Thursday, March 28, 2013

One more reason to read Emerson …

David Brooks disapproves of him: “The Best American Essays 2012,” Edited By David Brooks - The (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The first essay is Benjamin Anastas’s “The Foul Reign of ‘Self-Reliance,’” in which he blames “Emerson’s tacit endorsement of a radically self-centered worldview” for the contemporary conservative movement’s refusal to confront inconvenient facts.
One man's inconvenient facts, Ben,  are often another's unproved assertions.

[David Foster] Wallace, [Jonathan] Franzen argues, took his own life after suffocating in the selfhood he explored so thoroughly and cultivated so memorably in prose.
How come Montaigne didn't take his own life?


  1. I find that I tend to read Emerson with Santayana, Henry Adams,Yvor Winters, Kenneth Lynn, and Flannery O'Connor clearing their throats somewhere not quite out of earshot. He writes well, but seems to me to reach reflexively for vague and general statements, unless something--Daniel Webster, England, emancipation in the West Indies--holds him to particulars.

    I have no idea how to relate Emerson to any conservative movement one might name. I don't think that Emerson would have either.

  2. I think you are precisely correct, George, regarding Emerson and any conservative movement — or any other movement, for that matter. The problem with people like Brooks and Anastas is that poltics is the prism through whih they see everything.

  3. I should have added that Emerson is easier to read once you realize that the essays are pretty much mosaics composed of bits taken from his journals.

  4. I don't find Emerson difficult to read, just in general unrewarding. He must have been an exhilarating lecturer to hear--such a cool judge as Trollope thought he gave a very good speech--but when one reads "Nature" or "The American Scholar", the eye looks for arguments and finds assertions or exhortations.

  5. Well, it's certainly true that Waldo does come up short on arguments. Pronouncement is his mode of expression. But when I read "Self_Reliance" when I was 15, it seemed to me to be my own personal declaration of independence. And for that I will remain grateful.