The Enlightenment and Age of Reason • John Locke conceived of the human mind as being at birth a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which experience wrote freely and boldly, creating the individual character according to the individual experience of the world. Supposed innate qualities, such as goodness or original sin, had no reality. • The notion of the individual as neither good nor bad but interested principally in survival and the maximization of pleasure led to radical political theories. • Where the state had once been viewed as an earthly approximation of an eternal order, with the city of man modeled on the city of God, now it came to be seen as a mutually beneficial human arrangement aimed at protecting the natural rights and self-interest of each individual.
Influences on a new Government • The Enlightenment became critical, reforming, and eventually revolutionary. • In America it contributed to an evolving critique of the arbitrary, authoritarian state and to sketching the outline of a higher form of social organization, based on natural rights and functioning as a political democracy. • Such powerful ideas found expression as reform in England and as revolution in France and America.
The end of Reason and birth of Romance • The Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution severely tested the belief that man could govern himself. • The celebration of abstract reason provoked contrary spirits to begin exploring the world of sensation and emotion in the cultural movement known as Romanticism.
Romanticism • a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature • a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect • a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality • a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure • a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures • an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth • a consuming interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era • a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic.
A notable by-product of the Romantic interest in the emotional were works dealing with the supernatural, the weird, and the horrible, as in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Frankenstein
(1783-1859) One of the first American writers to gain an international reputation. He wrote essays, short stories, poetry, and travelogues, often under pen-names. Some critics consider him the "father of the modern short story." His best-known works are the short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle”. Washington Irving (1783-1859)
American Gothic • Called gothic because its imaginative impulse was drawn from the rough and primitive grandeur of medieval buildings and ruins • Dark and tempestuous and full of ghosts, madness, outrage, superstition, and revenge. • The settings were often castles or monasteries equipped with subterranean passages, dark battlements, hidden panels, and trapdoors.
Transcendentalism • Movement of writers and philosophers in 19th-century New England • belief in the essential unity of all creation • the innate goodness of humankind • the supremacy of insight over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths.
The Founders Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau • Born in 1803 in Boston, Massachusetts • After studying at Harvard and teaching for a brief time, he entered the ministry, but soon became an unwilling preacher. • After the death of his nineteen-year-old wife of tuberculosis, he resigned his pastorate in 1831. • His philosophy is characterized by reliance on intuition as the only way to comprehend reality. • He was a steady optimist. His refusal to grant the existence of evil caused others to doubt his judgment. • Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. • He was introduced to the countryside at a young age, and this first contact with the natural world sparked a lifelong fascination. • Although his family lived in relative poverty, Thoreau was able to attend Harvard. • A tireless champion of the human spirit against the materialism and conformity that he saw as dominant in American culture. • His ideas about civil disobedience, as set forth in his 1849 essay, have influenced, among others, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Walt Whitman • American journalist, essayist, and poet whose style of writing revolutionized American literature and asserted the beauty of the human body, physical health, and sexuality. • The poems in Leaves of Grass addressed the citizens of the United States, urging them to be large and generous in spirit, a new race of races nurtured in political liberty, possessed of united souls and bodies. • During the Civil War he spent much time cheering and caring for both Union and Confederate soldiers trying to alleviate some of the mental depression and bodily suffering he saw in the wards.
Reflection • What is one thing you already knew? • What are three things you learned? • What questions do you have?