Emerson's operative mood: religious sentiment and violence in the early works.
The perspective I present in this essay thus contributes to contemporary scholarship that seeks new ways of thinking about an "other Emerson." In their collection by the same name, Branka Arsic and Cary Wolfe suggest that they intend to follow the "vertiginous sense of (dis)location invoked ... by Emerson" and aim to "induce a similar kind of dislocation" in their audience. (4) By arguing that the explicit political engagement of Emerson's middle period (late 1840s through 1860s) is a logical development of his earlier thinking rather than a marked departure from it, (5) I hope to create a similarly productive disturbance, offering a picture of Emerson's brand of political subjectivity that radically departs from Enlightenment and Romantic models of political ethics that continue to shape modern democratic assumptions about identity.
Several decades of scholarship have detailed Emerson's embrace of religious violence in the run up to the Civil War. These studies leave relatively unexplored the question of whether this embrace involved a real turn away from Emerson's earlier thinking on the subject. Given the predominant narratives of Emerson's life that stress his secularizing and liberalizing trajectory--and considering his abrupt return to religious and illiberal pronouncements around slavery in the 1840s and 1850s--it is easy to conclude that there was in fact a significant discontinuity. (6) This essay, however, returns to Emerson's early work to argue that he maintained a core commitment to "religious sentiment" that contained within it the structural means and justifications for explicit forms of historical violence.
A reexamination of Emerson's early thinking about the relation of the individual to universal Reason reveals that Emerson's writing is philosophically consistent in its insistence on the human subject as "operative" in form and function. Shifting our critical and conceptual perspective from a traditional Matthiessenian notion of an "optative mood" to something of a Badiouian "operative mood" opens up new ways to consider how, across the early works, the Emersonian self is shaped by interactions with a religious and universal Other, or what scholars of Emerson, following Emerson's own terminology, often term the "impersonal," as well as the ways these interactions influence the self's relation to specific social and historical landscapes. (7) Indeed, in her discussion of Emerson's conception of moods, Branka Arsic departs from previous scholars by depicting the way exteriority and relationality (for a person is " 'floated' into a mood by other persons or events") effect a constructive "discontinuity of personal identity." (8) Despite the fact that Arsic's work has helped generate a newfound interest in thinking with and perhaps past Sharon Cameron's foundational thesis about the role of the impersonal in Emerson's thought, I am not convinced that we have examined adequately the implications of the type of "impersonal thinking" that Arsic discerns. (9) The continuity in Emerson's thought regarding religious sentiment and its radical effects has been obscured by the shifting rhetorical positioning of Emerson's writing, including its changing audience base across the antebellum years. Nevertheless, and perhaps more importantly, it has also been occluded by twentieth- and twenty-first century liberal critical paradigms of subjectivity and political action. (10) Consequently, I hope to return the Other to Emerson: presenting a new (perhaps redeemed) form of political subjectivity at the heart of Emerson's work. In the section that follows, I examine Emerson's early conception of "religious sentiment" in order to rethink the constitutive role of the impersonal within the Emersonian self. This context sets up an analysis of how Emerson's early work prepares the stage for his embrace of violent political rhetoric and action in the 1850s and 1860s.
Godly Navels, Impersonal Persons, and Other Religious Sentiments
The radical thought that scholars have noted in Emerson's work during the 1850s is characterized by a new emphasis on the relation between the individual and cosmic power. The radicalism in essays such as "Fate" (1860) is anticipated in journal entries from 1857, where Emerson discussed political agency in terms of destiny. This formulation is evident in "Courage," an essay based on an 1859 speech given shortly before John Brown's execution, where Emerson suggests: "If you accept your thoughts as inspirations from the Supreme Intelligence, obey them when they prescribe difficult duties." (11) For Emerson, such duties could be severe, as seen in an 1863 speech at Waterville College where he asks: in the support of "universal liberty ... who would not consent to die?" (12) Oddly enough, the groundwork for this absolutist identity manifests in Emerson's optimistic and joyous condemnations of Christianity during the early 1830s.
When the twenty-nine-year-old Emerson mounted the pulpit of the Second Church of Boston on 9 September 1832, to deliver his resignation sermon, "The Lord's Supper," a scathing critique of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, he had a specific topic in mind: institutional knowledge. As the sermon reveals, what riled Emerson the most was the way the church shifted religious devotion onto the figure of Christ via the codification of a specific (and limited) form of historical memory. In looking at Emerson's comments on religion from this period--such as his thought, in 1832, that religion "is not something ... to be got [,] to be added"--it becomes clear that the problem was deeper than merely how the church was using knowledge. Perhaps more importantly, Emerson wrestled with the simple fact that institutional knowledge was becoming the conceptual ground on which the church operated. (13) This anxiety is evident in Emerson's resignation letter to the Proprietors of the Second Church, where he makes clear that his "devotion to the cause of divine truth" had not ebbed; rather, he explains, he differed on the means by which this end should be pursued. (14) Nevertheless, his subsequent criticism of religion is predicated on a radical recalibration of social relations. At the close of the Lord's Supper sermon, for instance, he boldly claims that he will "love" Jesus "as a glorified friend" and follow him only inasmuch as he "would lead us to seek our own well-being in the formation of the soul." (15) In so doing, Emerson establishes a key structural tenet of his subsequent thought: the primary role of the self in relation to the realm of the soul.
Emerson's censure of institutional devotion in his Divinity Address is well known. Yet, within his critique of religious social structures, he posits a realm of experience that exceeds such a system's knowledge and "analysis," namely: "religious sentiment." (16) Indirectly building on the work of theologians such as Benjamin Constant and Friedrich Schleiermacher, Emerson links this affective concept, which he posits as "the essence of all religion," with the "sentiment of virtue." Here, such sentiment "is a reverence and delight in the presence of certain divine laws" (77). According to Emerson, the "perception of this law of laws always awakens in the mind a sentiment which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes our highest happiness" (79). Thus, we see a relation emerge where an individual's "perception" of the divine Law yields a form of delight that, as in the case of Jesus's own experience, approaches a "jubilee of sublime emotion" (81).
