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Ralph Waldo Emerson Transcendentalism

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Ralph Waldo Emerson Transcendentalism Hao Guilian, Ph.D. Yunnan Normal University Fall, 2009 Historical Background-1 During the colonial and revolutionary periods ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ralph Waldo Emerson Transcendentalism


1
Ralph Waldo EmersonTranscendentalism
  • Hao Guilian, Ph.D.
  • Yunnan Normal University
  • Fall, 2009

2
Historical Background-1
  • During the colonial and revolutionary periods
    American culture struggled for survival. During
    the early nineteenth century it struggled for
    individuality. By mid-century it was struggling
    for greatness.
  • A remarkable outburst of creativity marked this
    time, especially the years 1840 -1855. Two famous
    books about this time---American Renaissance and
    The Flowering of New England ---suggest in their
    titles the extraordinary quality of this period.

3
Historical Background-2
  • A renaissance is a rebirth, a vital period in a
    culture, a ripeness that calls forth a
    concentration of great writers and artists. Such
    flowering periods took place in ancient Athens,
    in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy, and in
    Elizabethan England. The United States, by
    mid-nineteenth century, began to flower. It had
    achieved self-confidence, prosperity, and a
    settled and mature culture. American
    expansiveness and the assertion of individualism
    seemed to demand a great literature to celebrate
    and explain---and to criticize as well---the
    mysterious uniqueness of American life.

4
Transcendentalism-1
  • The Transcendentalist movement was a reaction
    against 18th century rationalism and a
    manifestation of the general humanitarian trend
    of 19th century thought. The movement was based
    on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world
    and God. The soul of each individual was thought
    to be identical with the world -- a microcosm of
    the world itself. The doctrine of self- reliance
    and individualism developed through the belief in
    the identification of the individual soul with
    God.

5
Transcendentalism-2
  • The publication of Emerson's 1836 essay Nature is
    usually taken to be the watershed moment at which
    transcendentalism became a major cultural
    movement. Emerson wrote in his essay "The
    American Scholar" "We will walk on our own feet
    we will work with our own hands we will speak
    our own minds ... A nation of men will for the
    first time exist, because each believes himself
    inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires
    all men."

6
Transcendentalism-3
  • Transcendentalism was intimately connected with
    Concord, a small New England village 32
    kilometers west of Boston. It was the first rural
    artists colony, and the first place to offer a
    spiritual and cultural alternative to American
    materialism. It was a place of high-minded
    conversation and simple living, which attracted
    people like Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, the
    novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, the feminist writer
    Margaret Fuller and many others at various times.

7
Transcendentalism-4
  • Unlike many European groups, the
    Transcendentalists never issued a manifesto,
    although they did publish a quarterly magazine,
    The Dial, which lasted four years and was first
    edited by Margaret Fuller and later by Emerson.
    They insisted on individual differences -- on the
    unique viewpoint of the individual. American
    Transcendental Romantics pushed radical
    individualism to the extreme.

8
Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • An American essayist, philosopher and poet, best
    remembered for leading the Transcendentalist
    movement of the early 19th century.
  • Emerson gradually moved away from the religious
    and social beliefs of his contemporaries,
    formulating and expressing the philosophy of
    Transcendentalism in his 1836 essay, Nature. As a
    result of this ground breaking work he gave a
    speech entitled The American Scholar in 1837,
    which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. considered to be
    America's "Intellectual Declaration of
    Independence". When asked to sum up his work, he
    said his central doctrine was the infinitude of
    the private man.

9
  • As a lecturer and orator, Emersonnicknamed the
    Concord Sagebecame the leading voice of
    intellectual culture in the United States.
    Emerson's religious views were often considered
    radical at the time. He believed that all things
    are connected to God and, therefore, all things
    are divine. His views, the basis of
    Transcendentalism, suggested that God does not
    have to reveal the truth but that the truth could
    be intuitively experienced directly from nature.

10
Self-Reliance
  • It contains the most solid statement of one of
    Emerson's repeating themes, the need for each
    individual to avoid conformity and false
    consistency, and follow his or her own instincts
    and ideas. Emerson's ideas are considered a
    reaction to a commercial identity he calls for a
    return to individual identity.
  • Emerson presupposes that the mind is initially
    subject to an unhappy nonconformism. However,
    "Self-Reliance" is not anti-society or
    anti-community. Instead, Emerson advocates
    self-reliance as a starting point, not as a goal.

11
Out of panic, self reliance, by Harold Bloom on
October, 2008, New York Times
  • By self-reliance Emerson meant the recognition
    of the god within us, rather than the worship of
    the Christian godhead (a deity that some
    Americans cannot always distinguish from
    themselves). Whether they know it or not, John
    McCain and Barack Obama seek power in just this
    ultimately serious sense, although that marvelous
    passage means one thing to Emersonians of the
    right and something very different to Emersonians
    of the left. Senator Obamas mantra of change
    celebrates the shooting of the gulf, the darting
    to an aim, setting aside the having lived.
    Senator McCains change reflects what remains
    most authentic about him, the nostalgia of the
    Party of Memory.

12
Out of panic, self reliance, by Harold Bloom on
October, 2008, New York Times
  • Barack Obama emanates from the tradition of the
    black church, where the little me within the big
    me is part or particle of God, just as the
    Emersonian self was. But he is a subtle
    intellectual and will not mistake himself for the
    Divine, and he has the curbing influence of
    Senator Joseph Biden, a conventional Roman
    Catholic, at his side. John McCains religiosity
    is at one with the Party of Memory, but he has
    aligned himself with Gov. Sarah Palin, who, as an
    Assemblies of God Pentecostalist, presumably
    enjoys closer encounters with the comforting Holy
    Spirit.

13
  • Regardless of these differences, whoever is
    elected will have to forge a solution to todays
    panic through his own understanding of
    self-reliance. As Emerson knew in his glory and
    sorrow, both of himself and all Americans The
    wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is
    explicable and practical for me .... I am
    defeated all the time yet to victory I am born.

14
Study Questions
  • Textbook p.24
  • Emerson's central premise is that all individuals
    have the potential to be great, if only they
    would trust themselves. Do you agree or disagree?
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