Ordinary Intimacies in Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin
This essay reads James Baldwin in conversation with two unexpected interlocutors
from the American nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Ralph Waldo Emerson and W.
E. B. Du Bois. What draws these historically distant and intellectually
different thinkers together, their differences making their convergences all the
more resonant and provocative, is a shared mode of attention they bring to the
social crises of their eras. It is a mode of attention foregrounding how the
often unobserved particulars and emotional registers of human life vitally shape
civic existence; more specifically, a mode of attention provoking us to see how
“a larger, juster, and fuller future,” in Du Bois’s words,
is a matter of the ordinary intimacies and estrangements in which we exist,
human connections in all their expressions and suppressions. Emerson names them
“facts [. . .] harder to read.” They are “the
finer manifestations,” in Du Bois’s terms, “of social life,
which history can but mention and which statistics can not count”;
“All these things,” Baldwin says, “[. . .]
which no chart can tell us.” In effect, from the 1830s to the 1980s these
thinkers bear witness to what politics, legislation, and even all our knowledges
can address only partially, and to the potentially transformative compensations
we might realize in the way we conduct our daily lives. The immediate relevance
and urgency this essay finds in their work exists not in proposed political
actions, programs for reform, or systematic theories of social justice but in
the way their words revitalize the ethical question “How shall I
live?” Accumulative and suggestive rather than systematically comparative
or polemical, this essay attempts to engage with Emerson, Du Bois, and Baldwin
intimately, to proceed in the spirit of their commitment to questioning received
disciplines, languages, and ways of inhabiting the world.
Modern American literature began with a statement of enthusiasm from Emerson's writing in Nature. 'Enthusiasm', in Emerson, is a knowing word. Sometimes its use is as description, invariably approving, of a historic form of religious experience. Socrates' meaning of enthusiasm, and the image of the enthusiast it throws up, is crucial to this book. The book is a portrait of the writer as an enthusiast, where the portrait, as will become clear, carries more than a hint of polemic. It is about the transmission of literature, showing various writers taking responsibility for that transmission, whether within in their writing or in their cultural activism. Henry David Thoreau's Walden is an enthusiastic book. It is where enthusiasm works both in Immanuel Kant's sense of the unbridled self, and in William Penn's sense of the 'nearer' testament, and in Thoreau's own sense of supernatural serenity. Establishing Ezra Pound's enthusiasm is a fraught and complicated business. Marianne Moore composed poems patiently, sometimes over several years. She is a poet of things, as isolated things - jewels, curios, familiar and exotic animals, common and rare species of plant - are often the ostensible subjects of her poems. Homage to Frank O'Hara is a necessary book, because the sum of his aesthetic was to be found not just in his writing, but also in his actions to which only friends and contemporaries could testify. An enthusiastic reading of James Schuyler brings to the fore pleasure, the sheer pleasure that can come of combining, or mouthing, or transcribing.
Ecocriticism, as it now exists in the USA, takes its literary bearings from three major nineteenth-century American writers whose work celebrates nature, the life force, and the wilderness as manifested in America, these being RalphWaldoEmerson (1803–82), Margaret Fuller (1810–50), and Henry David Thoreau (1817–62). All three were ‘members’ of the group of New England writers, essayists, and philosophers known collectively as the transcendentalists, the first major literary movement in America to achieve ‘cultural independence’ from European models. Emerson's first, short
To fasten words again to visible – and invisible – things
reality of its internal diversity.
For Whitman, as for his contemporary, the transcendentalist RalphWaldoEmerson, key to the poetic ideal of capturing the American landscape as a true
arena of cultural and ontological expression was to realign the visual and the
verbal, to ‘fasten words again to visible things’.3 However, in the study of the
literary and the pictorial in conjunction, from Gotthold Lessing’s Laocoön (1766)
onwards, image and text, and imagery and the material, have been read largely
as binaries and singularities, contradictory elements that collided
knowledge’ could only be known ‘in the realm of inner
feeling’ 75 – rather like the ‘Great
Disembodied ONE’ of Manning’s discourse, recorded by
Thomas Allsop. 76
Neoplatonism also left its mark on the other side of the
Atlantic. In 1820s New England it helped inspire the American
Transcendentalist movement, which borrowed heavily from English
Unitarianism and German Idealism. 77 The leading Transcendentalist, RalphWaldoEmerson, explored ideas echoing Manning’s disquisition on the
‘Great Disembodied ONE
across large sections of the citizenry across both sides of the international border demarcated in 1947.
This is why it is all the more important to reassess the legacy of a man who is universally held responsible for a partition that he had assiduously tried avoiding. To do so one has to go beyond the simplistic distinction between the secular and the religious on which so many of the national myths of India and Pakistan are based. ‘Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds’, the American philosopher RalphWaldoEmerson once said
. It was articulated by RalphWaldoEmerson in some of his essays and lectures, but somewhat counterbalanced, at least in the Northern states, by other forces such as abolitionism. 34 After the Civil War, however, conscious constructions of whiteness became a more dominant factor in public life. When Longfellow invented ‘Saxon’ characters like that in ‘The Skeleton in Armor’, he was (at least on a conscious level) promoting cosmopolitanism, not racial hierarchies. However, in the post-Civil War period, as racial hierarchies began to be legitimated by pseudo
–87; Alan Bray, The Friend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003) , 159–164.
8 Elizabeth Hewitt, Correspondence and American Literature, 1770–1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) , 189, n. 8. Emphasis in original; William Decker, Epistolary Practices: Letter-Writing in America Before Telecommunications (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998) , 47.
9 Hewitt, Correspondence and American Literature , 56–57.
10 Decker, Epistolary Practices , 116.
11 RalphWaldoEmerson, ‘Friendship’ (1841), in The Essential
Louis Sullivan’s transcendentalist legacy in word and image
Lauren S. Weingarden
poesis architectura – as in poetry, so in architecture. As the phrase is used
here, the ut poesis architectura project is premised on architecture’s emulation
of both lyric poetry’s intensely subjective expression and its sister art of naturalistic landscape painting. As I will show, RalphWaldoEmerson’s writings on
A poetics of organic expression
language and poetry were central to Sullivan’s conception of organic expression
and its symbolic representation. Subsequently, Walt Whitman’s poetry and prose
were pivotal to Sullivan’s transformation of architecture