As Wesley T. Mott has shown, the "moral sublime" has a deep intellectual genealogy for Emerson, synthesizing European thought pertaining to "sublimity, stoicism, and sentiment." (17) What's more, it appears in various forms in Emerson's early days as a minister. The parameters of this conceptual landscape are illuminated in Emerson's 1837 lecture "Religion." As Emerson's opening makes clear, religious sentiment exists in a liminal space between the vaunted function of Reason and everyday human perception. This is because Emerson figures Reason as the "Universal Mind," an exterior agency located within us; consequently, "We belong to it, not it to us." (18) The individual, therefore, exists in an "antagonistic nature" toward Reason, garnering "virtue" only when the "individual Will" adopts the "dictate of the Universal mind." As Emerson explains in a later essay, "That soul which within us is a sentiment, outside of us is a law. We feel its inspiration." (19) And it is precisely here where religious sentiment enters. In the pursuit and acceptance of Reason, religious sentiment is fired: "[R]eligion is the accompanying emotion, the emotion of reverence which the presence of the Universal mind always excites in the individual" ("Religion" 84).
Although Emerson goes on to link religious sentiment to various forms of religious enthusiasms and "ravishment," he adds an important qualification. In his view, this "shudder of awe and delight" is not a result of direct alignment with Reason, but "attends the individual's consciousness of that divine presence." Consequently, the "character and duration of enthusiasm varies with the state of the individual from an extasy [sic] and trance and prophetic inspiration,--... to the faintest glow of virtuous emotion" ("Religion" 90). This is perhaps why in Nature Emerson casts the "influx of spirit" in the future tense. No matter where one falls on the above continuum of ravishment, the "axis of vision," shaped by the realm of the Reason, remains (in various degrees) non-identical to the "axis of things," our current perception of reality. (20) That is, the gap Emerson establishes at the opening of "The Divinity School Address" between the Universal mind and "imperfect apprehension" is not yet closed (77).
The space of non-identity between full Reason and current forms of perception is, in this way, foundational to Emerson's understanding of joyous religious sentiment. But the historical and ideological elements of this schematic should be emphasized. Emerson's criticism of the church's manipulation of historical knowledge is also an implicit criticism of how the church is not identical to its presumed source of power. This may be why Emerson categorically dismisses institutional Christianity in "Religion," arguing that "|a]ll attempts to confine and transmit the religious feeling ... by means of formulas the most accurate or rites the most punctual ... have hitherto proved abortive. You might as well preserve light or energy in barrels" (92-93).
In conjunction with this institutional criticism, Emerson pushes the bounds of religious sentiment, establishing an even more complex relation between the individual and Reason. In a journal entry from 1828, Emerson describes the relation between self and cosmic Other using the analogy of a child in utero: "[A] child is connected to the womb of its mother by a chord from the navel. So it seems to me is man connected to God by his conscience. God has given him a free agency [,] has permitted him to work his will in the world--doing wrong and right but has kept open this door by which he may come in at all times." (21) When read in the context of Emerson's subsequent notions of Reason, this passage provides a helpful metaphor for the odd relation he casts between self and Other. In Emerson's thought, this Other (God, Reason, Universal mind, Oversoul) is addressed via the internal modalities of the self. Consequently, the scene of questioning and criticism shifts to the plane of the self, or, rather, to the gap in the self between self and Other.
Emerson's subsequent thought from the late 1830s and early 1840s might be used to recalibrate his analogy that ties God to one's navel. According to Emerson's formulation, Reason is temporally incomplete: lacking on our side of the proverbial umbilical cord because--epistemologically speaking--we fail to fully align with its power. The statement that God "may come in at all times" should thus be read in terms of a temporal dimension. That is, though the modal auxiliary verb "may" appears to signify agency, it should, rather, be linked to the notion of possibility. In this schematic, we are in, but not yet fully experiencing (one might use the Hegelian term "actualizing") what Giorgio Agamben calls "messianic time," or a "zone of absolute indiscernability between immanence and transcendence, between this world and the future." (22)
We should, therefore, reframe Emerson's notion of individualism in this era by taking seriously his claim that "the highest prize in life is the perception in the private heart of access to the Universal," a universal marked by "impersonality." (23) Scholars have noted this charged relation at the center of Emerson's work. (24) Stanley Cavell, for instance, examines how self-reliance is less a quality of "possession" than the "exercise ... of reception." (25) But where Cavell sees this openness to an outside as a positive constituent element of Emerson's variety of radical individualism, Sharon Cameron posits that it evinces a troubling "erasure of personality." In Cameron's view, there is a "deficiency" in Emerson's innovative portrayal of encounters with the impersonal: the fact that when presenting this rhetorical encounter there is a "missing sense of the person." Invoking the liberal ethics of Levinas, Cameron argues that Emerson is consequently and ultimately unable to address "the register of suffering" and, as such, he "does not take the responsibility a person should for his words." (26) Grounding this very relation in sociopolitical contexts, Christopher Newfield builds on New Americanist readings of Emerson's complicity in the development of capitalism, arguing that Emerson's thought gives rise to "corporate individualism," a form of subjectivity marked by submission to a dispersed corporate "system of forces." (27) In all of these cases, one might ask what definitions of the individual and the personal are being employed and, in turn, what political horizons of meaning are being reproduced. By focusing on Emerson's specific fantasies about religious sentiment, this divided and incomplete subject is shown to operate within complex political coordinates and with various capabilities.
Emerson's conception of religious sentiment should be distinguished from both a traditional form of earthly passion--sentiment that, for Emerson, is "a private and tender relation of one to one" as opposed to a relation between self and Other--as well as from the conservative mode of enjoyment that is often championed during the early nineteenth century. (28) An example of the latter can be seen when Germaine de Stael, a writer with whom Emerson was familiar during his early years, argues that the "real obstacle to individual and personal happiness is the impulsive force of the passions, sweeping man away quite independently of his own will." Though de Stael is considering the context of the Reign of Terror in France, she shapes her views into a codified position where the "base of happiness" is "never being disturbed or dominated by any force stronger than the self." (29)
Conversely, Emerson's notion of religious sentiment correlates to the affective response generated by one's perception that received notions of self and reality are incomplete. (30) "Happiness," therefore, does not reside within a homeostatic and balanced whole, but in a charged pursuit of that which exists in the negative space of reality. We can, in this way, begin to conceive how Emersonian optimism functions: an orientation toward the symptoms of an imperfect and incomplete reality is what allows one to enjoy shamelessly--for, in Emerson's view, Reason is the hidden cause of these glorious perforations in the world. (31)
The development of "self-culture," a term Joel Porte links to William Ellery Channing's notion of "the care which every man owes ... to the unfolding and perfecting of his nature," here takes the form of a joyous and anxious courting of the Other within. (32) As Emerson would have it, it is our own responsibility to wake from "the sleep of the Reason" and put ourselves in the position to perceive the Other's hail ("Religion," 94). In many of his early works, therefore, Emerson's conception of becoming is rhetorically less one of self-discovery and more one of obedience. In "Spiritual Laws," for instance, he suggests that "by contenting ourselves with obedience" to the "soul at the center of nature" we "become divine." (33)
We might, in this way, build on and depart from Stanley Cavell's point that, for Emerson, each "state" of the self "constitutes a world." (34) As Cavell notes, these worlds are not complete because a "self is a process of moving to, and from, nexts"; that is, "the self is always attained, as well as to be attained." (35) This Emersonian process of becoming, most directly addressed in "Circles," clearly aligns with the aforementioned relation between self and Reason. Yet, Cavell's diachronic model doesn't appear to address fully the formative role of Reason as mediator. For, we might add, every attained self is constructed against its own current incompleteness--and, in Emerson's view, this space, this gap, is filled by the position of the Other.
