would go so far as to suggest
to you that Emerson is a kind of rhetorical cosmopolitan. And yet such is the way in
which American audio logical structures are created
still in the 19th century, that Emerson isn’t able to make
that final leap to something that we might think
of as a true kind of cosmopolitan appreciation
for difference. When push comes to shove,
he rejects the opening of a cosmopolitan
appreciation for difference and ultimately remains a kind
of universalistic thinker. And that’s one of the paradox’s
I was referring to earlier on. He’s very eclectic,
he’s very intertextual, he draws from the
east, west all kinds of philosophical conditions. But in a certain way, it all
comes out Emerson in the end. It’s like that joke
about the melting pot. Remember I told that in here. I told probably [inaudible]. You know everybody comes from
where ever they come and they go in the melting pot and they
all come out Presbyterian. So Emerson, it all comes
out Emerson in the end. Here’s a, here’s an
example of him thinking about these things, right. In this continent, this is
a journal entry from 45, so it’s after the stuff
that we’ve been reading. Asylum of all nations, the
energy of Irish, German, Swedes, Poles and the [inaudible]
and all the European tribes that the Africans and the
Polynesians will construct a new race, a new religion, a new
state, a new literature, which will be as vigorous
as the new Europe which came out of this melting pot
of the dark ages or that which earlier emerged from the
polangic [assumed spelling] and Europe trust in
barbarism [assumed spelling]. One of things I want to suggest
to you is that Emerson is on a cusp of a kind of
cosmopolitan awareness. But it remains in our course for
that to be realized more fully by Whitman, that’
quite, that people, that’s it’s not controversial to call Whitman a
cosmopolitan thinker. And Melville and it is a
little more controversial to call Melville a
cosmopolitan thinker. And we’ll go on to explore that
idea a little bit later on. Now the test of any
true philosophy, Emerson himself says, that it
will explain all phenomenons. So that it should work. And there’s a certain way
in which in the readings that you have, Emerson provides
that kind of test for himself. Right. And that’s in the essay
that’s called Experienced, which you might say is a kind of
recasting of some of the stuff from the earlier essays,
but in a very dark vein. Let’s take a look
at the beginning of that essay very quickly
at the, on page 1195. Now I talked about the
problem of belatedness, right? Emerson has confidence that
we can conquer this problem, we can conquer, we conquered
the riddle of the sphinx. There’s nothing that
we can’t ask that we can’t eventually answer. Pooh on belatedness. But look at this, 1195. 1195 yes. Where do
we find ourselves? In a series of which we
do not know the extremes and believe that it has none. We wake and find
ourselves on a stair. There are stairs below us,
which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many one which go
upward and out of sight. But the genius which,
according to the old belief, stands by the door
by which we enter and gives us the leafy
[assumed spelling] to drink. Right? He’s talking about waking up from dreams leafy’s
the forgetfulness of the river, of
the [inaudible]. That we may tell no tales. Mixed a cup too strongly and we
cannot shake off the lethargy, now at noon, day sleep lingers
all our lifetime about our eyes. As night, hovers
all day in the bows of the fir tree all
things swim and glimmer. Our life is not so much
threatened as our perception. Ghost like, we glide
through nature and should not know
our place again. Right. I’ve just finished
saying that you know, conjuror Charles Brockden
Browne, he doesn’t think of sleepwalking as
a kind of metaphor for the human condition,
but as a problem to solve and then this, in which
sleepiness, drowsiness, disorientation seem to be what
he’s saying is a condition of human life. How do we get from
there to here? Ghost like we glide
through nature. It almost seems like the
beginning of a Poe story. Did our births fall in some
fit of imagince and frugality in nature that she’s so sparing
of her fire and so liberal of her earth that
it appears to us that we lack the
affirmative principal. And though we have
health and reason, yet have no [inaudible] fluidity
of spirit for new creation? We have enough to live and bring
the year about, but not an ounce to impart or to invest. Ah that our genius were a
little more of a genius. We are like millers on the
lower level of the stream and the factories above them
have exhausted the water. We too fancy that the upper
people must a raise their damns. And again, I want
you to look at that. I mean if you were going to,
if I was going to ask you to do a close reading of that, one of the things you should
probably notice is the way it shot through with a kind
of economic language. Precisely the things
that Emerson would seem to be disavowing, that I’ve
just been arguing he’s been disavowing, seems to now
he’s using as almost a kind of constitutive metaphor. So what’s going on here? This essay is written
in the aftermath of the death of his child. And you know, you’re
too young all of you, but one day you’ll come
back to this essay maybe, and you’ll have children
and you’ll think about what it might actually
mean to have your beliefs tested in this way by something
like the death of a child. So there’s this kind
of shocking moment. It’s weird, I guess when you’re
older it really is shocking what he says on the middle
of page 1197. It’s about 10 lines
from the break. He says grief too will
make us idealists. In the death of my son, now
more than two years ago, I seem to have lost
a beautiful estate. No more. I cannot
get it nearer to me. If tomorrow I should be
informed of the bankruptcy of my principal debtors, though loss of my property would
