Transcendentalism Durand, Asher Brown. Kindred Spirit. 1849. New York Public Library. 9 Jun. 2005 <http://people.pwf.cam.ac.uk/bfm22/hudson.jpg>.
“Transcendentalism,” 329-30 A. Ralph Waldo Emerson is the most influential American transcendentalist. • He influenced its American definition. • Much of that definition, however, arose from European sources. B. German Immanuel Kant and English writers Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Carlyle influenced American transcendentalists. C. Artists, like Asher Brown Durand, also became an important part of the movement.
Basic tenets A. Transcendentalism is an idealistic reaction against traditions and conventionalism in every walk of life. B. It is a rejection of the past which teaches conformity. C. Transcendentalism is romanticism converted to spirituality.
Guide to universal truth D. Emerson asserts the supremacy of mind over matter and argues for intuition (becoming a transparent eyeball) as a guide to universal truth. 1. It is in nature that Emerson says humans lose their egotistical self and become one with God. 2. “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.” (Nature 346) 3. It is what happens at the moment of the transcendental experience. 4. He believed that God is all-loving and all-pervading, that his presence in individuals made them divine and assured their salvation. 5. He believed that there was an essential unity in apparent variety, that there was a correspondence between the world and the spirit, that nature was an image in which humans could perceive the divine.
Nature A. Loving nature is the key to the transcendental experience. 1. To love nature, people must retain the spirit of infancy even into adulthood. 2. In nature, adults must react as children and spontaneously enjoy it. a. For example, to see winter as a playground is a child’s reaction to it. b. To see winter as something to get through or to escape is to react as an adult who has defined winter as bad. c. However, to understand that it is necessary to wear coats, hats, gloves, and boots is to be pragmatic and live with winter, not against it.
Nature as catalyst to God A. Nature becomes the catalyst through which humans achieve union with God. 1. To achieve this union, people need to remove their egos, learning, and prejudices so that nothing remains of the self but what is experienced at the moment. 2. See p. 335, bottom third of page.
Transcendental experience A. A transcendental experience—the moment at which the individual and God become one—can occur only when the individual has experienced the moment without analysis or dependence on the past. 1. Thus, belief in God cannot be learned; it can only be experienced. 2. The moment is like an epiphany—that moment when all things become clear. 3. When you look at a sunset and see God without having to think that you can see God, then you have the transcendental experience.
Transcendentalism and science A. Most transcendentalists hated science and technology because they felt that science reduced nature to a thing. B. Technology puts things between humans and nature and, thus, also impedes the transcendental moment.
Merger of God, nature, humans, and art God Nature Individual Art (A means only) Language is a person’s (Reflection of nature connection to God. Nature in miniature) God’s language Only humans have it. Art results from the transcendentalist experience— God’s connecting with the person. Art reflects the experience, is the language of experience. HumansNatureGod Humans see through nature to God, but to do this, they must rid themselves of all pre-conceived notions. When they express this moment in language, they produce art.
Belief in human goodness A. If people believe in the inherent freedom of the individual and the fundamental goodness of humans, they will see the wisdom of transcendentalism. 1. If, on the other hand, people regard humans as inherently weak, wicked, and needful of the constant discipline of authority, they will find Emerson little more than a foolish, romantic dreamer. 2. To see and understand what transcendentalism is, individuals must be optimists.
Modern application • What modern applications are there for transcendentalism? • Is the transcendentalist experience still possible? • Because transcendentalism is an ideal, can it have a practical use? • Who might be modern transcendentalists?
Durand picture • Explain how the opening picture is a visual explanation of transcendentalism. • How is transcendentalism an outgrowth of Romanticism or vice versa?