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 Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"

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WanderingOisin

WanderingOisin

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PostSubject: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Wed Jul 02, 2008 2:48 am

http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm

I won't post the whole essay, but I will try and give a few of the highlights.

Quote :
Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

This is my favorite part:

Quote :
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none. This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony. The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray. We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

This one is a pretty well known and oft-quoted section:



Quote :
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

Thought it might be a good place to start a discussion.
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ishabaal

ishabaal

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Wed Jul 02, 2008 2:53 am

So what I'm getting from the second quote is that man can only be happy and smart through working physically and that any attempt at being happy or smart is useless and comes to nothing. So working on a farm is the only way to be smart... in the directest sense of course. Although I think he is really saying that man must work to obtain and that one cannot simply create knowledge but work for it? Interpreting philosophy is not one of my strong suits.
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WanderingOisin

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:17 am

ishabaal wrote:
So what I'm getting from the second quote is that man can only be happy and smart through working physically and that any attempt at being happy or smart is useless and comes to nothing. So working on a farm is the only way to be smart... in the directest sense of course. Although I think he is really saying that man must work to obtain and that one cannot simply create knowledge but work for it? Interpreting philosophy is not one of my strong suits.

I don't think that's exactly what he's saying here, though I am sure it is applicable. Taken in context of the first quote, I think the point is that most men don't voice the latent genius in their hearts, and instead let others say what we should have said from the beginning.

Quote :
Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

So in the first quote, he speaks of not relying on others for opinions, because when we see a great work of art, our own thoughts are reflected back upon us, and we see the genius of the mind with which we did nothing, leaving it to someone else. With this in mind we read the second quote:

Quote :
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

I believe here is where it ties in. He says that envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide. So to imitate someone else's genius, because we are too lazy to develop and take advantage of our own, is laziness, and is self-destructive to the soul. I think he is saying that you must accept those things which you can do, and those which you can't, and live with it, not imitating another person simply because that person can do it better than you can.

Quote :
A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.

I interpreted this to mean that when we do things(let us take art for an example), in imitation of others, that it is meaningless, and is self-destructive. But when a person puts his whole soul and strength into a piece, and brings it to completion, even when it is not superior in some ways than others' works, there is a real sense of satisfaction. Laziness, and ignoring one's own innate genius, it doesn't give true peace, and at the same time he loses all sense of what he was.
But I don't think this is just about art, it's about life and philosophy. And if we know the Transcendentalist roots where Emerson is coming from, we know that he believes society to be a corrupting influence, and that natural man, returning to nature, and left without such corruption, is pure and more "real." I don't know if I'd agree with that premise, but it informs how I interpret the passage.


Here's a little quote from the same essay about society:
Quote :
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

This speaks a little bit to the Individual/Society conflict I've spoken about.
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ishabaal

ishabaal

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Wed Jul 02, 2008 4:55 pm

Then in his view at least what I'm getting is that a person has a set thing that they can be good at, and trying to expand your repertoire of skills by studying and trying to emulate someone else's ideas or products is not only useless but actually detrimental. Also doing more research on Emerson and his transcendental movement I've come to understand it as mostly a rebellion against the current society and that the individual should be responsible for his own education rather than counting on others to teach him what he needs to know. Ah, I think I'm getting it now so he thinks that only the individual can truly learn what he needs and that any knowledge that he does not personally discover is useless to him. Something like that?
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WanderingOisin

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Wed Jul 02, 2008 11:38 pm

ishabaal wrote:
Then in his view at least what I'm getting is that a person has a set thing that they can be good at, and trying to expand your repertoire of skills by studying and trying to emulate someone else's ideas or products is not only useless but actually detrimental. Also doing more research on Emerson and his transcendental movement I've come to understand it as mostly a rebellion against the current society and that the individual should be responsible for his own education rather than counting on others to teach him what he needs to know. Ah, I think I'm getting it now so he thinks that only the individual can truly learn what he needs and that any knowledge that he does not personally discover is useless to him. Something like that?

That sounds fairly accurate, I'd say.
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ishabaal

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Thu Jul 03, 2008 1:44 am

Well.... that would throw the entire school thing out the window, eh? I mean the belief that only knowledge gained by oneself is of any use at that others knowledge is not important is. Well. Silly, since the very words and language that he uses to express this are learned things from others namely your parents and those in direct contact with you. So thus if the only important knowledge worth having is that which you have gained with no aid then language, math, literature, philosophy, history, farming techniques would all be useless and not exist. Of course that is me doing a literal argument and it may work on a spiritual level or some such but how is at this moment beyond me.
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K.

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Mon Jul 07, 2008 6:03 pm

ishabaal wrote:
Well.... that would throw the entire school thing out the window, eh?

Not quite. Emerson says in this essay to give an "independent, genuine verdict" about what others say. Deliberate with your own soul the verity of others' claims, don't dismiss them entirely.
Quote :

I mean the belief that only knowledge gained by oneself is of any use at that others knowledge is not important is. Well. Silly, since the very words and language that he uses to express this are learned things from others namely your parents and those in direct contact with you. So thus if the only important knowledge worth having is that which you have gained with no aid then language, math, literature, philosophy, history, farming techniques would all be useless and not exist. Of course that is me doing a literal argument and it may work on a spiritual level or some such but how is at this moment beyond me.

Not even literally is Emerson saying this. He never says that the only important knowledge is unaided. What he is saying in general is, and I quote: "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." As Echolyn put it:

"It's too easy to 'be in' with a platform
It's too easy to know what to say
It's harder to sit when everyone else is standing
To shake your head as the world just nods away"
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ishabaal

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PostSubject: Re: Emerson, Essay I I "Self-Reliance"   Mon Jul 07, 2008 6:28 pm

... I like the echolyn reference there. I also tend to agree with that interpretation then.
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