Shifting our perspective on the incompleteness of the Emersonian subject opens up new vantage points for conceiving of this subject's political realities and capabilities. For example, Cavell elsewhere situates the above diachronic model of becoming within the political realm, suggesting that the "Emersonian event" effected by the topology of his writing is a "democratic successor" of Socrates's idea of a "city of words." (36) Consequently, Emerson is a "figure of democratic inspiration and aspiration" because his works create an expanding imaginary community via the intimate relations of "countless identifications" between himself and his readers. (37) But if we alter our view of the Emersonian subject, if this subject is not only divided irrevocably at each state of self-development but also shaped and charged by this very division, then the political grammar of the democratic Emersonian event must also change.
"Trust Your Emotion"
In returning to Emerson's 1850s radicalism, where Emerson employed various orthodoxies to embrace explicit forms of political violence, we need not push too hard to see a substantial link between his aforementioned call in 1859 to heed the "inspirations from the Supreme Intelligence" by "obeying]" their mandated "difficult duties," (38) and his 1838 directive, amid his supposed era of "postreligious spiritual pluralism," (39) to "trust your emotion." (40) Indeed, shortly before Emerson gives the injunction to obey divine and difficult duties in the 1859 John Brown-inspired speech, he cites the notion of religious sentiment, suggesting: "Whenever religious sentiment is adequately affirmed, it must be with dazzling courage." He goes on: "As long as it is cowardly insinuated, as with the wish to succor some partial and temporary interest, or to make it affirm some pragmatical tenet ... it is not imparted, and cannot inspire or create. " (41) Here, Emerson's notion of religious sentiment is mobilized for a new and particular political end. But the structural affinities between this violent position and his earlier joyous affirmations should not be overlooked.
Before tracing some of these affinities in Emerson's early work, 1 must acknowledge that Emerson does, at various moments in the 1830s and 40s, espouse "peace principles" that might curb the type of extreme position he promotes in the 1850s. (42) For example, in "War" (1849), Emerson argues that " [i]f peace is to be maintained, it must be by brave men, who have come up to the same height as the hero, namely, they will carry their life in their hand, and stake it at any instant for their principle, but who have gone one step beyond the hero, and will not seek another man's life." (43) Quite obviously, Emerson modifies this view eleven years later in "Fate" (1860), an essay I will discuss below, figuring the "hero" as an unchecked force, where "[o]ne way is right to go: the hero sees it, and moves on that aim, and has the world under him for root and support." (44) In addition to acting as an apparent foil to Emerson's claims about peace, however, this later passage from "Fate" illuminates retroactively important aspects of Emerson's early thoughts on violence. By having the hero "stake" his/her life "for [his] principle" in "one way," Emerson brings, however vaguely, specific historical alignments and forces into the picture. One might ask if doing so complicates or, at least, qualifies the premise in Emerson's above argument about peace. From the perspective of Emerson's early views, should one always desire peace? What if the present is defined by violent relations? In other words, Emerson often avoids praise for specific acts of violence in his early work, but this same work sets up relations whereby one might dutifully work to hasten an ideal development of humanity through whatever means necessary. When looking at early lectures such as "Politics" (1840) and "Duty" (1839), we see not only structures relating to religious sentiment linking early and later Emerson, but also unambiguous gestures toward scenarios where these relations might be placed within the horizon of historical and political reality--setting the stage, in a sense, for the political rhetoric on violence seen in the 1850s.
In "Politics," Emerson makes the perhaps predictable claim that we must "treat the state poetically." But this mode is quickly shown to include more than concerns of aesthetics proper. Using a historical approach similar to that found in his aforementioned criticism of the Lord's Supper and prefiguring claims made in "Self-Reliance," he suggests that institutions "are not superior to the citizen" because every aspect of an institution "was once a man." That is, "every one of its laws and usages was a man's expedient to meet a particular fact." Following this logic, Emerson concludes that all social institutions are, therefore, "alterable." This means that "Society is fluid": there are not "roots and centres but any monad there may instantly become the centre of the whole movement and compel the whole to gyrate around him." (45)
The discursive and, indeed, political radicalness of Emerson's "poetic" vision in "Politics" should be read in the context of his early thought on religious sentiment. By way of illustration, Orestes Brownson, an otherwise lukewarm ally of Emerson against conservatives such as Andrews Norton, included a pointed critique of Emerson's definition of religious sentiment in his review of "The Divinity School Address" in The Boston Quarterly Review. Brownson writes: "He confounds the religious sentiment with the moral; but the two sentiments are psychologically distinct. The religious sentiment is a craving to adore, resulting from the soul's intuition of the Holy; the moral sentiment is an obligation, resulting from the soul's intuition of a moral law. The moral sentiment leads us up merely to universal order; the religious sentiment leads us up to God, Father of the universal order." (46) Quite clearly, Emerson's unorthodox alignment of these two modes bothered Brownson to the point where he dismisses their union as a confused conflation. Nevertheless, as discussed, Emerson's revision should not be seen as a simple error, or as yet another facile example of his supposed contradictory nature. Conversely, it evidences the construction of a new model of subjectivity and agency, where the "obligation" Brownson attributes to moral sentiment is linked to the agency of "God" found in religious sentiment. The result, for Emerson, is that we are not merely able to discern the laws of the existing moral or universal order, we are capable of contacting the author of the universe--opening up a perpetual potential for exceptions to all systems and realities.