be a great inconvenience to me, perhaps for many years, but it
would leave me as it found me. Something, which I’ve
fancied, was a part of me, which could not be torn away
without tearing me, nor enlarged without enriching me, falls
off from me and leaves no scar. It was catechus. I grieve that grief
can teach me nothing. Though carry me one-step
into real nature. The Indian who was
laid under a curse with the wind shall not blow
on him, nor water flow to him, nor fire burn him
is a type of us all. The dearest events
are summer rain. And we the paracoats [assumed
spelling] that shed every drop, nothing has left
us now but death. We look to that with grim
satisfaction saying there is at least reality that
will not dodge us. I take this evanescence and
lubricity of all objects which lets them slip
through our fingers then when we clutch the hardest to be the most unhandsome
part of our condition. [ Book closes shut ] What does that mean? In the death of my son, I seem
to have lost a beautiful estate. What could that possibly mean? What’s the logic of that? Anyone? Grief to will
make us idealists. Yeah?>>[inaudible] more
valuable then [inaudible]>>Ok, and how does
it affect him?>>[inaudible]>>He transcended the
material things that he had. Isn’t the argument
that it’s kind of like the material
things that he had. If he loses his estate, he’s
going to be inconvenienced, but ultimately what has he lost? You know the way people
say, it’s just things. You wrecked your car, thank
God, you weren’t hurt. It’s just a thing after all. Sorry that you lost your
I-pod, but it’s just a thing. Sorry that you lost your son,
but frankly, he wasn’t you. Yeah?>>[inaudible] kind of a
parody
I guess that he was saying that if God would hear him>>That’s right. He finds himself
surprised that he’s intact. It hasn’t changed
him fundamentally. Why is that? Because his child, as dearly, I
mean, think about the residences with other things
that we’ve looked at. Remember the Puritans were
willing to cast their children into the fire so long if
they’re sinful and not saved. So long as the idea of God is
not going to be sullied by them. I mean this is the kind of
weird recasting of that too. We cast off, you know we
lose property, we get that but that doesn’t affect us. Why? Because property was
clearly part of the not me. Well guess what, your son
is part of the not you too. I mean if your body is part of the not you then
certainly your son isn’t. So these are still going
to be external relations. This is you might say the test, the limit case of
his own belief. If my theory is true, it’s
going to apply even here. That my worldly, my
love for my son is part of an external relation to me. That’s part of what motivate,
you might say this is a test of the philosophy and
Emerson can’t believe it but the philosophy
passes the test. Later on, he goes on to
talk about in this essay, he goes on to talk
about a recasting of the story of the fall. And we’ll end with this. This is page 1207. It is very unhappy, but
too late to be helped. The discovery that we
have made that we exist. That discovery is
called the fall of man. Ever afterwards, we
suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not
see directly, but mediately. Though we have no means of
correcting these colored and distorting lenses
of which we are or of computing the
amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject lenses
have a creative power, perhaps there are no objects. Once we lived in what we
saw, now the rapaciousness of this new power,
which threatens to absorb all things,
engages us. Nature, art, persons,
letters, religions, objects, successively tumble in and
God is but one of its ideas. Nature and literature
are subjective phenomena, every evil; every good thing
is a shadow, which we cast. Right. So this is a
retelling of the fall of man, post enlightenment in terms
of human consciousness. We understand that we
don’t see directly. This is kind of, if you want to
talk about anticipations right, if there are moments when he
seems to be anticipating Marx in terms of his critique
of [inaudible], this seems to be interpreting, anticipating Marxist
critique of ideology. Even more advanced, or
neo-Marxist ideas about ideology in which say there is
no outside to ideology. Or even Heisenberg’s
uncertainty principal. The idea that we can’t,
that our very presence in an experiment changes the
nature of the experiment. So I want you to ask yourself,
and we’ll start here next time. What is the way out
of this problem? What is the way out
of the problem of this rapaciousness here. We’ll go on to talk about
Thoreau next time also. So as you think about what you
read and finish up the Thoreau, I want you to think
about the ways in which Thoreau’s writing
maps onto Emerson’s. Particularly that Resistance to
Civil Government is his version of the American Scholar. And this text, Walden, is his
version of Emerson’s Nature. All right, we’ll
take it from there.

11 thoughts on “American Transcendentalism (II)

  1. Hello
    i am sorry to say that the prof, seems to have very shallow understanding of transcendentalism. he talks about transcendentalism without even caring to define it. is it because he is too young to internalize such a concept and get around it? He keeps smiling.. i dont know why? american universities should post more profounder illustrations of transcenddentalism.

    Yu beetter go back to India…

  2. Make your own argument,and write it first.Best thing ever to have been said to students.It's your potential versus the examinators already mature knowledge and studied opinions.

  3. He quotes Derrida on Emerson, supposedly Derrida said Emerson is difficult to deconstruct, since he is "already deconstructed". I'm looking for the citation on this.

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