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A Circular ENTHUSIASM

A Circular ENTHUSIASM

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A Circular ENTHUSIASM

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  1. Monday, September 20, 2010 19th Century American Transcendentalism A Circular ENTHUSIASM

  2. Mr. Emerson’s House Keeping Mr. Emerson’s House http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/garden/16emerson.html “I feel like he was the first person, or one of the first people, to start thinking outside the box with his whole Transcendentalism and, like, God and nature and all that,” Ms. Lieberg said. “So we were like, O.K., he’s cool, nonconformist. And we like that.” The Emerson’s called their house in Concord, MA “Bush” – the front parlor was often filled with friends and family. (Image courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library.)

  3. Conversation starters Alex’s questions: • Why is “Historical Christianity” so useless to Emerson? • Why would the Clergy (according to Norton) oppose this new thinking? • Is the difference between New and Old Christianity a matter of laziness?

  4. From “Uriel” (1846) “Line in nature is not found; Unit and universe are round; In vain produced, all rays return; Evil will bless, and ice will burn.” As Uriel spoke with piercing eye, A shudder ran around the sky; The stern old war-gods shook their heads; The seraphs frowned from myrtle-beds; Seemly to the holy festival The rash word boded ill to all; The balance-beam of Fate was bent; The bounds of good and ill were rent; Strong Hades could not keep his own, But all slid to confusion.

  5. The first “defect”: “Historical Christianity” • “Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus. The soul knows no persons. It invites every man to extend the full circle of the universe, and will have no preferences but those of spontaneous love” (“Divinity School Address” 135 ).

  6. The second “defect”: overlooking the use of our “Moral Nature” • “the Moral Nature, that Law of laws, whose revelations introduce greatness,--yea, God himself, into the open soul, is not explored as the foundation of the established teaching in society. Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead” (“Divinity School Address” 137).

  7. The “full circle” of Emerson’s thinking • “I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those shining laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding, complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy” (“Divinity School Address” 145).

  8. Emerson’s method, in his own words From his journal: “If you desire to arrest attention, do not give me facts in the order of cause & effect, but drop one or two links in the chain, & give me with a cause, an effect two or three times removed”

  9. From Sermon to Essay • While conservatives may not have recognized the discourses of Emerson and Parker as sermons, they themselves regarded them as such (Literary Transcendentalism 112). • A chief Unitarian weapon against Orthodoxy was a strategy of redefinition by appealing to essence (see Channing, “we call God a Mind.”) The Transcendentalists turn this same weapon against the Unitarians.

  10. Transcendental structures For small group discussion: What are the differences between Parker’s rhetoric and Emerson’s? Look at Parker’s prose style in A Discourse on the Transient and the Permanent (1841) next to either “Circles,” (1841) “The Oversoul,” (1841) or the Divinity School address (1838).

  11. The Emersons (left) Photograph of Ralph Waldo and Lidian Emerson with children and grandchildren, on the steps of Bush, 1879 (three years before Emerson’s death), from Emerson family photograph album.  Album from the estate of Amelia Forbes Emerson, 1982.(right) Lidian Emerson with their second son, Edward; he became a writer and editor like his father.Courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library

  12. More conversation starters… Chantel’s questions • Looking at Lydian Emerson’s “Transcendental Bible” and its satirical perception of Transcendentalists and their outlook on ignorant conservative religions, is it appropriate to say that her work is a production of her complete tension with her husband’s theories, or can it be that her work seeks to view the Transcendentalist as partially correct, except for the fact that it exaggerates the doings of conservative religions? • Looking at the life of Margaret Fuller and her close and personal experiences with God, it seems that she may have sought this more than other Transcendentalists to make up for the neglect and injustice that she received from her earthly father. In search of a relationship that made her feel significant she gave accounts of experiences with God himself. Looking at both Fuller’s experience and Lydian Emerson’s experience, is it probable that Transcendentalists reacted to their personal experiences (whether neglectful fathers or contradicting husbands) and produced a religion based on their responses to these experiences? Is this just a happening that occurred with the female Transcendentalists? • The debate between George Ripley and Andrew Norton, in regards to whether the common Christian needed guidance from “theological experts” concerning the “superior powers”, might leave an uneducated follower of Transcendentalism confused as to what he should think. Would it be more likely that Transcendentalism is a religion suitable for the scholars that can debate and bring new theories to the table?

  13. For further consideration • What ways of thinking that still affect our social and personal lives in America derive directly from the ideas of Emerson? • Who might criticize Emerson’s ideas today and why?