This "poetic" vision, then, one that modern readers might laud, entails a way of seeing that involves a politics of potential, where a given codified reality might be interrupted at any moment by the eruption of a new paradigmatic center. Yet Emerson acknowledges the material and timely nature of both these actualities and possibilities, claiming: "Politics are real and must be treated really" ("Politics" 241). Although tempered in this early work, the space for and of political violence can be discerned in this relation between existing real social structures and, in Emerson's view, unfolding ideal developments of humanity. After noting the reality of politics, for instance, Emerson suggests that "the state must follow the character and progress of man" and, as a result, "the form of government that prevails is always the expression of what cultivation exists in the population which permits it" ("Politics" 241). He earlier notes specific historical examples, citing representative men of "strong will" such as Cromwell and Pitt who "for a time" force a given society to "gyrate around" their acts or views. Although he subsequently adds the higher plane of influence with men "of truth" such as Plato or Paul, who shape society "forever," the seemingly lower realm of temporary political strife obviously aligns, for Emerson, with grander and permanent principles. Consequently, Emerson argues that the "reveries of the true and simple are prophetic. What you dream and pray and paint today, but shun the ridicule of saying aloud, shall presently be the resolutions of large bodies, then shall be carried as Grievance and Bill of Rights through conflict and war" ("Politics" 241).
Here we see clearly how the relations involved in Emerson's writings on religious sentiment play out in the broader social sphere, with consequences that involve political declarations and, indeed, warfare. For Emerson, this political violence is engendered by the aforementioned gap between existing and emerging social paradigms, but also by the distance between varying embodiments of truth in a given historical moment. The latter can be seen in Emerson's subsequent commentary in "Napoleon, or the Man of the World" (1850), where he figures Bonaparte as embodying the type of "strong will" needed to effect a new social paradigm. According to Emerson: "Napoleon's stamp almost ceases to have a private speech and opinion. He is so largely receptive, and is so placed, that he comes to be a bureau for all the intelligence, wit, and power of the age and country. He gains the battle; he makes the code; ... he levels the Alps; he builds the road." Although Bonaparte's power derives from his alignment with a broader principle, Emerson suggests that this alignment is only transcendent in the sense that the ruler "had in transcendent degree the qualities and powers of common men. " (47) Despite the fact that this link with the dominant trend of social history--one Emerson identifies as the process of "subordinating all intellectual and spiritual forces into means to a material success"--affords Bonaparte the adequate force to wage war and level mountains, it is not, in Emerson's view, as powerful as an alignment with the higher principles associated with Reason. As Emerson laments at the close of the lecture: "As long as our civilization is essentially one of property ... it will be mocked by delusion" and "there will be bitterness in our laughter." (48)
It should be noted that in "Politics" Emerson does implore the reader to "drop violence" (245), seemingly relegating forms of warfare to the less enlightened levels of Bonaparte's ilk. Of course, in his early work, Emerson is often cautious about the necessity of violence. In "Demonology" (1839), for instance, he discusses the lower-level insight of truth afforded by dreams and the resultant "terrible freedom" we exercise within unconscious fantasies, where "every will rushes to a deed." (49) But across his early work, and even more forcefully in his later 1850s writings, there is little hesitation when his discourse moves from the level of (terrible) personal freedom to higher social and cosmic levels, where we find a consistent, though multiform, desire for the divine will to erupt and shape the present. Moreover, throughout "Politics," historical and conceptual examples of righteous violence abound. On more than one occasion, Emerson touches upon diffuse and systemic potential relations of violence, mentioning how "the appearance of character rebukes the state" ("Politics" 243). More importantly, in addition to holding up the lofty figures of Cromwell and Pitt, he closes the piece by praising a string of historical heroic stands, each linked to subjective violence in varying ways: "the fight of Leonidas or the hemlock of Socrates or the cross of Christ. " These extreme sacrifices were noble, in Emerson's view, because they were governed by "the sublime idea of a most private and beautiful Right," an unmediated idea that "drove them to their act" ("Politics" 247). This schematic adds the important requisite of action to other similar comments on the liberating effects of the perception of truth that attends religious sentiment, such as in an 1841 lecture where Emerson avers: "Give the slave the least elevation of religious sentiment, and he is no slave." (50)
These connections among private intuition, a transcendent idea of "Right," and political action are even more pronounced in the early lecture "Duty." At the opening, Emerson cuts to his point, advising his audience at the Masonic Temple in Boston: "Consent to accept the place the Divine Province has found for you. " Falling in line with his writings on religious sentiment, Emerson describes this acquiescence as entailing more than mere submission to a traditional conception of fate; instead, it includes making oneself the "passive organ of its idea." (51) As in "Politics," this embodiment yields requisite material and social acts of courage. According to Emerson, "we are now men and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny and not pinched in the corner, not cowards fleeing before revolution" ("Duty" 139). Consequently, Emerson outlines how the perception of divine principles affects a "perfect obligation" to join what he terms an "almighty effort" ("Duty" 139). And yet, although Emerson is precise when laying out his view that one should "obey piously to follow," he is notably vague about the conceptual link that supposedly leads from divine ideas to earthly obligations, the very structural space where we might locate the domain of social ethics. As Emerson would have it, such a move is natural: all you need to do is "place yourself in the full centre of that flood; then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment" ("Duty" 139).
This link between truth and right becomes more complex later in the lecture. After defining "virtue" as "the spontaneity of the will, bursting up into the world as a sunbeam out of aboriginal cause," Emerson posits that "duty" is therefore "the endeavor of man to obey the light: the voluntary conforming our action to the whole" ("Duty" 144). Put in other terms: "Duty is the application of the sentiment of virtue to the varying events of every day" ("Duty" 144). Such claims hinge on an ambiguous notion of "application," which includes an elliptical relation between the "sovereign instinct" of the light, on the one hand, and the contingent historical act of endeavoring to apply it, on the other. In these early works, therefore, two phases are clear: the influx or unfolding of the divine idea within the self and the resulting obligation for action that includes, by necessity, "new danger" ("Duty" 146). The latter point, of course, provides an interesting early rationalization of the place of political violence. In this context, the conceptual space where the input of divine ideas transmogrifies into the output of historical violence is paramount for conceiving of the politics of the Emersonian subject.
Emerson's later essay "Fate" may be useful here, providing a rearticulation of Emerson's early thoughts on both religious sentiment and duty. In the middle of the essay, after building on themes familiar in his early work (pertaining to the way thought "carries the mind up into a sphere where all is plastic," a process linked to "the will of Divine Province"), Emerson comments on the "moral sentiment," a concept, as discussed, that he consistently and directly associates with religious sentiment. Describing this relation of "spiritual chemistry," Emerson writes: "we can see that with the perception of truth is joined the desire that it shall prevail. That affection is essential to will" ("Fate" 15). Importantly, the vague relation Emerson posits in "Duty" between divine ideas and the historical "almighty effort" to "apply" them is here recoded in terms of a specific "desire" for such ideas to "prevail." In so doing, Emerson shifts the ground of the aforementioned relation between input and output, moving from a scenario shaped by concerns of epistemology and potential translation (discerning how a divine idea applies to specific historical situations) to one of pseudo-ontological leverage (supporting and joining a preexisting force). Moreover, this formulation of desire alters fantasies linked with Emerson's brand of religious sentiment. Instead of joyously courting a partially perceived Other, we move further along on the arc of desire to a specific political longing for this Other's fully-formed ideas to be realized in historical time.
