Thursday, January 5, 2017

Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea (Part 1--Introduction)

I started reading Iris Murdoch's, The Sea, the Sea yesterday. I'm about 50 pages in and so have nearly finished the first section, "Pre-history." This is the third Iris Murdoch book I've read. My first encounter with her was when I borrowed The Black Prince from a friend while serving as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. I had just heard of Murdoch after having read about her in Harold Bloom's book Genius. She was one of the 100 figures Bloom chose to represent literary genius. Bloom's description of her as a romance writer in the mode of Spenser's Faerie Queene and the High Romantic poems captivated me and made me very eager to pick her up. While in the Peace Corps good books were somewhat hard to come by. All of us were constantly sharing and exchanging books. The friend I borrowed The Black Prince from had just finished it and found it somewhat disappointing. He felt the combination of narrative and philosophical asides were jarring and preferred authors who showed their point rather than explained it. He said Kafka's short story, The Hunger Artist, was a perfect example of how to show it and not tell it. He had also just read Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim which he loved and felt to be another exemplary case of showing it.

I loved it though. The first books I had been truly obsessed by had been philosophical novels though, Dostoyevsky's novels and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain foremost amongst them. Many scenes from The Black Prince have stayed in my memory. The protagonist himself is memorable as as the perfectionist author who, if memory serves me correctly, only finished one novel and has been laboring for years to complete a second. His friend and rival is a successful author who has consistently publish well-received books. I have always been of the opinion that great artists are always outsiders and generally unpopular with rare exceptions like Shakespeare, Byron, Austen, and Dickens. My Peace Corps friend pointed out the irony in Murdoch herself being a prolific author of popular books. The protagonist also has an aversion to music. There is a vivid scene of him running from the theater, tormented by what sounded to him like screeching and screaming. This is, oddly enough, repeated in The Sea, the Sea, when Charles Arrowby confesses to hating the sound of the human voice. And then there is his infatuation with his rival's teenage daughter, whom he imagines as a kind of surrogate for Hamlet.

I didn’t read another Murdoch novel until at least 6 years later. I had met a doctor who was passionate about her. Out of the blue he approached me while at a Christmas party and said, “You have to watch this video.” I was surprised to see it was Iris Murdoch being interviewed on the BBC. It was an old video, I think from the 70s, but still popular. If you search for Iris Murdoch on Google it is one of the first videos to come up. Murdoch was discussing her role as a professional philosopher and novelist and what she saw as the relation between philosophy and art. The doctor friend and I talked a bit about what we each knew of Iris Murdoch. I confessed to having only read one novel and decided it was high time to start another. 

Shortly after I picked up The Good Apprentice. Like The Black Prince, my second Murdoch book did not fail to disappoint. It was immediately gripping and sustained its intensity throughout. The image of the two brothers, both struggling to attain goodness--one through sin and the other through discipline--has stayed with me. I remember the household of the brothers' father as seeming something out of the Faery Queene. The father, I cannot remember his name now, was a great artist, reveered by the women of the house (his wife and daughters?). The women had an orderly way of keeping everything together, leaving items at the bottom of the stairs and only bring them up when they were already heading that way. I remember the mother discussing the father's art phases, especially his heroic phase. The whole seen was very magical and supports Bloom's argument that Murdoch is more of a fantasist than the realist she claimed to be. Lastly, I seem to remember a character having a nightmare that was very vivid to me. Somewhere in the middle of the novel. I should look up the scene, as it has left a deep impact on me. 

So, what do I make of this third book? So far it is very intriguing. Murdoch has done a wonderful job of patterning images of the sea. The environment is very vivid and varied enough to easily sustain my interest.  Charles as a Shakespeare's Prospero retiring to his craggy cliffside home. He expresses an interest in permanence, but I think it is fair to question his sincerity. He seems thoroughly content to live a life "writ on water." His mistress, Lizzie is in part the kind of directness and permanence that his nature is both drawn to and also repelled by. 

