Thursday, November 19, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 8 (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Representative Men
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Emerson, Ralph Waldo
Representative Men

I think I may have bought this online. One of the chapters of my abandoned dissertation, which was looking at poets writing prose about history, was to have touched on this book. I never got around to that chapter, partly because this book so frustrated the seemingly simple concept of a poet writing prose about history.

Emerson was not a historian, and this book is more an act of imaginative philosophizing than it is a useful historical document. ("I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no Past at my back." How avant garde is that!). I spent several months reading Emerson and found myself more confounded with each passing day, eventually shifting to another chapter for lack of any ability to frame his work within the bounds of whatever argument I was trying to develop.

For example, today's excerpt, from The Uses of Great Men:

Each material thing has its celestial side; has its translation, through humanity, into the spiritual and necessary sphere, where it lays a part as indestructible as any other. And to there, their ends, all things continually ascend. The gases gather t the solid firmament: the chemic lump arrives at the plant, and grow; arrives at the quadruped, and walks; arrives at the man, and thinks. But also the constituency determines the vote of the representative. He is not only representative, but participant. Like can only be known by like. The reason why he knows about them is, that he is of them; he has just come out of nature, or from being part of that thing. Animated chlorine knows of chlorine, and incarnate zinc, of zinc.

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