In this light, the specific aspects of Emersonian duty are quite distinct from a traditional Protestant conception of duty as well as the modern democratic idea of the concept. In terms of the former, Martin Luther's commentary on Lot's wife, where "looking] back," or delaying the execution of one's duty, connotes a departure "from God's command" and an occupation "with other matters ... outside one's calling," is representative of a broader schematic where one is impelled to close with a distinct Other based on a foreign moral and ethical injunction. (52) For Emerson, of course, the self is not an obstacle to be overcome in order to actualize one's calling; instead, it is the actual threshold, the actual Other misrecognized in the present.
This view also distinguishes Emerson's thought from more modern liberal-democratic varieties of duty, ideas that can be linked to Immanuel Kant's late eighteenth-century work on ethics. (53) On the surface, Emerson and Kant share the view that the core of subjectivity and, therefore, supposed free acts are linked to external or foreign forces. This impels both thinkers to view political events and violence through the lenses of extrahistorical moral paradigms. For instance, Kant comes quite close to Emerson's writing on historical events when he suggests that the global "spectators" of the French Revolution, in witnessing even its worst "atrocities," felt "sympathy" with the rebels (including a "wishful participation"), sympathy that has "no other cause than a moral predisposition of the human race. " (54) Contemporary scholars have focused on the radical democratic potential in the universalist ethic involved in Kant's "categorical imperative" to "do our duty." According to Slavoj Zizek, the ethical autonomy of this scenario derives from the fact that, for Kant, "it is not possible to derive the concrete norms I have to follow in my specific situation from the moral Law itself"; consequently, "it is the subject himself who has to assume the responsibility for translating the abstract injunction." (55) As Zizek suggests, this scenario affords a radical aspect of freedom, where "I am fully responsible not only for doing my duty, but no less for determining what my duty is." (56) As noted, the ambiguity Emerson places between divine ideas and specific historical action in lectures such as "Duty" might be seen to allow for a similar level of autonomy.
There is, however, a significant structural difference in the way Emerson and Kant conceive of duty, one that yields drastically distinct forms of political subjectivity. As Alenka Zupancic explains, Kant upholds the "irreducibility of the Other," insisting that we are ultimately subject to this Other. But, for Kant, when one submits to this Other, a "crack" or inconsistency in the Other becomes apparent, "a crack in which [Kant] ... situates the autonomy and freedom of the subject." (57) Accordingly, Kantian ethical autonomy derives from the fact that we are ultimately distinct from the pure domain of the Other (noumena), existing in a space affected, paradoxically, only when we approach the Other. Conversely, for Emerson, any semblance of ethical autonomy exists before, or, perhaps, in the passage toward the Other (the domain where religious sentiment comes into play). Once one connects with the divine idea, the "desire" to actualize this truth forms a totalizing structure where the individual becomes a direct agent for the Other. And since, in this process, the planes of historical time/ traditional self and Truth/Other conjoin, then there is no ethical scene--no requisite space between self and any Other. In fact, in an anachronistic way, one might say that Emerson here dramatizes Benjaminian divine violence (the destruction of existing law during the emergence of new Law) from the impossible (emerging) focalization of Law itself. Unlike Kant's positivist explanation of why happiness and morality are absent from the scene of duty, where these concepts are intentionally ignored ("we take no account of them whenever duty is in question"), (58) Emerson's fantasy includes a configuration where all moral experiences exist in an ambiguous umbra between self and Other.
It would seem that Emerson's position might thus fall prey to Kant's critique of a traditional dogmatism that imagines direct access to the Other, where "God and eternity in their awful majesty would stand unceasingly before our eyes.... Thus most actions conforming to the law would be done from fear." (59) But, as discussed, Emerson's vision of duty plays out within a complex set of relations where the Other is accessed via modalities of the self. As a result, instead of "standing]" before us and pronouncing laws, the Other and its injunctions are seemingly transformed into affective experiences born within us.
In the crucible of Reason, therefore, Emerson posits a form of political ontology that in many ways breaks from both previous and contemporaneous models of subjectivity and political ethics. In returning to Emerson's claim in "Fate" that "with the perception of truth is joined the desire that it shall prevail" and that this "affection is essential to will," we might ask more pointedly whose will Emerson is speaking of. Emerson elucidates the above statement with the following passage: "[W]hen a strong will appears, it usually results from a certain unity of organization, as if the whole energy of the body and mind flowed in one direction. All great force is real and elemental. ... Where power is shown in will, it must rest on the universal force" ("Fate" 15). For Emerson, "will" represents an encounter with the divine idea, but on another plane, where one passes from the reception of symbolic truth (Reason) to an odd embodiment of universal force. In this short circuit, according to Emerson, "[e]ach pulse from the heart is an oath from the Most High" ("Fate" 15). That is, the will represents an alignment moving in "one direction" from the universal to the particular. This perspective might shed light on the passage in "Courage" quoted earlier where Emerson suggests that "[wjhenever religious sentiment is adequately affirmed, it must be with dazzling courage." In this context, courage is not necessarily associated with directing or executing an action per se, for all action is here impelled by a foreign force. Instead, it refers to the fortitude required to maintain an established connection to the Other, despite the historical and social consequences. The type of political violence that Emerson sanctions across his writing in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s is marked by a similar mode of negative content, where the permutation of action is shaped not merely by a human agent, but by the consequences arising from the encounter between this embodied force and the specific (imperfect) terrain of a given historical reality. Emerson's brand of personal and social transformation is thus formed through a radical recalibration of political subjectivity and a structural understanding of the resulting eruptions of specific historical violence.
