Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On Emersonian Influence

Getting as far as page 157 in Harold Bloom's The Daemon Knows, I read his quote from Emerson's journals "Far the best part, I repeat, of every mind is not that which he knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him.  His firm recorded knowledge soon loses all interest for him.  But this dancing chorus of thoughts and hopes is the quarry of his future, is his possibility . . . ."  That much sounds very like something I thought recently.  Having had a number of arguments with people who when I noticed a similarity between something they said and the writings of some philosopher only to have them claim vociferously that they had come to their views entirely independently, I invariably take an opposite view,  that is, I assume that I have been influenced by such a writer even if I don't recall the occasion of that influence. 

After all I must have read quite a bit of Emerson in American lit classes if not on my own.  I have a vague distaste when I think of Emerson and must have gotten that some place.  On page 158 Bloom writes, "Frost was an absolute Emersonian; Mark Twain had no overwhelming American precursor.  Of the other writers discussed here, Faulkner never read Emerson, and Eliot scorned him: 'The Essays of Emerson are already an encumbrance.' Melville read and annotated Emerson and attended his lectures, while manifesting an acute ambivalence.  Hawthorne was the sage's walking companion in Concord but held out against him, yet Hester Prynne, Ahab, and Ishmael are dark Emersonians.  Henry James, linked to Emerson by family traditions, resisted him, though Isabel Archer is wholly a disciple of self-reliance.  Walt Whitman, though later he denied it, started from Emerson, just as Wallace Stevens subtly evaded his vast dependence upon Whitman and satirized Emerson while repeating him.  Hart Crane, wholly Emersonian, clearly takes his Platonic daemonization both from Concord and from Walter Pater."

How embarrassing for a writer (could he but know) to learn that despite his certainty that he had (like Twain) no precursor, that he was "an absolute Emersonian."  I searched a bit in the Library of America edition of Emerson's writings.  Surely I read "Self Reliance" at some point, and I recall his essay "the Over Soul" -- thinking him very like Jung, or vice versa, but that was it.  Perhaps I only read Emerson back in the 50s during classes.   I began reading his "The Conduct of Life" and ran across, ". . . You may as well ask a loom which weaves huckaback, why it does not make cashmere, as expect poetry from this engineer . . ."   Feeling temporarily outraged I shall perhaps scorn him once again (perhaps that is why I never read him extensively) as Eliot did.

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