I am thoroughly enjoying the book. Iris Murdoch is the kind of author I would like to be. I enjoy an author who deals so directly and clearly with ideas. There is both narrative drama as well as rich complexity of thought. I will admit that I do feel aware of the effort involved in her creation. It does not distract me from appreciating the book though. With an ambition as large as hers it is forgivable to fall short of perfection. When I say I am aware of her effort, what I mean is that in striving for a Shakespearean resonance she is almost doomed to fail. There are also allusions to Wordsworth and a general atmosphere of Romanticism in the opening. These are all very general reflections and I will be sure to be more systematic in my next post. I'll conclude with Bloom's reading of Murdoch as a writer of romance:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On the road to find out

November 1, 2016
Los Angeles, CA

I have been considering a biographical essay on “what I believe” for awhile. Ironically, I’ve only chosen to write about it now that I’ve mostly lost interest on the subject. Why talk about belief specifically? Why not faith, or religion, or spirituality? A better word would have been “gnosis” or “knowledge” but I decided to avoid extremes and go for the modest, middle of the road, concept of belief. But even now, as I settle on this term, I feel myself being pulled this way and that and am sure I will have traversed many areas before reaching my conclusion.
            So, where to begin my  spiritual biography? I was raised in a Protestant home by relatively religious parents. Both my parents were from not particularly devout Catholic families. My mother rebelled against her upbringing and converted to Protestantism believing it was the more Biblical faith. That phrase, “Biblical Christianity” was something I took as a given growing up and which I find much more problematical now. But, that is a whole different issue. All of us kids were fairly involved in the church growing up. My most spiritual memories are connected to reading the Bible and singing hymns and praise and worship songs. I remember specifically being drawn to the incantatory power of the Bible. At the same time, I was always interested in writing and drawing. I loved drawing and imagining stories. I also liked designing my own role playing games, which I would force my brother to play. Later, while a freshman in high school, I wrote a 200-page fantasy novel. And the year after that, I became addicted to Japanese comics and animation. So, I had these two seemingly contradictory identities—my involvement in the church and my interest in art. There were practical questions I considered, such as, whether I should go to an art school or a local Christian school, but, more pressingly was the whole question of what to value. I felt aware of the division and knew that eventuality I would have to declare my loyalties, one way or the other.
The summer after graduating I went to a Christian retreat called “The Summit” that was designed to prepare high school graduates for the secular issues they would face in college. Although I had been to many retreats in the past, Summit felt different. For one thing, it wasn’t merely a passionate exhortation to be “on fire for God” but was designed to prepare Christians entering college to combat any anti-Christian ideology they encountered there. This gave it, in contrast with other Christian events of this sort, a uniquely intellectual atmosphere. We learned about evolution, Marxism, the basics of logic and philosophy, and Postmodernism amongst other things. The attractiveness of these ideas remained despite the intended purpose of teaching them for the sole purpose of enabling us to better refute them. I learned that I had a deep craving for knowledge that, for whatever reasons, had not been fulfilled in high school. These lectures opened up new and fascinating worlds for me, worlds I had only been dimly familiar with up until then. More than that, I now felt compelled to take a firm stand, although I did not yet know on what.
            One immediate change that occurred after this trip was that I threw away my entire collection of movies, comic books, and video games so as to devote myself more sincerely to God. I later spoke with my brother, who also attended this conference, and who spoke of it as a turning point for him as well. Unlike my brother, I was grateful for the new intellectual passion the event gave me, however unintentionally, while he felt betrayed for having been given a false view of ideas he later came to empathize with. I should mention, we went to this event with two other brothers, one of whom became extremely rigid and aggressive in his faith. But, more on him later. For now, I just want to say that I came to define myself in opposition to this other brother. If he was to be rigid and dogmatic I would be open and endlessly inquiring.
After giving up videogames I found that I had a lot of free time on my hands. I always loved art and I now felt that I needed to take my passion more seriously so I decided to learn what I could about classical culture. I started paying more attention to great works of art, classical music, and literature. It so happened that my mom and aunt were reading Les Misérables around this time. It looked interesting so I picked it up. It may have taken me 6 months for me to read, but I was nonetheless very engaged the whole time. The early scene where the priest’s saves the wayward Jean val Jean with that beautiful act of generosity and humanity, has remained a touchstone for me to this day. I began hunting around for other books that would consume my imagination as that one had. I had heard of The Catcher in the Rye and The Lord of the Flies. Their mere titles intrigued me. I stated asking anyone I knew who may know something about books. Although I hit a dry spell, I had now realized the kind of books I wanted to read. Things that were dark and transgressive, but that ultimately struck me as profoundly humane. I was listening to a lot of classical music at this time as well. I hunted around for live performances to see with what remained of that summer and found one in the twin cities of southern Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. There I attended a performance of Bach’s St. Mathew’s Passion. Later I realized there was a great orchestra in my own backyard and so signed up for a year of concerts at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with a guy that remains my closest friend.
I did not begin college immediately. I worked a construction job and took community college courses first. It was in an English class I took in community college where I was given my first poetry anthology. Our teacher was clearing out her office and let us students take whatever books we wanted. I greedily swiped up the anthology. A second important event occurred in that same English class. We were given a writing assignment that led me to the local library and in turn to the great Yale literary critic, Harold Bloom. I faintly remember the assignment being something about finding a work of criticism, although I don’t remember writing anything about Bloom at the time. How I would love to read that paper now. The book was, of course, Bloom’s The Western Canon. Like most people, I kept coming back to Bloom for that list in the back of the book. I’d go to the library, scan the list and slowly work my way through it. Title after title. I would end up buying several of Bloom’s other books first, before I ever got around to buying and reading the Western Canon.