Traditional notions of self- and other-directed violence as well as positivist historicist notions of social agency are, therefore, inadequate for conceiving of Emerson's depictions of political actions and their ramifications. The reading of Emerson presented here thus departs drastically from a number of standard perspectives that cast Emerson as a champion of liberal, democratic, and/or pragmatist ideologies. (60) But more than merely launching a polemic against liberal-democratic traditionalists, by offering a new framework for considering Emerson's early structural vision of subjectivity, I hope to bolster recent scholarship that endeavors to take seriously and on its own terms Emerson's complex negotiation of radical politics in the 1840S-1860S. For example, both Michael Ziser's "Emersonian Terrorism" (2010) and Donald Pease's "'Experience,' Antislavery, and the Crisis of Emersonianism" (2010) offer rich accounts of the way Emerson's thought shifted dramatically in response to specific historical events surrounding slavery. According to Ziser, events in the 1850s, particularly the Anthony Burns trial, "led [Emerson] momentarily to reformulate his beliefs into a properly postsecular recognition of the formal necessity of a new kind of religious orthodoxy and violence to effect political change within a modern liberal state." Ziser suggests that in this period Emerson "awoke from his secular-universalist dream to his historical and religious particularity." (61) Similarly, Pease argues that in "Experience" (1844) Emerson, based on the loss of his young son, presents an encounter with the "limits to how far his annulment of social bonds could be taken." (62) In Pease's account, Emerson as a socially aloof impresario of the abstract "genius" in "Self-Reliance" transforms, in "Experience," into Emerson as the thinker of social and historical limitations. Here, Emerson developed the "anti-slave" as a "figure of address" that rhetorically "correlated the historical trauma of slavery with the personal trauma of his son's death." Ultimately, according to Pease, a historically-inflected notion of slavery allowed Emerson to rethink the conditions and preconditions of freedom. "Before 'Experience,'" Pease writes, "Emerson left out the figure of his thinking who inhabited the space between the desymbolization of the symbolic order and the emergence of the different social order to which genius called him." (63)
By looking more closely at Emerson's early notions of religious sentiment, one can discern the structural outlines of the radical thought that scholars such as Ziser and Pease locate at the far end of Emerson's political transformations in the 1840s and 1850s. That is to say, undoubtedly Emerson's radicalized thought on slavery and political violence in this period emerged in response to specific historical events. Yet, the pervasive scholarly focus on Emerson's political turn may occlude important structures of thought within his early work that already favored and conditioned the later disposition toward action. A consideration of religious sentiment reveals that elements of a universal-particular axis of thinking, one that effected an operative relation to the Other, was, in terms of Ziser's work, prevalent during Emerson's supposed secular early years. In terms of Pease's argument, it suggests that there may not have been as substantive a gap between "genius" and the "anti-slave" in the first place. I wholeheartedly agree with Pease's elegant proposition that "Experience" "effected a crisis within the transindividual discourse" that governed Emerson's earlier division between transcendentalist and reformer. (64) At the same time, I want to redraw this crisis as a process by which Emerson was convinced of the ethical need to focus on a given historical antagonism, and, as a result, he applied previous structures of thought in new ways and to new ends. Instead of a particular struggle for freedom replacing a struggle for abstract freedom, an ideological bifurcation that scholars such as Russ Castronovo have shown was certainly in play during the antebellum period, (65) we might see Emerson's early work delineating carefully the structural space for the figure that would become, in Pease's formulation, the "anti-slave." As I have shown, this figurative space is empty or, perhaps more aptly, incomplete in Emerson's early thought less because he was shooting for an abstract ideal and more due to the structural relations that shaped his specific conception of duty and subjective action. The historical, critical, and ideological stakes within this shift are significant. By way of example, one might ask why a reading such as Pease's, which embraces Emerson's approval of righteous violence (to a degree) based upon Emerson's historical turn toward recognizing the "the plight of black folk," (66) might sit more comfortably with a genealogy of Emersonian scholarship predicated upon liberal-democratic ideals than one, such as my own, that argues for a modicum of consistency across Emerson's early work and mid-century fundamentalism.
The two faces of Emersonian optimism that open this essay, therefore, are anything but exclusive. Although cleaved by historians, these two faces close in significant ways when considered in the context of a fuller account of Emerson's thought on religious sentiment, subjectivity, and violence. The amalgam of these concepts is apparent in the seemingly odd grouping of sensations in "Politics," where, as quoted earlier, Emerson implores those in the audience to put themselves "in the full centre of that flood; then you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment." Yet, if this process is a shorthand formula for the courageous execution of will, what, we might ask, is the specific nature of this consequent perfect contentment? Put differently, how does it feel to be in an Emersonian operative mood?
The answer is readily apparent in "Duty," where Emerson outlines a number of experiences that result when one aligns with the force of "good." According to Emerson, the "awful truth" that is produced in such a union will not be experienced in "any known ... way"; it will "be wholly strange and new." Consequently, in this state, "[t]here shall be no fear" for "[f]ear and [h]ope are alike beneath it." So, too, we might add, are joy and optimism. As Emerson states: "We are then a vision. There is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy. The soul is raised over passion. ... It is a perceiving that Truth and Right are ' ("Duty" 143). By, in essence, splitting the Cartesian subject--where we can perceive without existence proper because Truth and Right exist for and through us--Emerson creates the conditions for an original type of political fanaticism. This ontological shift resulting from the historical subject's interface with the cosmic "flood" can be thought of in affective terms as well. As Rei Terada explains, "by emotion we usually mean a psychological, at least minimally interpretive experience whose physiological aspect is affect." (67) In this context, Emerson's proposition of "pure sympathy with universal ends" necessitates what we might call a "disjunctive synthesis," where one's affective (bodily) and emotional (psychological) modalities are incorporated into an "infinite force" ("Fate" 15). (68) What's left, it seems, is a pure "perceiving" of events and reality, where the subject is, in political terms, a modal agent of the Other.
Perhaps we, much like Christopher Pearse Cranch's 1836 caricature, had this whole transparent eyeball thing wrong after all.
University of Houston
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(1.) See the 6 February 1849 issue.
(2.) Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 3.
(3.) Qtd. in Larry J. Reynolds, Righteous Violence: Revolution, Slavery, and The American Renaissance (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 46.
(4.) Arsic and Wolfe, "Introduction," in The Other Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), ix.
(5.) Recent scholars who, to various degrees, portray a definitive political turn in Emerson's thought abound. See, for instance, Len Gougeon's Virtue's Hero (1990), Michael Ziser's "Emersonian Terrorism: John Brown, Islam, and Postsecular Violence" (2010), Donald Pease's "'Experience,' Antislavery, and the Crisis of Emersonianism" (2010), and Larry Reynolds's Righteous Violence (2011). For studies that link Emerson's later radicalism to his early works, see especially Michael Lopez's" The Conduct of Life: Emerson's Anatomy of Power" (1999) and Martha Schoolman's "Emerson's Doctrine of Hatred" (2007).
(6.) This prevalent view of discontinuity in Emerson's thought often follows Len Gougeon's formula where Emerson shifted from "silent years" of philosophical rumination to abolitionist activism in August 1844 (Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990], 41).
