At the Brink of Infinity: Poetic Humility in Boundless by James E. von der Heydt

By James E. von der Heydt

From pop culture to politics to vintage novels, quintessentially American texts take their proposal from the assumption of infinity. within the outstanding literary century inaugurated by means of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the lyric too looked as if it would come upon probabilities as unlimited because the U.S. mind's eye. This increases the query: What occurs whilst boundlessness is greater than only a determine of speech? Exploring new horizons is something, yet really the horizon itself is anything altogether diversified. during this conscientiously crafted research, James von der Heydt shines a brand new gentle at the lyric craft of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill and considers how their seascape-vision redefines poetry's purpose.Emerson famously freed U.S. literature from its previous and opened it as much as vastness; within the following century, a succession of very good, rigorous poets took the philosophical demanding situations of such freedom all too heavily. dealing with the unmarked horizon, Emersonian poets capture—and are captured by—a stark, astringent model of human good looks. Their uncompromising visions of limitlessness reclaim infinity's right legacy—and supply American poetry its part. Von der Heydt's publication recovers the secret in their international.

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Pragmatic and ideological readings both focus (the one with admiration, the other with suspicion) on the narrative of harmonious interlocking of self and world. In this lyric tradition, though, self and world are often held apart by a magnetism of absolute difference — even as the magnetism of Emerson’s naturalistic idealism holds them in encounter and makes them mutually dependent. In Emerson’s philosophy and variously in the work of several poets who follow him, a fundamental asymmetry disrupts pragmatic relation between human action in the world and the world’s presence to the human.

What Emerson knows of nature is itself inflected by the human mind: thus it should be no surprise that in the subtly ambiguous passage quoted above, linguistic workings are identified with natural forces like gravity, and vice versa. Flexible puns entwine human agency and the agency of nature. For example, the assertion that nature has a “will” is counterbalanced by the passive quality of what it wills: the world would like “to be reported,” which requires human initiative. In the same way, the “engagement” of all things “in writing” might be their investment in their own activity of writing, or their sensory engagement by the human who writes.

In the same way, the “engagement” of all things “in writing” might be their investment in their own activity of writing, or their sensory engagement by the human who writes. Thus, although the gist of this passage is that nature writes itself, Emerson does not sublimate the human act of writing — the deeds of art, or of mere mapping. For him, suppression of the human imagination would mean a world without cognitive order, and a world to which we are incidental. The small puns here reflect a vital Emersonian truth: the human mind makes the world what it is.

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