In the Autumn of 1998 I went to the Christian college, William Tyndale. There I decided to major in English literature, which I did for my first two years. I remember being very excited to take a philosophy and psychology course my first semester. The psychology course ended up being fairly soft and not impacting, but the philosophy course, like the English course earlier, proved pivotal, if only because it introduced me to my next obsession, Dostoyevsky and Russian literature. We read the famous “Grand Inquisitor” chapter from The Brothers Karamazov. A few years later I would start up a Russian literature club with two other friends. We got stuck on Dostoyevsky though and spent the year just reading his four great novels. Later, I met the friend who I went to Summit with, and saw he was reading Dostoyevksy’s Notes from Underground, which he was rather turned off by. His disinterest in the book only further confirmed its greatness to me and I eagerly and greedily picked it up the next day.  I also took several English literature classes those first two years covering many of the greatest works of world literature. I also continued to read a lot on my own. Notable readings included Don Quixote, Paradise Lost and Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad.
It was at this time that I realized how difficult writing was for me. Writing would remain an anxious undertaking for all of my undergraduate, and graduate school days as well. I write like I draw. I begin very sloppily and painfully. The words come out awkward and ill-formed. Then begins a process of endless revision where I occasionally catch glimpses of the imagined form.
These first two years I was also visiting a lot of churches and continued questioning my faith. I wavered between trying to rationalize Christianity and desiring to have some kind of religious, quasi-charismatic, experience. I felt there was too much that I could not rationalize and I also knew that I lacked the deep emotional and spiritual conviction of the charismatic believers. I knew that I did not like the idea of believing that the whole world needed or should be converted. I desired diversity. I enjoyed living in a world with disparate views. It seemed like a kind of hell to have a world full of single minded people. What I could believe in was the aesthetic power of reading literature.
My junior year I transferred briefly to Eastern Michigan University. I had become unhappy with the English department, which I felt was too small and not very challenging. I signed up for several classes at EMU and then, my first week, the whole school went on strike. This ended up being a very fortuitous turn of events. I had already learned that many credits would not transfer from Tyndale and, feeling like I might be delayed a semester as well, I decided this was all too much and so went back to Tyndale. I’m not sure how it happened but I ended up in a conversation with the head of the Middle Eastern Studies Department, Dr. Judith Mendelssohn Rood. I told her my situation and she quickly recruited me into Middle Eastern Studies program. All the magic and challenge that was missing from the English department was found in abundance in her courses. Although she, by and large, led the whole department on her own, the classes were still very rich and individual. For example, our class on Middle Eastern Literature met at a local Lebanese restaurant, and our class on Jewish, Christian, Muslim relations met at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington. I was amazed at Judy’s endless energy and enthusiasm. I felt like I finally found the intellectual environment I had been searching for.
During this time, I continued to read Bloom and visit different churches. I remember distinctly that by my senior year I was convinced that I was no longer a Christian. I wrote a paper for my class on World Religions where I expressed this. The professor tried to give me a D for the course, surely on the grounds that it was “un-Christian” although I was able to negotiate him into a low B. That last year was chaotic at Tyndale. With Judy gone, most of the excitement of school for me was gone as well. I trudged through, doing a lot of reading on my own. I started reading more poetry, I read more of the modernists including Yeats and Joyce, but also other figures like T.S. Eliot who I now feel ambivalent about. I read Bloom’s book, Omens of Millenium, which I sometimes consider, along with Agon, to be my favorite book by him (I would not read Agon until I returned from the Peace Corps three years later).
As I approached graduation I didn’t know what I wanted to do. After high school I had flirted with being a missionary. As graduation approached I considered the army or the navy. I thought that at least these options could give me the chance to focus on languages and so perhaps eventually lead to an academic career. I ended up choosing the Peace Corps and going to Uzbekistan.
I already feel like this biography is getting a bit long so I’m going to rush through and bring it to a close. The most important intellectual development to occur during my time in the Peace Corps was my introduction to the Romantics. I had brought two Bloom books, The Visionary Company and Bloom’s commentary on The Complete Poetry of William Blake. Along with these I had an anthology of English literature that included the first three cantos of The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, and most of the major High Romantic British poems. I also brought a lot of Shakespeare and would later come across some Emerson, Whitman, and Nietzsche. Finishing the Peace Corps in 2005 I returned to graduate school. After receiving my MA in English Literature I moved to Boston and eventually ended up getting married, having a daughter, and becoming an English teacher.
I want to stop there and reflect on the evolution of my thinking over the years and so, hopefully, come round to the purpose of this essay—my feelings about belief, faith, religion, spirituality, gnosis. The best thing I did in those early years was read widely, and memorize poems. I expanded my horizon immensely and continue to do so. For many years I primarily shared the interests of Bloom, especially his gnostic and apocalyptic tendencies. The first poet I latched onto, oddly enough, was T.S. Eliot. Modernism in general was very appealing to me. I liked the density of the images. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern. The sense it gave me was that in linking modernity with the past it was in some way giving a full picture of life, a glimpse of the whole. Joyce, more than anyone else, epitomized this method for me. This was my earliest vision of what literature could be. It inspired a passion that has continued to evolve until today.

