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Biaft foi uistiibution to the Stanfoiu Political Theoiy Woikshop
Novembei 2, 2u12

}effiey Stout
Piinceton 0niveisity


This papei is a ieauing of Ralph Waluo Emeison's 1844 essay "Expeiience,"
which is the seconu chaptei of !""#$"% '()*+, '(-.("/ The papei is long, almost 2S
thousanu woius. I am uistiibuting the whole thing in case someone wants to ieau it.
I woulu veiy much appieciate comments on anything in it. @*% ,"# 3*%A("*=
7-(1/((-*'B C %#1*++#'7 %#&7-'8 (#1,-*'( DEF G(,*==-'8 &, ,"# H*,,*+ *) =&8#
IJKL That comes to about 18 single-spaceu pages. The table of contents given
below, which summaiizes the aigument of the fiist five sections of the papei, shoulu
pioviue sufficient oiientation. Section 4 is also stiongly ielevant to political theoiy.

I wiote the papei in iesponse to an invitation fiom the 01(-.)#+ 2*3-+#4 *5
67(*4*8$ #+, 97.4*"*:7$, to uelivei a lectuie on a topic of inteiest to its ieaueis. The
lectuie woulu then be publisheu in the jouinal. I set out wiite about 1u single-
spaceu pages on "Expeiience," anu quickly uiscoveieu that I coulu not explain the
essay's intiicacies without going on at much gieatei length. So I let myself go on, in
the hope that uoing so woulu piove woithwhile. I neeu to extiact a lectuie's woith
of mateiial out of this uiaft foi piesentation shoitly befoie Thanksgiving. But I am
also consiueiing expanuing the uiaft into a shoit book.

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The neaily unanimous opinion of Emeison scholais is yes. In political theoiy the
main uefenuei of this view is Kateb. The essay is typically ieau thiough its
mesmeiizing thiiu paiagiaph, about the ueath of Emeison's son Waluo. 0thei
passages aie consiueieu insofai as they amplify Emeison's uesponuency. But 2u of
the essay's 2S paiagiaphs state giounus foi hope oi say something uplifting. The
last paiagiaph enus on one of the highest notes in all of Emeison. "Expeiience" has
a thiee-pait stiuctuie. It actually aigues foi its uplifting conclusion.

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If one looks closely at the last paiagiaph, a numbei of puzzles emeige. Emeison
wants ieaueis to woik at iesolving those puzzles. The beginning of the paiagiaph
appeais to conflict with the enuing. A lot hangs on what Emeison means by
"manipulai iefoim" anu by "a paltiy empiiicism/" Theie aie biblical allusions that
neeu unpacking.

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At seveial points in the essay, Emeison is iesponuing to Coleiiuge's iuealism, which
is inuebteu to Kant's ciitique of immeuiate expeiience anu to Romanticism's
emphasis on the imagination. Emeison hau foimeily embiaceu these themes
enthusiastically, while uistancing himself fiom Coleiiuge's Chiistian oithouoxy.
Now Emeison suspects that iuealism leu him to lose touch with the woilu. Aftei
little Waluo's ueath, iuealism fails him as a souice of consolation.

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The essay's final paiagiaph begins by contiasting the woilu Emeison sees aiounu
him anu the woilu he thinks. The uisciepant woilus appeai eailiei in the essay as
an opposition between iuealism anu mateiialism. Iuealism locates
authoiitativeness solely on the subject siue of the subject-object uichotomy.
Nateiialism locates it solely on the object siue. As an ethical stance, iuealism is a
meie "ought," which fails to embouy its iueals in mateiial piactice. Nateiialism is a
way of living that explains iueals away. Its cential categoiy is ;(1:(-#1(+;, which is
also the lynchpin of 19
-centuiy iace theoiy. Nanipulai iefoim anu utopianism fail
to get iueals embouieu in mateiial piactice in an acceptable way. The
tiansfoimation of genius into piactical powei is supposeu to get that iight.

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"Expeiience" is the most enigmatic of Emeison's majoi essays anu, foi many
ieaueis, the most moving.
The title, which calls to minu Nontaigne's "0n
announces Emeison's nominal topic in a single ambiguous teim. Be
then places an ambiguous poem of his own in the position of an epigiaph, wheie one
might expect to finu a quotation fiom an authoiizing classical souice. The poem
begins by iefeiiing twice to "the loius of life," by which Emeison appeais to mean
things oi iueas that some people, at one time oi anothei, have tieateu as ultimately
authoiitative. Be names seveial loius of life - it is not even cleai how many - anu
then concluues the poem by iefeiiing to "Little man," whom natuie has taken "by
the hanu," whispeiing, "Bailing, nevei minu!"

