I don’t know why Emerson has always seemed a step too far into American thinking, somewhere I have not found myself needing to go, but there I have just now been and so I must praise The Kindle, for certainly I’d not have brought The Complete Essays of Emerson with me on holiday, and yet, because they were there, and because I didn’t want, after Hester, to start another novel, I began in a secondhand bookshopish manner to browse and then – Biff! Wow! Kerpow! What a strange and super-strength person/mind this is and how oddly close he sits to what I’ve been reading in my morning readings from Wilfred Bion. That seems unlikely, I know, and I did wonder if I was merely enjoying that strange connecting phenomenon whereby all kinds of things you read become linked – not in reality – but by the connections provided by one’s own mind… however, as I m not going to write about all of Emerson here today, one example, from the Introduction to Nature:
Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.
Wilfred Bion could have written that sentence. The acting as life is our daily existence, the apprehension as a truth, for Bion, would have come through analysis ( I don’t know his thinking well enough to know if he would think the apprehension would come only through analysis – perhaps through well being…) but the sense that we already contain our own answers, that we already are the solution to our own problems is a Bion thought.
There was more. In chapter IV, Language, I was struck by this ( regular readers here will know how mildly obsessed I am with the etymology of words):
Every word which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. Right means straight; wrong means twisted. Spirit primarily means wind;transgression, the crossing of a line; supercilious, the raising of the eyebrow. We say the heart to express emotion, the head to denote thought; and thought and emotion are words borrowed from sensible things, and now appropriated to spiritual nature. Most of the process by which this transformation is made, is hidden from us in the remote time when language was framed; but the same tendency may be daily observed in children. Children and savages use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs, and apply to analogous mental acts.” (from “THE COMPLETE ESSAYS OF RALPH WALDO EMERSON (Special Kindle Illustrated and Annotated Edition)
the biggest question for me as a Wordsworth obsessive is what’s the relation between Emerson and Wordsworth? Emerson read Wordsworth – can see by the odd quote in the text. But did he write about him? Need a book on this…
There’s a lot more to read in this Collected Emerson, but I’m going to list ‘Just Finished’ for each particular section or work.