I was always fascinated with the idea of the epic and the promise that one could somehow capture the fullness of reality. It did not matter whether this was possible or not (of course it’s not). But the promise of it, the drive towards it, remains endlessly fascinating and moving for me. There is a line from the famous Renaissance author, Sir Thomas Browne, “Methinks there be not miracles in religion enough to merit an active faith.” This Faustian craving for more knowledge is what has inspired and driven me more than any other. But it is not merely an endless parade of facts, it is the belief that one shapes a vision of the world out of this knowledge that has most inspired me. This drive to both expand one’s view of the world, but in so doing consolidate and bring together one’s knowledge so that one forms an image of the world. It is what Shelley meant when he referred to poetry as being both the center and the circumference of knowledge. That is my understanding of the work of poetry. That is my belief.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Roth and Saramago

(EDIT: I noticed that this post had been saved as a "draft" and never been published. I'm publishing now as is. October 19, 2016--originally written in perhaps 2008 or so)

Okay, I started this journal as a forum between me and some friends to have some type of debate: literature v. religion but that didn't really pan out. I keep a journal of reflections on my readings and so I figured I'd just post them up here.

I just finished Philip Roth's American Pastoral and Jose Saramago's All the Names. In Saramago the scene that impressed me most was in the later chapter where Jose ventures deep into the Central Registry at night with Ariadne’s thread around his ankle in search of the death certificate of the woman. Names are one's identity and give a certain presence to persons and things but the title of the novel “All the Names” referred to on pg. 184 is the motto of the General Cemetery. There are comparisons between the Central Registry and the General Cemetery in the story as well, the obvious parallel is that they both deal with dead things, literally or figuratively and in both the line is blurred. The most powerful scene that I referred to in the central registry is when Jose confronts the ominous blank wall. Also interesting is the registrar’s friendliness towards Jose. This is not the God of his Gospel. There is a whim that pervades the novel, the whole quest is done out of whim, Jose endangers himself out of a whim, there is danger in the book but there is a kind of headlong abandonment into that danger as though all else has been used up and that in order to have some sense of life or vitality one must throw one’s self into this rather random quest. I decided to read All the Names after reading an essay by one of my favorite scholars Angus Fletcher titled I believe "Allegories without Ideas." Fletcher listed a few writers including Saramago and another favorite writer of mine, Paul Auster, as exemplifying this kind of Allegory. In both there is a questing for meaning and it is the quest itself rather than the end that drives the search. In All the Names this wall, like Melville's White Whale, seems to be the central looming figure. Saramago likes to make many of his figures speak, including ceilings and although the wall doesn't speak it is definitely an ominous presence.