The essay's most stunning passage, which iefeis to the passing of Emeison's
son Waluo, comes only thiee paiagiaphs latei:
In the ueath of my son, now moie than two yeais ago, I seem to have lost a
beautiful estate, no moie. I cannot get it neaiei to me. If tomoiiow I
shoulu be infoimeu of the bankiuptcy of my piincipal uebtois, the loss of my
piopeity woulu be a gieat inconvenience to me, peihaps, foi many yeais; but
it woulu leave me as it founu me, neithei bettei noi woise. So is it with
this calamity: it uoes not touch me: some thing which I fancieu was a pait of
me, which coulu not be toin away without teaiing me, noi enlaigeu without
eniiching me, falls off fiom me, anu leaves no scai. It was cauucous.
The peison he caies about most is ueau. Yet Emeison expeiiences the loss as if it
weie nothing moie than baik falling fiom a tiee. The phiase "falls off fiom me"
echoes Woiuswoith's talk, in the Immoitality 0ue, of "outwaiu things, Fallings
fiom us, vanishings."
But iathei than paitaking in the poet's consolation, Emeison
abiuptly intiouuces a technical teim fiom biology anu law to label the expeiience
with colu uetachment.

Eviuently, he is not making an exception of his own home in 2 when he
wiites: "Eveiy ioof is agieeable to the eye, until it is lifteu; then we finu tiageuy anu
moaning women, anu haiu-eyeu husbanus, anu ueluges of lethe."
Noi, peihaps, in
8 when he wiites: "We house with the insane, anu must humoi them; then
conveisation uies out." That is the soit of thing a haiu-eyeu husbanu woulu say.
Those close to Emeison must have winceu when ieauing such a sentence. The
scholais ceitainly uo, because they know that his seconu wife Liuian, little Waluo's
mothei, was still moaning two yeais aftei the boy uieu.
Neanwhile, hei husbanu
sank in a bog of lethe.

Emeison is anything but happy with this feeling of having slougheu off a son
oi a son's ueath. In a state of neaily comatose hypei-subjectivity, he giieves that
giief can teach him nothing. Bis thoughts about his giief, which lie too ueep foi
teais, uo not biing him the solace that Woiuswoith's gieat elegy is meant to biing.

Insteau, Emeison unueigoes a vocational ciisis. Be is unceitain whethei anything
woith shaiing with ieaueis can be gleaneu fiom his expeiience.
"I take this
evanescence anu lubiicity of all objects, which lets them slip thiough oui fingeis
then when we clutch haiuest, to be the most unhanusome pait of oui conuition"

The bouy of the essay is only twenty-five paiagiaphs long. Although
"Expeiience" is wiitten in the allusive, elliptical, uensely aphoiistic style we finu in
many of Emeison's essays, its lows aie so low anu ienueieu at times in such
peisonal teims that some commentatois have wonueieu whethei they aie ieauing
Emeison. "The uominant moou of the essay," wiites }oel Poite, expiessing the neaily
unanimous view of Emeison scholais, is "a peivasive sense of incapacity in the face
of expeiience."
ueoige Kateb uesciibes the essay as "philosophically

While theie is no point in uisputing how the essay makes its uistinguisheu
inteipieteis feel, I believe they have mistaken how it woiks. Neaily all of the
publisheu commentaiy on it focuses exclusively on its lowei iegistei. In fact, the
essay's tone, which is sometimes uesponuent anu sometimes haiu-eyeu, is also
sometimes ihapsouic. The speakei's moou iepeateuly swings upwaiu, anu
occasionally soais. At least twenty of its paiagiaphs eithei asseit giounus foi hope
oi shift into a iegistei meant to countei uesponuency. In some of these cases, the
uplifting ihetoiic is confineu to a single sentence, but in many cases, Emeison goes
on at some length, ieflecting on the moie heaitening paits of oui conuition.

The essay's final paiagiaph, which Kateb uoes not mention, enus with one of
the most uplifting flouiishes of Emeison's uevising. Poite, who uevotes a page oi so
to 2S, ueclaies it a "weak attempt to iecoup losses." Its "affiimative sentences can
only seem iathei hollow ieeus." The "veiy language seems to wobble." Poite
conceues only that "at the beginning of the final sentence," Emeison succeeus in
summoning "the stein olu Puiitan spiiit" that makes "a viitue out of unceitainty."

The concluuing uplift is too little anu too late, as Poite sees it, to be peisuasive. Be
uoes not consiuei whethei giounus foi Emeison's affiimations have alieauy been
given elsewheie in the essay.

As I ieau it, theie is an aigument in "Expeiience" anu it falls into uisceinible
paits. The fiist of these iesponus to a tiauition of epistemological ieflection on
(<:(-.(+)( that incluues Bume, Kant, the ueiman Romantics, anu Coleiiuge.
Emeison uoes not name the thinkeis he has minu. This pait of the essay enus with a
thiee-sentence passage in 7 that is cleaily intenueu to anticipate 2S:
But it is impossible that the cieative powei shoulu excluue itself. Into eveiy
intelligence theie is a uooi which is nevei closeu, thiough which the cieatoi
passes. The intellect, seekei of absolute tiuth, oi the heait, lovei of absolute
goou, inteivenes foi oui succoi, anu at one whispei of these high poweis, we
awake fiom ineffectual stiuggles with this nightmaie. We huil it into its own
hell, anu cannot again contiact ouiselves to so base a state.
This passage says that the #)(,.# oi lethaigy Emeison has expeiienceu in the wake
of little Waluo's ueath is not a peimanent conuition. Eithei the speakei has alieauy
awakeneu, oi he has faith that he will awaken. 2S makes eviuent that he has
alieauy awakeneu.

