Emerson's Ghosts: Literature, Politics, and the Making of by Randall Fuller

By Randall Fuller

It really is more and more average to discover students who circle again to Ralph Waldo Emerson and his highbrow heirs as a manner of higher knowing modern social and aesthetic contexts. Why does Emerson's cultural legacy proceed to persuade writers so forcefully? during this cutting edge examine, Randall Fuller examines the way in which pivotal twentieth-century critics have understood and deployed Emerson as a part of their very own greater tasks geared toward reconceiving the USA. He examines formerly unpublished fabric and unique study on Van Wyck Brooks, Perry Miller, F.O. Matthiessen, and Sacvan Bercovitch besides different assisting thinkers. an enticing institutional heritage of yankee literary reports within the 20th century, Emerson's Ghosts finds the unforeseen convergent forces that experience formed American cultural heritage in lasting methods.

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Extra info for Emerson's Ghosts: Literature, Politics, and the Making of Americanists

Example text

In some contemplative hour, it detaches itself from the life like a ripe fruit, to become a thought of the mind. Instantly, it is raised, transfigured; the corruptible has put on incorruption. Henceforth it is an object of beauty, however base its origin and neighborhood. Observe, too, the impossibility of antedating this act. In its grub state, it cannot fly, it cannot shine, it is a dull grub. But suddenly, without observation, the  emerson’s ghosts selfsame thing unfurls beautiful wings, and is an angel of wisdom.

This rewriting of Emerson’s actions makes sense when seen within the historical moment during which Holmes was writing. To many contemporary observers, the 1880s were characterized by numerous popular agitations that seemed harbingers of social cataclysm. Labor unrest attended efforts to institute an eight-hour day; populist movements increasingly entertained discussions of socialism; and the once (if always imagined) Anglo-American nation seemed increasingly diluted by waves of immigrants. Like other genteel critics, Holmes sought to counter what he perceived as the anarchic individualism of latter-day antinomians by claiming that Emerson’s “largest and kindliest sympathy with their ideals and aims” (189) by no means represented an endorsement.

Holmes’s study seeks to shore up a vanishing era’s waning ideals and values by attaching them to a conception of literature as an elevated repository of timeless truths that resisted the ambiguities of social process. 15 To a great degree, Holmes’s portrait follows a much larger pattern of literary sanctification established by the United States’ genteel men of letters to enshrine Emerson as a cultural ideal set against the threatening forces of rapid industrialization, an “alien” immigrant population, and an insurgent literary realism that seemed to replicate the materialistic tendencies of the Gilded Age.

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