(7.) My concept of an "operative mood" is based loosely on Alain Badiou's notion that "a subject is an operative disposition of the traces of the event and of what they deploy in the world" (Logics of Worlds, trans. Alberto Toscano [New York: Continuum, 2009], 33). Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Over-Soul," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 2, eds. Joseph Slater, Alfred R. Ferguson, and Jean Ferguson Carr (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/ Harvard University Press, 1980), 164.
(8.) Arsic, "Brain Walks: Emerson on Thinking" in The Other Emerson, 60, 64. See also Arsic's On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson (2010).
(9.) Arsic, "Brain Walks," 59-60. In her analysis of the constructive impersonality of moods, Arsic departs from the portrayal of moods in Sharon Cameron's "The Way of Life by Abandonment: Emerson's Impersonal" (1998) and Russell Goodman's American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition (1990). Arsic's broader project attends to the productive nuances in Cameron's rich work on the topic of impersonality. In her more recent collection American Impersonal: Essays with Sharon Cameron (2014), Arsic gathers a number of essays that seek to, as the title suggests, work with the critical perspectives Cameron has offered. Within this collection, see especially essays by Paul Grimstad and Johannes Voelz, which begin to offer innovative approaches for furthering and tweaking Cameron's original reading of Emerson. Although I will discuss briefly Cameron's arguments, suffice it to say that while I am indebted to the line of thinking that continues to follow her rhetorical and critical lead, my essay seeks to indirectly affect a critical break with the ideological assumptions about personhood found within Cameron's model.
(10.) As Christopher Newfield explains, in the twentieth century, "liberalism" "has stood for a consensus about the American left's need to assimilate its ideals to the ways of the center" (The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in America [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996], 2). Consequently, the liberal tradition has shaped contemporary democratic assumptions about identity. This developing ideological perspective has influenced interpretive paradigms that have been used to analyze antebellum subjectivity as well as Emerson's political thought. For example, in Transcendental Resistance, Johannes Voelz illuminates the limitations of New Americanist perspectives that have predominated since the Cold War and generated "totalized" readings of Emerson's politics (Transcendental Resistance: The New Americanists and Emerson's Challenge [Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2010], 4). Even more directly, perhaps, Kerry Larson's "Illiberal Emerson" (Nineteenth-Century Prose 33, no. 1 [Spring, 2006]) offers a comprehensive overview of the manifold ways Emerson's early thought departs from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberal tenets. My essay in many ways shares with Larson's work the desire to "pierce through an assortment of liberal pieties and assumptions in order to make ... [Emerson's] beliefs intelligible" (67).
(11.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Courage," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 7, Society and Solitude, eds. Ronald A. Bosco and Douglas Emory Wilson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2007), 140.
(12.) Qtd. in Reynolds, Righteous Violence, 80.
(13.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 4, ed. Alfred R. Ferguson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), 27. As scholars have noted, Emerson's critique of religion engages a historical transition within the institutional relations between knowledge and power that was well underway in the nineteenth century. The Unitarian church in the early nineteenth century, as well as the Harvard Divinity School that supported it, typified the way theoretical knowledge was located increasingly in the position of power. Established in 1636, Harvard College began as a means to educate New England's ministry, but by the late eighteenth century, many of Boston's clergy viewed themselves as scholars. According to Barbara Packer, this move toward codified forms of knowledge developed in a "spiritual marketplace" when liberals within New England Congregationalism began using "history to establish faith," eventually distinguishing themselves as Unitarians who believed in "progressive illumination." Focusing on philosophers such as Locke, they found a means to confront religious enthusiasts with "tolerant, rational patience" (The Transcendentalists [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007], 14). At Harvard, Lockean principles were bolstered with the work of the Cambridge Platonists as well as with the systematic integration of German Higher Criticism, which employed historical modes of inquiry to interpret scripture. For more on Unitarianism's institutional contexts, see especially Philip F. Gura's American Transcendentalism: A History (2007), Richard A. Grusin's Transcendental Hermeneutics: Institutional Authority and the Higher Criticism of the Bible (1991), and Mary Kupiec Cayton's Emerson's Emergence: Self and Society in the Transformation of New England, 1800-1845 (1989).
(14.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, "To the Proprietors of the Second Church," 11 September 1832, in Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 2, ed. Ralph L. Lusk (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939), 357.
(15.) Emerson, "To the Proprietors," 24, 27.
(16.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Divinity School Address," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 1, ed. Alfred R. Ferguson (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1971), 77, 79. Hereafter cited in the text.
(17.) Mott, "'The Power of Recurring to the Sublime at Pleasure': Emerson and Feeling," in Emerson Bicentennial Essays, eds. Joel Myerson and Ronald Bosco (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2006), 379.
(18.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Religion," in Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 2, eds. Stephen E. Whicher, Robert E. Spiller, and Wallace E. Williams (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964), 83. Hereafter cited in the text.
(19.) Emerson, "Compensation," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1:60.
(20.) Emerson, Nature, in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1:45, 43.
(21.) Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3, eds. William H. Gilman and Alfred R. Ferguson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 139.
(22.) Agamben, The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, trans. Patricia Dailey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 25.
(23.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Prospects," in Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3, eds. Robert E. Spiller and Wallace E. Williams (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 381-82.
(24.) Lawrence Buell notes that Emerson was fascinated with the notion that " 'ideas' or 'intellect' should be impersonal yet thoughts must be personal" (Emerson [Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2003], 228). Cary Wolfe illuminates this relation by considering Cavell's arguments about Emersonian perfectionism via Niklas Luhmann's work, suggesting that the Emersonian self should be seen to "move in 'abandonment' beyond the self" ("'The Eye Is the First Circle': Emerson's 'Romanticism,' Cavell's Skepticism, Luhmann's Modernity," in The Other Emerson, 294). Similarly, Branka Arsic portrays an Emersonian ontology where "impersonal thinking ... constitutes the inferiority of the 'I'" (On Leaning: A Reading in Emerson [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010], 14, 134). In terms of political subjectivity, Donald E. Pease asserts that there is a link between an Emersonian subjectivity marked by a "constitutive division" without recourse to "any unified identity" and the figure of the "anti-slave," a figure that exists "at the limit" of historical/personal "trauma and the order of Emersonian provocation" ("'Experience,' Antislavery, and the Crisis of Emersonianism," in The Other Emerson, 137, 163). As my essay's final section will make dear, I am not just siding with scholars (such as Cavell, Arsic, Wolfe, and Pease) who view the impersonal as a positive constitutive aspect of the Emersonian self, I am also suggesting that these same critics often overlook radical elements in Emerson's early work related to this division within the self.