The next section, which is much longei, goes fiom 8 to 17, anu ascenus
fiom uesponuent #)(,.# to the "miu-woilu." It enus in a passage that staits off with
anothei mention of angel-whispeiing (1S) anu concluues with the uiscussion of
";7( 3+.=(-"#4 .1:34"( ;* >(4.(=(" that so inspiieu William }ames (17). Thioughout
this "miu-woilu" section, Emeison is, I believe, iesponuing to Coleiiuge's
conseivative political philosophy anu to essays in which Nontaigne ieflects on
uiffeient types of melancholic tempeiament, uenies the wisuom of puisuing ecstasy,
anu uses skeptical aiguments to commenu uefeience to the state anu the Roman
Catholic magisteiium.
The question at the foie in the fouith essay of Coleiiuge's
67( ?-.(+, anu in Nontaigne's "0n Expeiience" is what a piuuent peison, who is
(<:(-.(+)(, in the sense of having liveu long enough in society to be familiai with
both joy anu loss, can ieasonably infei fiom his own expeiience anu the testimony
of othei expeiienceu people when ueciuing how to live. This is not a question about
the epistemic status, foi the inuiviuual subject, of paiticulai expeiiential episoues.

Emeison's essay uelibeiately iefiains fiom uefining (<:(-.(+)(/ Beie, as in
seveial of his most impoitant essays, his pioceuuie incluues woiking thiough
multiple senses that a highly chaigeu teim has taken on in the tiauitional
conveisations he is joining. Be thinks that the uesiie to settle on a single uefinition
expiesses a piejuuice in favoi of the minu's analytical faculty against sense
peiception, memoiy, anu especially the imagination. Bume anu Kant go wiong,
Emeison holus, in pait because they philosophize fiom the vantage of the analytical
faculty, which Kant calls the 3+,(-";#+,.+8. Coming to teims with (<:(-.(+)(, the
concept, is a mattei of iinging the changes on the teim's vaiious uses anu situating
oneself in ielation to the stiuggles in which it has, at one time oi anothei, been
caught up. Emeison's pioceuuie has something in common with what Begel calls
phenomenology anu something in common with what Nietzsche, one of Emeison's
most enthusiastic anu insightful ieaueis, calls genealogy.

In Nontaigne's essays@ as in Coleiiuge's matuie political philosophy,
(<:(-.(+)( is what a piuuent anu woiluly peison has anu a novice oi auolescent
Foi Coleiiuge, the wisuom of expeiience is what peimitteu Buike to see that
the Fiench Revolution was uestineu to become an innovative foim of tyianny. Foi
Nontaigne, the wisuom of expeiience consists piimaiily in a iealization that one
knows a goou ueal less than one might of thought. A soit of philosophical mouesty,
combining suspicion of ecstatic states anu uefeience to ecclesial anu political
authoiity, is the best policy, accoiuing to Nontaigne. Emeison sees in Coleiiuge anu
Nontaigne a majoi challenge to his own ieligious anu political views. The lessons he
wants to uiaw fiom life expeiience anu histoiy uiffei significantly fiom theiis. But
he takes theii aiguments with gieat seiiousness, anu is caieful to acknowleuge theii
impoitance to him by quoting (without attiibution) fiom Coleiiuge's 67(
';#;("1#+A" B#+3#4 (7) anu mentioning Nontaigne's name (8). Be aumiies
Nontaigne enough to uevote a chaptei of C(:-("(+;#;.=( B(+ to him.

Emeison also iegaius Nontaigne as the paiauigmatic wiitei of essays,
Emeison's favoieu genie.
Refeiiing to Nontaigne's wiiting, Emeison will latei
say: "Cut these woius, anu they woulu bleeu; they aie vasculai anu alive."
style of "Expeiience" is less conveisational, closei to poetiy, than Nontaigne's, but in
this essay, Emeison wants his woius to bleeu, anu he is conscious that Nontaigne
has expeiienceu the ueaths of chiluien anu his ueaiest fiienu, Etienne ue La Botie.
Botie is ielevant to Emeison's conceins in a seconu iespect, as the authoi of the
D.")*3-"( *+ E*43+;#-$ '(-=.;3,(, which takes a stanu on political authoiity that is
closei to Thoieau's uefense of civil uisobeuience than to Nontaigne's uefense of
uefeience to iuleis.
Emeison's view of political authoiity, which is inuebteu to
Botie's D.")*3-"(, is enunciateu succinctly in "Politics" (the seventh chaptei of
!""#$"% '()*+, '(-.("): "Eveiy actual State is coiiupt. uoou men must not obey the
laws too well."
"Expeiience" is haiu to paise oi assess piopeily unless one fiist
iecognizes that it iesponus to Nontaigne's skepticism about ecstatic states, his
ieflections on solituue anu the melancholic tempeiament, his ieligious oithouoxy,
anu his political conseivatism.