Recently read an interview with Bloom from the Onion A/V club where Bloom compares Blood Meridian to Roth’s American Pastoral which rather surprised me. A very odd comparison—I remember most from American Pastoral the Whitmanian chant from Seymor on the things he loves which is fiercely mirrored by Merry on the things she hates. There isn’t really an innocence in Blood Meridian unless it is the land itself. There is merely brutality from beginning to end, it is therefore odd that the story begins with a description of the country as “yet harboring a few grey wolves” which suggests a tame landscape. This reflects in the judges statement that the dance will become a false dance. I suppose that if this is a fear in McCarthy that there is an element from the judge we need in some way it is perhaps true that there is this element in American Pastoral as well. There are, say, two sides in each story. There is the naïve Swede who is oddly accused of being part of the Vietnam violence and then there are the aware revolutionaries who are more aware of reality and are too rather violent. But both sides have knowledge and the Swede’s seems to be more rooted while Merry’s and Rita’s while visceral is likely more ephemeral. We do not see too much of the lack of knowledge in Blood Meridian because all seem steeped in knowledge if only to greater or lesser degrees, and here I mean by knowledge experience particularly the experience of violence.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Emerson and The Central Man

I know that I have been posting on this blog very sporadically (to the point of posting barely at all, the road to hell being paved with what it is) nonetheless, I set out now once again to write regularly and share my thoughts--we'll see how long that lasts. I love coming up with reading lists. Last year I set myself the goal of rereading John Crowley's Aegypt quartet along with reading Samuel Delany's Neveryon quartet. I considered writing on them but felt my reactions still too unformed, perhaps in a few years when I reread them I will have something more definitive to say. This past year I read quite a bit of American literature--beginning with David McCullough's biography of John Adams, then Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, Emerson's Journals, David S. Reynold's biography of Whitman, McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Faulkner's Light in August, Conrad's Nostromo (I read Conrad because he seems part of a line of influence from Melville to McCarthy that I was interested in tracing backwards) and Melville's Moby Dick, and finishing the year with David McCullough's biography of Truman. I read and skimmed through quite a few histories and reread quite a bit of David Bromwich. I hope to post again before the year is out giving a full summary of my reading. For now I'd like to share these reflections on Emerson.

Division and Unity
I have spent the year thinking about America’s literary heritage, which for me means I’ve been thinking about Emerson. At the heart of my reading were the journals (in the abridged Library of America edition). Emerson prophesied a figure he called “the central man.” It is easy to reduce this to merely one more iteration of the great man theory. Carlyle, at his worst, succumbs to this, but Emerson is more elusive. One example of Emerson’s elusiveness can be seen in his consideration of Amos Bronson Alcott. After several pages of general praise Emerson concludes:
Alcott sees the law of man truer & farther than any one ever did. Unhappily, his conversation never loses sight of his own personality. He never quotes; he never refers; his only illustration is his own biography. His topic yesterday is Alcott on the 17 October; today, Alcott on the 18 October; tomorrow, on the 19th. So will it be always. The poet rapt into future times or into deeps of nature admired for themselves, lost in their law, cheers us with a lively charm; but this noble genius discredits genius to me. I do not want any more such persons to exist. Part of this egotism in him is a certain comparing eye which seems to sour his view of persons prosperously placed, & to make his conversation often accusing & minatory. He is not selfsufficing & serene.
It is little fault on Alcott if he falls short, no individual met Emerson’s strict criteria. And yet, as Steven Whicher observed in Freedom and Fate, Emerson is not very clear either on the specific qualities that constitute this figure. He often speaks of “the erect position,” but what precisely is that? 
Emerson is suggestive in his negative response to Shelley. Is it merely Emerson’s native New England Puritanism that rebels against Shelley’s atheism and sexual liberty? I rather suspect it is the Lucretian and Epicurean element in Shelley that bothered him. Ralph Richardson’s biography of Emerson recounts his anxiety over the theodicy problem he encountered in Hume and Epicurus—that if there is a God he cannot be both all powerful and good otherwise how can we account for evil. Emerson famously expressed this anxiety in his remark, “A believer in Unity, a seer of Unity, I yet behold two.” 
Writing in his journals on November 27, 1839, Emerson considers the sense of division in himself which leads him, in turn, to his attack on Shelley:
Shelley is never a poet. His mind is uniformly imitative; all his poems composite. A fine English scholar he is, with taste, ear, and memory; but imagination, the original authentic fire of the bard, he has not. He is clearly modern, and shares with Wordsworth and Coleridge, Byron, and Hemans the feeling of the Infinite, which so labors for expression in their different genius. But all his lines are arbitrary, not necessary,' and therefore, though evidently a devout and brave man, I can never read his verses.
Emerson will mention Shelley a few more times in the journals, but his opinion never changed. He is always circumspect in his praise and ultimately dismissive. This is puzzling for me considering Emerson’s unabashed early enthusiasm for Whitman, himself deeply influenced by Shelley. It is possible that Whitman’s Lucretianism did not block Emerson’s admiration because it was mediated by Whitman’s strong personality. Shelley’s poetry is indeed wracked with division. Whitman accepts everything, multitudes, contradictions, and finds unity in his acceptance.