(25.) Cavell, "Thinking of Emerson," in Emerson's Transcendental Etudes, ed. Mieke Bal and Hent de Vries (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 17.
(26.) Cameron, "The Way of Life by Abandonment: Emerson's Impersonal," in Impersonality: Seven Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 81, 102, 106-7. Earlier in her chapter, and elsewhere in her writing on Emerson, Cameron carefully traces the ways Emerson's portrayal of the impersonal productively complicates and recalibrates traditional notions of the self. As I suggest above, however, her chapter tends to reinscribe standard liberal parameters of the self when it evaluates the social implications of Emerson's thought.
(27.) Newfield, The Emerson Effect, 5.
(28.) Emerson, "Love," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 2:99.
(29.) de Stael, "The Influence of the Passions on the Happiness of Individuals and Nations," in Major Writings of Germaine de Stael, trans. Vivian Folkenflik (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 153, 154.
(30.) It should be noted that at the close of Germany (1813), de Stael embraces the type of religious enjoyment that Emerson promotes.
(31.) These relations are apparent in Emerson's 1839 lecture "Comedy," where he claims "it is in comparing fractions with essential integers or wholes, that laughter begins" (Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 3:121-22.
(32.) Qtd. in Porte, Consciousness and Culture: Emerson and Thoreau Reviewed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), xi.
(33.) Emerson, "Spiritual Laws," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. 2:81.
(34.) Cavell, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Construction of Emersonian Perfectionism (La Salle: Open Court, 1990), 3.
(35.) Cavell, Conditions, 12.
(36.) Cavell, "What is the Emersonian Event? A Comment on Kateb's Emerson," in Emerson's Transcendental Etudes, 189.
(37.) Cavell, "Emersonian Event," 184, 188-89.
(38.) Emerson, "Courage," Collected Works, 7:140.
(39.) Michael Ziser, "Emersonian Terrorism: John Brown, Islam, and Postsecular Violence," American Literature 82, no. 2 (June 2010): 337.
(40.) Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 7, eds. A. W. Plumstead and Harrison Hayford (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969), 25. In this context, Emerson's line from an 1839 lecture, "I am to fire what skill I can the artillery of sympathy Sc emotion," becomes prophetic (7:270).
(41.) Emerson, "Courage," Collected Works, 7:138.
(42.) Larry Reynolds (Righteous Violence) argues that Emerson's turn to activism in the 1850s "ran counter to his peace principles" (56). Furthermore, he suggests that Emerson's early work promoted "peaceful means to achieve social justice" (57) and elided or omitted direct commentary on specific acts of violence (58). While historically accurate, Reynolds's positivist overview may overlook the way Emerson's early thought, such as his formulations of religious sentiment, directly links to potential modes of active political agency and resulting violence.
(43.) Qtd. in Reynolds, Righteous Violence, 62.
(44.) Emerson, "Fate," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 7:16. Hereafter cited in the text.
(45.) Emerson, "Politics," in Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 3:240. Hereafter cited in the text.
(46.) Brownson, "Mr. Emerson's Address. An address delivered before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday Evening, 15 July, 1838," The Boston Quarterly Review, vol. 1 (Boston, 1838), 507.
(47.) Emerson, "Napoleon, or the Man of the World," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 7:131.
(48.) Emerson, "Napoleon," 7:130, 148.
(49.) Emerson, "Demonology," in Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 3:156.
(50.) Emerson, "Introductory Lecture," in Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature, Addresses, and Lectures, ed. Robert Spiller, et al. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 178.
(51.) Emerson, "Duty," in Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 3:139. Hereafter cited in the text.
(52.) Qtd. in Allison Giffen, "'Let no man know': Negotiating the Gendered Discourse of Affliction in Anne Bradstreet's 'Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666,"' Legacy 27, no. 1 (2010): 6.
(53.) According to Robert D. Richardson Jr., Emerson was familiar with Kant, reading F. A. Nitsch's A general and introductory view of Professor Kant's principles (1796) (See Emerson [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003], 121).
(54.) Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. M. J. Gregor (New York: Abaris, 1979), 153.
(55.) Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes (New York: Verso, 2008), 225.
(56.) Zizek, "Robespierre, or, the 'Divine Violence' of Terror," in Virtue and Terror, trans. John Howe (New York: Verso, 2007), xxvi.
(57.) Zupancic, Ethics of the Real: Kant and Lacan (New York: Verso, 2000), 28.
(58.) Kant, Conflict, 97.
(59.) Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason (New York: Macmillan, 1956), 152.
(60.) For obvious historical reasons, readings of Emerson as an exponent of liberal-democracy and its values abound. Neal Dolan's Emerson's Liberalism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009) is perhaps the most apt recent example of this ideological presentation of Emerson. As his title suggests, Dolan posits unabashedly that "Emerson was a liberal" (5), casting Emerson's thought in a rather predictable space of post-feudal openness: "transmitting countertraditional liberal values without creating another ... repressive tradition" (4-5). It might not be surprising that, in order to sustain this perspective, Dolan relies on Emerson's concept of "moral law" and "moral sentiment" (14-15). This rather myopic selection allows him to read "Fate" as an example of "moderate, gradualist, and generous-spirited historical optimism" (286). My focus on Emerson's foundational and hybrid concept of religious sentiment thus runs directly counter to Dolan's narrative. In addition, my reading of Emerson departs from Larry Reynolds's Righteous Violence, where Emerson's embrace of radical abolitionism is considered a case of simple bloodlust. It also diverges significantly from George Kateb's assertion that there is a "sharp distinction between mental self-reliance and active self-reliance" (Emerson and Self-Reliance [Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002], 17). Moreover, it differs from Christopher Newfield's thesis that the Emersonian political subject evinces a "corporate individualism" marked by "submission" to "decentralized, diffused, and multidirectional modes of power" (Emerson Effect, 2, 5).
(61.) Ziser, "Emersonian Terrorism," 336, 334.
(62.) Pease, "'Experience,' Antislavery, and the Crisis of Emersonianism," in The Other Emerson, 150.
(63.) Pease, "Experience," 156-37, 162.
(64.) Pease, "Experience," 163.
(65.) See Castronovo's Nerco Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), particularly chapter one "Political Necrophilia: Freedom and the Longing for Dead Citizenship."
(66.) Pease, "Experience," 156.
(67.) Terada, Feeling in Theory: Emotion After the Death of the Subject (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 4.
(68.) I borrow the term "disjunctive synthesis" from Alain Badiou's Logics of Worlds, 32.
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|Title Annotation:||Ralph Waldo Emerson|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2015|
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