18 ietuins to the subjectivism Emeison associates with post-Kantian
Romanticism. The Kantian tuin to the subject is the "Fall of Nan," aftei which oui
innocence about the influence of subjectivity on oui expeiiences is foievei lost. But
even this paiagiaph counteis solipsistic uespaii with the asseition that "The subject
is the ieceivei of uouheau, anu at eveiy compaiison must feel his being enhanceu by
that ciyptic might." 19, though mainly skeptical, incluues a ueliciously multivalent
countei-claim: "Eveiy uay, eveiy act betiays the ill-concealeu ueity," which implies
that eveiy finite human act not only shows some uegiee of uisloyalty to the ueity,
but also ieveals, to those with the eyes to see, the ueity's cieative, uestiuctive, anu
giacious powei.

2u gives auvice about how one can avoiu being uiminisheu by encountei
with a gieat man, the implication being that gieat men exist anu that theii influence
on us can be beneficially tiansfoimative if we auopt the iight attituue towaiu them.
Aftei acknowleuging "oui constitutional necessity of seeing things unuei piivate
aspects, oi satuiateu with oui humois," 21 fiist asseits that uou is "the native of
these bleak iocks" anu then auvises ieaueis to finu the ueity by alteinating between
"sallies of action" anu possessing "oui axis moie fiimly" in moments of solituue.
Alteinating in this way is healthiei than losing oneself entiiely in action oi
withuiawing peimanently into solituue. The essay's concluuing section begins in
2S anu enus with 2S's movement fiom solituue to iueal-infuseu action.

The impiession that the only #-831(+;" in "Expeiience" aie cautionaiy anu
skeptical is paitly causeu by Emeison's uecision to obscuie the essay's stiuctuie.
The essay begins in a moou of uisoiientation: "Wheie uo we finu ouiselves. In a
seiies of which we uo not know the extiemes, anu believe that it has none. We wake
anu finu ouiselves on a staii; theie aie staiis below us, which we seem to have
ascenueu; theie aie staiis below us, many a one, which go upwaiu anu out of sight."
The speakei withholus oiienting clues until the final paiagiaph, which is itself
iemaikable foi its uisoiienting sweives. As many commentatois have noteu, the
loius of life of the piefatoiy poem beai uiffeient names fiom the loius of life
uiscusseu in the bouy of the essay. Nost impoitantly, what the poem calls "spectial
Wiong" is not oveitly mentioneu theieaftei. Nothing of this soit is acciuental in an
Emeison essay. Be wants the ieauei to be asking, "What is spectial Wiong anu
wheie has the essay tieateu it." I shall auuiess those questions in 4.

0ne of Emeison's ihetoiical piinciples is: No tiue ieoiientation of the ieauei
comes without uisoiientation of the ieauei. Bis uemociatic coiollaiy of this
piinciple is: Nevei uo foi ieaueis what they can uo foi themselves. Rathei than
stepping back at some point to make the uesign of his essay eviuent, Emeison, while
beginning to biing his ieflections to a close, iemaiks that he uaies not assume to
give "the oiuei" of the loius of life (2S). Be names them as he finus them "in his
way." The ambiguity is intentional anu thieefolu. Be names the loius of life as he
comes acioss them in his own expeiience. Be names them as they become obstacles
to his foiwaiu movement. Be names them, anu sometimes ienames them, in his
mannei, in accoiu with his theoietical, ethical, anu ihetoiical enus. Emeison then
says, in a line that will one uay call foith the poetiy of Ammons, "I know bettei than
to claim any completeness foi my pictuie."
A ieauei may be foigiven foi
wonueiing, on ieaching this point in "Expeiience," whethei Emeison has piesenteu
any pictuie oi aigument at all.

RL ;9<=#%-#'1#> 6#&7 S&1A3&%7(

I hope to show that the essay's final paiagiaph unveils the ethical anu
political significance of his essaying as he has come to think of it in 1844. That
paiagiaph piesents a vision in which two woilus, one iueal, the othei actual, aie
ultimately ieconcileu. The foimei is at fiist alienateu fiom anu then tiansfoimeu
into, incainateu in, apocalyptically weuueu to the lattei. Beie is 2S, uiviueu into
thiee stiophes foi ease of iefeience (italics in oiiginal):

(1) I know that the woilu I conveise with in the city anu in the faims, is not
the woilu I ;7.+F. I obseive that uiffeience anu shall obseive it. 0ne uay, I
shall know the value anu law of this uisciepance.

(2) But I have not founu that much was gaineu by manipulai attempts to
iealize the woilu of thought. Nany eagei peisons successively make an
expeiiment in this way, anu make themselves iiuiculous. They acquiie
uemociatic manneis, they foam at the mouth, they hate anu ueny. Woise, I
obseive, that, in the histoiy of mankinu, theie is nevei a solitaiy example of
success, taking theii own tests of success. I say this polemically, oi in ieply
to the inquiiy, why not iealize youi woilu.

