RATING: 7/10…ADDED AUGUST 30, 2014
The analysis of life, culture, philosophy, and more by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
American civilization might differ from that of European countries in that it blended people of different stocks and was distinguished by a high degree of mobility, both social and geographical. But classes, or at least distinct social groupings, would stabilize, and the necessarily different American institutions would nevertheless exist to protect the very same elements of human continuity that were protected by the institutions of European civilization.
American history was the history of the westward movement of European peoples; American culture was the result of their actions upon nature. From the American Revolution to the 1830s these views dominated.
The turnaround from the earlier view to the discovery of a culture rooted in nature, rather than based on the domestication of nature to European manners, was the result of the life and work of one man, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Emerson’s theme is flow rather than form, power rather than circumstance. The idealist, he says, sees mind as the only reality and nature, literature, and history as subjective phenomena. We are all natural-born idealists and our disagreements with that philosophy are a measure of our decline into the materialism of appearances.
“All history,” Emerson says in “History,” “becomes subjective; in other words there is properly no history, only biography.”
Whenever that flow fails to reach us and we feel that we are confronted with words rather than the power of men speaking, we must reject the words regardless of the eminence of their source.
“But why should you keep your head over your shoulder?” Emerson asks in “Self-Reliance.” “Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then?” Just as the individual must become rather than be, so history is a lived present rather than a shaping past. It is not a chronology but an instantly available cosmos.
Where others gazed upon a church congregation or a political gathering and saw a mass unified by a purpose or a prejudice, Emerson saw individuals, each with his own integrity, an integrity that was being destroyed by the preacher or party boss who encouraged them to think of themselves as a collectivity.
Emerson insisted on our reading books only to experience those moments in which we hear a voice that we recognize as proceeding from the same center as our own voices.
The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.
A man conversing in earnest, if he watch his intellectual processes, will find that a material image more or less luminous arises in his mind, contemporaneous with every thought, which furnishes the vestment of the thought. Hence, good writing and brilliant discourse are perpetual allegories.
Words are finite organs of the infinite mind. They cannot cover the dimensions of what is in truth. They break, chop, and impoverish it. An action is the perfection and publication of thought. A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related to all nature. “The wise man, in doing one thing, does all; or, in the one thing he does rightly, he sees the likeness of all which is done rightly.”