Historians of Utopia usually begin first with Plato before turning to Thomas More as the origin proper. The same historians are usually free to admit the porous nature of their subject, confessing that the idea of a better world has existed since the dawn of history. Auden phrased these conceptions of an ideal world as Edens and Jerusalems. Edens are pastoral paradises whereas Jerusalems are urban perfect societies and so are utopias proper. 
Emerson was interested in utopian thought, particularly Fourier, but seemed uninterested in its real world manifestations, like Brook Farm. Instead, he sought a kind of utopian figure, a person who could hold all things together. Often this interest presented itself as a concern for the unification of the arts and sciences. Many figures were exemplary for Emerson but principle amongst them were Goethe and Swedenborg. Emerson ultimately turned from both. For Goethe: 
I dare not say that Goethe ascended to the highest grounds from which genius has spoken. He has not worshipped the highest unity; he is incapable of a self-surrender to the moral sentiment…He is fragmentary; a writer of occasional poems and of an encyclopaedia of sentences. When he sits down to write a drama or a tale, he collects and sorts his observations from a hundred sides, and combines them into the body as fitly as he can. A great deal refuses to incorporate: this he adds loosely as letters of the parties, leaves from their journals, or the like. A great deal still is left that will not find any place. This the bookbinder alone can give any cohesion to; and hence, notwithstanding the looseness of many of his works, we have volumes of detached paragraphs, aphorisms, Xenien,*(33) etc.
One might take issue with Emerson’s assessment of Goethe. The Renaissance scholar, Michael Martin, in his book on Sophiology titled The Submerged Reality, sees Rudolph Steiner as both the fulfillment of Goethe’s promise and the answer to Romanticisms failed quest for unity. Steiner was both a poet, a theologian, and a practical innovator in many spheres of life. 
Regarding Emerson’s ultimate verdict on Swedenborg, Sam McGuire Worely writes in Emerson, Thoreau, and the Role of the Cultural Critic, “In placing a fixed moral identity in the external world Swedenborg betrays the centrality of human will that Emerson had at first hoped to find there. Instead of being a matter of human will and understanding, Swedenborg’s moral universe becomes closed and determinate (40).”
Plato comes closer. Plato is both the scientist and the poet. He is able to focus on particulars as well as view the whole. In his essay on Plato in “Representative Men” Emerson says, “Each student adheres, by temperament and by habit, to the first or to the second of these gods of the mind. By religion, he tends to unity; by intellect, or by the senses, to the many. A too rapid unification, and an excessive appliance to parts and particulars, are the twin dangers of speculation.” There is a passage in Shelley's Defense of Poetry that comes to mind, “The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave.” The ideal figure, then, should command a mastery over both these faculties of the intellect.
It is likely that Emerson’s focus on the individual over society has excluded him from classification among great utopian thinkers. John Crowley, himself an exceptional author of utopian novels, wrote in an essay titled “The Labyrinth of the World, the Paradise of the Heart” that all utopias are ultimately centered around this dual concern of the individual and society. Crowley concludes his essay with the argument that the value of utopias is not as practical instruction manuals but rather as rich visions of possible worlds. Few would argue this point, the history of applied utopian thought and its utility for totalitarian regimes is all too well known. If Emerson’s utopianism receives a fuller consideration it may prove his evasiveness to be a boon.