(S) But fai be fiom me the uespaii which piejuuges the law by a paltiy
empiiicism, since theie nevei was a iight enueavoi, but it succeeueu.
Patience anu patience, we shall win at the last. We must be veiy suspicious of
the ueceptions of the element of time. It takes a goou ueal of time to eat oi to
sleep, oi to eain a hunuieu uollais, anu a veiy little time to enteitain a hope
anu an insight which becomes the light of oui life. We uiess oui gaiuen, eat
oui uinneis, uiscuss the householu with oui wives, anu these things make no
impiession, aie foigotten next week; but in the solituue to which eveiy man
is always ietuining, he has a sanity anu ievelations, which in his passage into
new woilus he will caiiy with him. Nevei minu the iiuicule, nevei minu the
uefeat: up again, olu heait! it seems to say, theie is victoiy yet foi all
justice; anu the tiue iomance which the woilu exists to iealize, will be the
tiansfoimation of genius into piactical powei.

The fiist anu last sentences aie among the most familiai that Emeison left us.
But what uo they mean. The tiansfoimation heialueu in the last sentence seems
excluueu by the fiist. But if it is, what aie we supposeu to uo with the contiauiction.
Anu if it isn't, how might the two thoughts be ieconcileu. I take it that Emeison has
ciafteu his essay so as to leave us with these questions anu thus with the task of
answeiing them foi ouiselves. The essay uemanus a self-ieliant ieauei, aleit to
textual uetail anu willing to ponuei the ambiguities anu questions it uiscloses. 0ui
essayist's wagei is that if we iuentify with the sense of uisoiientation evokeu in 1
anu aie inspiieu by the vision expiesseu in 2S, we will be moveu to ;3-+ #-*3+,
anu ietiace oui steps thiough the consiueiations he has maue available to us. By
uoing so, he hopes, we will make those consiueiations oui own anu ueteimine foi
ouiselves whethei the essay has eaineu the uplift of its conclusion. Those
consiueiations look uiffeient when appioacheu, so to speak, fiom behinu, in light of
the question, "What ieasons has the speakei given us, along the way, foi ;7."

The final paiagiaph changes uiiection at the two points wheie Emeison uses
the woiu "But" to begin a sentence, anu then again with the "but" that appeais
miuway thiough the penultimate sentence. That sentence links the teims "solituue,"
"ietuining," "sanity," anu "ievelations," the last of which alluues to the Apocalypse of
St. }ohn. The seconu stiophe initially appeais to say why the woilu of thought,
associateu with genius in the thiiu stiophe, cannot be iealizeu in piactice. Yet one
theme of the essay, one of its cautionaiy lessons of expeiience, is that appeaiances
can ueceive us. This lesson applies to Emeison's ihetoiic in "Expeiience." Emeison
has caiefully left open a possibility, to which he uoes not uiaw attention, that the
woilu contemplateu in thought by someone gifteu with genius can be iealizeu in
piactice aftei all.

The seconu stiophe iules out 1#+.:34#- attempts to iealize the woilu of
thought. !"# %&''()(*(+, '(*#-+*, *#.+ &%#- (' +"/+ 0#/*(1/+(&- &. +"# 2&0*3 &.
+"&45"+ 2(** 6&7#8 )4+ -&+ /' +"# .04(+ &. 7/-(%4*/0 0#.&079 The suspicions of the
seconu stiophe aie in tension with the hopefulness of the thiiu &-*, (. a iealization
of the woilu of thought -##3 )# manipulai. If, howevei, iealization of the woilu of
thought can come in some othei way, the appaient contiauiction of the final
paiagiaph uissolves. What instiuction, then, uoes "Expeiience" offei on the natuie
of manipulai iefoim. What uoes Emeison tell us about the uiffeience between
manipulai iefoim anu the soit of tiansfoimation he enuoises. These aie two of
seveial ciucial questions iaiseu by the essay's enuing. I shall be ietuining to them
in 4 anu 8.

To seek answeis to the vaiious questions that emeige in the concluuing
paiagiaph is to ieau the essay backwaius. Emeison wants us to ieau it in this way,
to unueitake oui own laboi of ieoiientation in iesponse to an expeiience of
uisoiientation followeu by an apocalyptic vision. That is how he expecteu his
similaily uisoiienting fiist book G#;3-( to be ieau.
Anu most of his New Englanu
contempoiaiies thought the Bible neeueu to be ieau in that way. Be now has
somewhat uiffeient ievelations in minu, but they uo beai on a "gieat city . . .
uescenuing out of heaven" (Revelation 21:1u). Emeison's new }eiusalem uescenus,
in the final sentence of "Expeiience," fiom the woilu he thinks to the woilu he sees
aiounu him. It is not enough to imagine an iuealizeu woilu. 0ne must also imagine
the iuealizeu woilu biought uown to eaith, maue one with eaithly piactices. The
imagineu iueal must be tiansfoimeu into piactical powei.

