Emersonian Self-Culture In Thoreau, Emerson And Transcendentalism
I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbours up. (Thoreau, 1966, p. 84)
1.1 Background of the study
Transcendentalism flourished in New England as a philosophical, religious and literary movement in the early middle of the nineteenth century. Transcendentalism was an American movement in that it corresponded to the beliefs of American individualism. Transcendentalism also had a political aspect, and writers such as Thoreau began to use their transcendentalist beliefs through acts of civil disobedience to the government. Slavery, the Civil War, women’s rights, growing industrialism and class differences were influential …show more content…
Concerning culture in the high sense, Emerson refers repeatedly to Goethe, who apparently came close to the high ideal of culture in his “all-sidedness” and in making use of everything for the development of the mind (1969, pp. 301-302).
But Emerson pointed out that even Goethe was not without flaws; Emerson thought Goethe incapable of self-surrender (see Emerson, “Goethe; or, the Writer,” (1883)). Self-culture in a high Emersonian sense, then, is not so much a ubiquitous fact as an ideal. To push such source criticism one step further, there is a sense in which Emersonian high Culture goes eventually beyond the ideal of culture. this quotation is from a late striking notebook entry:
Half engaged in the soil, Man needs all the music that can be brought to disengage him. .. He is yet the subject of culture only to be the subject of culture again ... Culture, Religion are to put wings on his feet; wings on his brain. The age of the Belly is to go out, and the Age of the Brain and of the Heart to come in. (1969, p. …show more content…
But, having this, he must put it behind him. He must have a catholicity, a power to see with a free and disengaged look every object”. Emerson believed that “our culture is not come ... none are cultivated” (1969, p. 470).
Regarding the habit of attending to the vast variety of all sensations Emerson indicates that this is “a thing impossible to many and except in merest superficiality impossible to any” (1969, p. 435). When Emerson wants to be clear about this, he speaks of culture “in the high sense” or of “the high idea of Culture” (note the capital initial), of Culture as “the end of existence”—an idea which he says “does not pervade the mind of the thinking people of our community” (1969, pp. 410-411).
Lysaker’s Emerson and Self-Culture (2008) is a very inspirational account of the practice of the self-culture by Henry Thoreau’s mentor and friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This elaborates on the broad and personal experience of self-culture in a new provocative light. The discussion on Emerson and his self-developing practices has to some extend been the topic of David M. Robinson’s Apostle of Culture (1982) and Cavell’s works on Emersonian perfectionism (1990,