Big Books of American Literature: Alchemies of Mind
Day 25: Tuesday, April 18: Transcending (?) Emotion
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance from Essays: First Series (1841)

"Nothing is at last sacred
but the integrity of your own mind."

"Nothing's sacred":
Emerson Re-done, in Poetry and Drama

Key to transcendentalism:
reliance on direct experience--"divinity"--of each individual,
and the independence of mind to discover it
("no disciples"; "trust thyself");
""respect the intutions...give them...
all authority over our experience."

From "The Transcendentalist":
As thinkers, mankind have ever divided into two sects, Materialists and Idealists; the first class founding on experience, the second on consciousness; the first class beginning to think from the data of the senses, the second class perceive that the senses are not final, and say, the senses give us representations of things, but what are the things themselves, they cannot tell. The materialist insists on facts, on history, on the force of circumstances, and the animal wants of man; the idealist on the power of Thought and of Will, on inspiration, on miracle, on individual culture.

He does not deny the sensuous fact: by no means; but he will not see that alone. He does not deny the presence of this table, this chair, and the walls of this room, but he looks at these things as the reverse side of the tapestry, as the other end, each being a sequel or completion of a spiritual fact which nearly concerns him. This manner of looking at things, transfers every object in nature from an independent and anomalous position without there, into the consciousness...."we never go out of ourselves; it is always our own thought that we perceive."

The idealist takes his departure from his consciousness, and reckons the world an appearance. The materialist respects sensible masses, Society, Government....The idealist has another measure, which is metaphysical, namely, the rank which things themselves take in his consciousness....Mind is the only reality....His thought,--that is the Universe. His experience inclines him to behold the procession of facts you call the world, as flowing perpetually outward from an invisible, unsounded centre in himself...necessitating him to regard all things as having a subjective... existence, relative to that aforesaid Unknown Centre of him.

From this transfer of the world into the consciousness, this beholding of all things in the mind, follow easily his whole ethics. It is simpler to be self-dependent. The height, the deity of man is, to be self-sustained, to need no gift, no foreign force. Society is good when it does not violate me; but best when it is likest to solitude. Everything real is self-existent....All that you call the world is the shadow of that substance which you are, the perpetual creation of the powers of thought....let the soul be erect, and all things will go well. You think me the child of my circumstances: I make my circumstance....I--this thought which is called I,--is the mould into which the world is poured like melted wax....You call it the power of circumstance, but it is the power of me.

So far, you seem to be inspired by "Self-Reliance" (both text and concept): "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

Steph: Why didn't anyone give me Emerison to read when I was 13/14/15? "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of its members"/ "I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you.." I swear I wrote all of this in terrible angsty poetry in 8th grade. I had to laugh a little at these statements, maybe because they seem so cliche to me now ("Insist on yourself. Never Imitate." Come on, that's gotta be a bumper sticker)

Angeldeep : I actually really liked Emerson's essay. I found myself lost in places, i admit that, but I was also actively engaged in other, furiously writing down quotes, and other random ideas that come into my head as I read his argument.

Alison: I find this reading amusing because the idea it begins with, every man is capable of individual genius due to G-d's gift of humanity, is an idea I find extremely noble and I feel like I've thought it before. I suppose Emerson would laugh at me thinking "That's genius! I've thought that before!"

Jackie: As with Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter, I read some Emerson in high school (although I don't think it was this essay). But the fact that I can't remember WHAT I read makes my point: I'm really connecting to this material this time around.

Laci: I just had the wonderful experience of finishing an essay and realizing that throughout I'd been highlighting lines that I recognized but had never known the source of....The last paragraph was my favorite-- "With consistency a great soul has nothing to do," and "To be great is to be misunderstood." All through, though, I found myself, like Allison, thinking "I've had this thought before!" and congratulating myself on my own genius and then laughing at myself for that thought.

Today we're going to "play" with Emerson.
We're going to look @ the usefulness,
and then @ the limits,
of his way of conceptualizing the world.
We'll do the first in poetic form.
Rorty (presenting Spinoza): you are free when you accept your place as a body in the universe:
"there is no space for your wanting to be otherwise"

Foucault: "Thought is freedom in relation to what one does"

Rorty + Foucault: Accept what is. Within those constraints,
you have choices. You can play.
Cf. Emerson, who, in "Self-Reliance," rejects all (social) constraints: I think this position gets him into trouble--
and produces lots of BAD
(because unedited/unconstrained!) prose.
I want to give him a hand up.

Fibonacci Poems
Catherine (Sky? Angeldeep? Jackie?):
explain "the Fibonacci sequence" to us all?
Anne's initial experiments
Your assignment: identify what you find more remarkable/useful/inspirational
in this text, and turn it into a poem (in the form of a "fib").

son something
to dance with: find a
sentence. Turn it into a poem.



Stage Two of "playing with Emerson":
playing with the limits of taking "Mind as the only reality."

From The Search for Transcendence

On stage, Scene I:
Ralph Waldo Emerson in conversation with Pearl and Huck

Pearl (and Hester),
from The Scarlet Letter

Huck (and Jim), from
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
"Trust thyself....The nonchalance of the healthy attitude of human nature....independent, irresponsible....But the man is, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness...Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion."

Scene II, with Jim and Ahab

"truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it,--else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to show cause why I seek or why I exclude company."
Jim, from Huckleberry Finn

Ahab, from Moby Dick

Scene III, with Little Eva and Pip

"Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous. Prayer that craves a particular commodity,--any thing less than all good,--is vicious....prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg. He will then see prayer in all action.... Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance: it is infirmity of will."
Little Eva (with Topsy),
from Uncle Tom's Cabin

Pip, from Moby-Dick

Scene IV, with the governess and Dimmesdale

Governess (with Miles),
from Turn of the Screw

Dimmesdale, from
The Scarlet Letter
"Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world....Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle....The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you is, that it scatters your force....Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself."

Scene V, with Uncle Tom and Hester

"He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself....He carries ruins to ruins....Travelling is a fool's paradise....the rage of travelling is a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action. The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the travelling of the mind?...Insist on yourself; never imitate."
Uncle Tom, from
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Hester (with Dimmesdale!),
from The Scarlet Letter

Scene VI, with Miles and Ishmael

Miles, from Turn of the Screw

Ishamel, from Moby Dick
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds....Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day....Is it so be misunderstood?...Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded?...The inquiry leads us to that source...which we call Spontaneity or Instinct. We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions.

For Thursday, read "The Great Lawsuit,"
by Margaret Fuller (in the packet);
describe your responses on-line.

Revised Schedule for final performances:
Tuesday, Apr. 25:
Group 1: Angeldeep Kaur, Laci Hutto, Adina Halpern, Emily Feenstra, Catherine Wimberley
Group 2: Steph Herold, Catherine Durante, Alison Reingold, Marina Gallo
The A Team: Margaret Miller, Lauren Sweeney, Laura Sockol, Jorge Rodriguez, Sky Stegall
Thursday, Apr. 27:
Group 3: Alice Bryson, Jill Davis, Amy Stern, Anna Mazzariello
Group 4: Jackie O'Mara, Laine Edwards, Jessica Rosenberg, Chris Haagen
Group 5: Marie Sager, Erin Bagus, Laura Otten, Allie Eiselen

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