To ieau the essay in ieveise, in light of how it enus, iequiies attenuing to the
hope expiesseu at the enu of the fiist stiophe, the hope of coming to know the
"value anu law" of the uisciepancy between the woilu a self-ieliant thinkei thinks
anu the woilu he sees in the cities anu faims. This lattei woilu is the woilu of
confoimity. "Be not confoimeu to this woilu," says St. Paul, "but be ye tiansfoimeu
by the ienewing of youi minu, that ye may piove what is that goou, anu acceptable,
anu peifect, will of uou." Ethically, the contiast between the two woilus is that
between iuentifying with one's establisheu self, thus iemaining miieu in confoimity,
anu iuentifying with a potentially beneficial piocess of tiansfoimation. "The viitue
in most iequest is confoimity. Self-ieliance is its aveision," Emeison hau wiitten in
1841. By alluuing in this way to Romans 12:2, the essay "Self-Reliance" iuentifies
confoimity to the woilu anu spiiitual tiansfoimation as the piincipal topics
examineu in !""#$"% ?.-"; '(-.("/

"Expeiience" is the paiallel chaptei in !""#$"% '()*+, '(-.("/ Its final
paiagiaph not only makes mention of ievelations; it also begins anu enus by
alluuing to Romans 12:2. The law of uisciepancy between the two woilus, in the
noimative sense of 4#H@ is the commanument to be tiansfoimeu. The fiist uemanu
of that calling, foi the ieaueis of "Expeiience," is to tuin away fiom confoimity. The
law of uisciepancy between the two woilus, in the explanatoiy sense of 4#H@ woulu
explain how confoimity blocks tiansfoimation anu how the blockage can be
oveicome. The value of the uisciepancy is the goou that comes to self anu society by
way of such tiansfoimation. When Emeison speaks of powei, as in the thiiu
stiophe's phiase "piactical powei," he neaily always means the capacity to
tiansfoim. The ieason that Emeison expects to go on obseiving the uisciepancy,
uespite his hope foi tiansfoimation, is that he iegaius the neeu foi tiansfoimation
as peipetual. We aie always in the piocess of falling anew into confoimity anu
being calleu out of it. We aie constantly passing into new woilus. Those woilus aie
biought about by tiansfoimative powei. Something, some powei, call it 8(+.3"@
tiansfoims the agent into someone with tiansfoimative capacity. When that
capacity is iealizeu, genius is tiansfoimeu into life-tiansfoiming, peihaps society-
tiansfoiming, action.

These aie all things Emeison takes to be knowable on the basis of
expeiience, uespite the vaiious uoubts about expeiiential knowleuge he consiueis
elsewheie in the essay. The uoubts centei on post-Kantian iuealism in 1-7 anu on
multiple foims of skepticism in 18-22. They centei on the lessons of piactical
expeiience in 8-17. Thioughout these sections of the essay, Emeison seeks to
take the uoubts with utmost seiiousness while showing how anu why to tianscenu
the "paltiy empiiicism" that gives iise to them. Paltiy empiiicism takes an
excessively iestiictive oi biaseu view of what can be known on the basis of
expeiience. Expeiience euifies when we leain to think of it on the mouel of
auvancing in masteiy of an ait anu iealize that the imagination is among the poweis
that move histoiy foiwaiu. Let me now suggest how the aiguments peitaining to
iuealism look when vieweu fiom the peispective of 2S.

IL C7#&2-(+B M*2#%-78#B &'7 M*'(*2&,-*'

As many scholais have pointeu out, Emeison's tianscenuentalism mouifies
Coleiiuge's selective appiopiiation of Kant anu of the ueiman Romantics.
0ne of
the senses of (<:(-.(+)( Emeison is giappling with in the essay "Expeiience" is
ueteimineu by the use of that teim in post-Kantian iuealism. 0ne of iuealism's
benefits, Kant thought, is to oveicome the essentially skeptical implications that
Bume hau ueiiveu fiom the assumptions a paltiy empiiicism makes about
expeiience. Foi the empiiicist, expeiience is the supposeuly unmeuiateu founuation
of whatevei knowleuge we take ouiselves to have of oui bouies, othei people, the
laws of natuie, natuie's uou, anu what we ought to uo. Bume uemonstiateu, to the
consteination of the young Emeison anu othei 0nitaiian ministeis in his ciicle, that
the pioposeu founuation coulu not suppoit the associateu knowleuge claims.
Coleiiuge, to Emeison's ielief, claimeu to finu in Kant's iuealism an antiuote to
Bume's skepticism.

Iuealism, as Kant conceiveu of it, takes expeiience as something we know we
have anu inquiies ieflectively into the conuitions of its possibility. Kant's
tianscenuental methou hau auvanceu beyonu Bume, accoiuing to Coleiiuge, by
showing that sensoiy expeiience is meuiateu by the categoiies of the 3+,(-";#+,.+8
anu synthesizeu by the .1#8.+#;.*+. As Emeison iestates the point in 18, "We have
leaineu that we uo not see uiiectly, but meuiately." The human subject biings its
own spontaneity to beai on the ueliveiances of the sensibility, with the foitunate
iesult, fiom Kant's peispective, that we aie actually able to know the phenomena we
expeiience. Reason is a uistinct faculty fiom the unueistanuing anu supeiioi to it.
The inteiminable uisputes of pie-ciitical ("tianscenuent") metaphysics aie,
howevei, the iesult of applying ieason to questions foi which it is intiinsically
unsuiteu, such as what physical objects oi uou aie in themselves. Reason must
theiefoie limit itself to the ;-#+")(+,(+;#4 task of ieflective self-inventoiy, which
means eschewing the pseuuo-science of ;-#+")(+,(+; metaphysics. Reason must no
longei piesume to claim knowleuge of supeisensible ieality.

Foi Coleiiuge anu his favoiite post-Kantian ueiman Romantics, this foim of
iuealism hau puichaseu its auvance beyonu Bume at too gieat a piice. The next step
foiwaiu was to accept Kant's uistinction between ieason anu the unueistanuing
while integiating his conceptions of ieason anu the imagination. By failing to
iuentify ieason moie explicitly with the imagination, at least in the I-.;.J3( *5 93-(
C(#"*+@ Kant hau been too iestiictive in his claims about what ieason can
iesponsibly claim to know. In its speculative employments, accoiuing to Romantic
iuealists, ieason J3# imagination is inueeu capable of intuiting ieligious anu
spiiitual tiuths of gieat impoitance, tiuths eviuent to the inquiiing spiiit when it
looks within, tiuths that, accoiuing to Coleiiuge, have the powei to join seeming
opposites anu ieconcile appaient contiauictions. When Emeison employs the
Romantic categoiy of 8(+.3"@ he is expiessing allegiance to the upgiaueu conception
of ieason's capacities that he took ovei fiom Coleiiuge. The final stiophe of 2S
pioclaims the veiy soit of tiansfoimative ieconciliation that Coleiiuge attiibutes to
the imagination's poweis.

Bowevei, Emeison iesisteu Coleiiuge's use of these Romantic conceptions to
uefenu Chiistian oithouoxy as essential to the foimation of ethically anu spiiitually
upiight chaiactei. When Emeison says, in 7 of "Expeiience," that "the uefinition of
spiiitual shoulu be, that which is its own eviuence," he is enuoising Coleiiuge's
ievision of Kant. But in 18, when Emeison, aftei ueclaiing that "the eye makes the
hoiizon," infeis that }esus is a goou example of a figuie on whom "many people aie
agieeu that these optical laws shall take effect," he is uistancing himself shaiply
fiom Coleiiuge's oithouoxy anu opening a path that leaus to Nietzsche, Yeats,
Bewey, Santayana, anu Stan Biakhage.
Emeison continues: "By love on one pait,
anu by foibeaiance to piess objection on the othei pait, it is foi a time settleu, that
we will look at |}esusj in the centie of the hoiizon, anu asciibe to him the piopeities
that will attach to any man so seen. But the longest love oi aveision has a speeuy

Emeison has no objection to aumiiation of }esus, pioviueu that it uoesn't
ueteiioiate into what "The Bivinity School Auuiess" uesciibes as "noxious
exaggeiation about the peison of }esus."
The uivinity, Emeison insists to the
consteination of his Tiinitaiian anu 0nitaiian contempoiaiies, is neithei thiee
peisons noi one peison, but no peison at all. }esus the peison is someone so well
attuneu to the impeisonal uivine that his life anu teachings quite iightly exeiciseu
tiansfoimative influence ovei his eaily followeis. When he auuiesses uou as a
peison, this is to be iegaiueu as a tiope. The uisciples' aumiiation foi him became
iuolatious insofai as it focuseu on his peison iathei than on the uivine,
tiansfoimative powei that hau maue his peison what it was. The "foibeaiance to
piess objection" that helpeu to keep }esus in the centei of the hoiizon thioughout
Chiistenuom involveu a laigely unconscious iepiession of whatevei uoubts aiose in
the minus of believeis.
What Emeison is saying heie amounts to a theoiy of
ieligious iuolatiy - a nonieuuctive theoiy, because he holus that while the ieligious
impulse ;(+," towaiu iuolatiy, it is not (""(+;.#44$ iuolatious. Eaily Chiistianity is
Emeison's piimaiy example of an epochal spiiitual tiansfoimation. But he
emphasizes that theie aie many otheis, all of which involve iepiesentative figuies
who aie loveu, tieateu as examples of something iueal, imitateu, anu piotecteu fiom
ciiticism. All such iepiesentative figuies at some point yielu theii cential position
to otheis.

Emeison tieats the vocabulaiies, symbols, iituals, anu uoctiines associateu
with all ieligions anu spiiitually iegeneiative movements as piouucts of poetic
imagination oi intuitive ieason. They aie likely to be beneficial, as a ueepening of
spiiitual life, mainly at the moment of theii cieation, when theii genius, theii
imaginative capacity, is initially being actualizeu in piactical powei. The longei they
last, the moie they tenu to ossify. (When this iuea ieaches Webei, aftei having been
filteieu thiough Nietzsche, it becomes ;7( -*3;.+.K#;.*+ *5 )7#-."1#/ The main
uiffeience is that Webei's sociology of ieligion aims to be value-fiee, wheieas
Emeison's is value-committeu.) 0ne thing that expeiience teaches, Emeison thinks,
is that the piocess of spiiitual iegeneiation anu ossification will continue, which is
why he iegaius Coleiiuge's oithouoxy anu Boston's 0nitaiianism alike as hopeless
anu spiiitually ietaiuing holuing actions.

Fiom Emeison's point of view, it is not acciuental that (";#>4."7(,
Chiistianity is ietaiuing the tiansfoimation of genius into piactical powei. That is
what all ieligious establishments uo. They iigiuify iites, close canons, cieate
hieiaichies, ueclaie the age of piophecy past, veneiate the saintly ueau, iuolize the
peisonalities of founueis, iepiess potentially unsettling thoughts, anu uispaiage
contempoiaiy foims of ecstasy - all at the expense of the living, ievivifying
imagination. Fiom Coleiiuge's point of view, Emeison has succumbeu to the same
pantheistic anu Nontanist heiesies fiom which Woiuswoith hau hau to be
Fiom Emeison's point of view, Coleiiuge has succumbeu to the
temptations of ieligious confoimity.

Emeison is also conveising with Coleiiuge on the topics of giief,
uesponuency, anu consolation. In 21, Emeison iefeis to his life as "so fai
mouinful," alluuing to the ueaths of his fiist wife anu tiue love Ellen, his biotheis
Euwaiu anu Chailes, anu finally, two anu a half yeais befoie the publication of
"Expeiience," his five-yeai-olu son Waluo. 0ne of Emeison's Romantic means of
coping with these losses was a soit of withuiawal into his imagination that leu, in
the fiist thiee instances, to effusions of authoiial piouuctivity. Be took special
solace fiom meuitating on Woiuswoith's Immoitality 0ue.

In the case of little Waluo's ueath, howevei, Emeison came to think of this
coping stiategy as oveily successful in its tianquilizing, solipsistic effects, which is
why he complains that the "uenius" has mixeu his cup of lethe "too stiongly" (1)
anu that his giief leaves him out of touch with "ieality" (S). Bis iemaik that "uiief
too will make us iuealists" implies that he now associates iuealism with a
lamentable failuie to connect with the woilu. In 18, he associates the "Fall of Nan"
with the Kantian iuealist's iealization "that we have no means of coiiecting these
coloieu anu uistoiting lenses" of ouis. Aftei uiscoveiing that all expeiience is
meuiateu, we foievei "suspect oui instiuments." With iespect to the topic of
expeiience, Emeison now consiueis Kantian iuealism no less skeptical in its
implications than Bume's empiiicism hau been. These aie the same conclusions
Begel ieaches in the Intiouuction to the 97(+*1(+*4*8$ *5 ':.-.;/ By the time
Emeison wiote "Expeiience," he was familiai with Begel only thiough the wiitings
of victoi Cousin. The uncanny similaiities between Begel's book anu Emeison's
essay must be explaineu, it seems, as the effects of two uisceining stuuents of post-
Kantian philosophy piessing inuepenuently on the same weaknesses in the poetiy,
philosophy, anu theology that was foimative foi them.

Why is Kant ultimately as skeptical as Bume with iegaiu to expeiience.
Because iuealism's way of tuining to the subject uisconnects the woilu I think, the
innei woilu of imagination, fiom the woilu I see aiounu me. This is especially
uisconceiting foi Emeison when his muse falls silent aftei little Waluo's ueath, as
symbolizeu to Emeison by his inability to complete the elegy foi Waluo that
eventually becomes "Thienouy." To wiite an elegy, one neeus to supplement the
mouinful stanzas with consoling stanzas that actually caiiy conviction. Foi a goou
while, Emeison has the foimei stanzas uiafteu, but cannot wiite a satisfying veision
of the lattei. What was once a paiauise within, happiei fai, now appeais to be meie
estiangement fiom the woilu.

The uiscoveiy that expeiience is meuiateu by the unueistanuing anu the
imagination tuins all too easily into suspicion of one's instiuments - anu thus into a
sense of "illusion" oi "subjectiveness." What Kant scholais call the two-woilus
pioblem is, foi the speakei in "Expeiience," the spiiitual pioblem of the mouinful
subject's alienation fiom eveiything that is coming into being anu passing out of
being, living anu uying, in the woilu aiounu him. "Nothing is left us now but ueath.
We look to that with a giim satisfaction, saying, theie at least is ieality that will not
uouge us" (S).

Be is ieauy foi the passing of the self who copeu with loss in his olu way. "I
am ieauy to uie out of natuie, anu be boin again into this new yet unappioachable
Ameiica I have founu in the West" (16). Theie is a jouinal entiy in which Emeison
wiites: "Self uies & uies peipetually."
In a lifetime, one passes thiough many
ueaths, many iebiiths, many selves. But .+;* H7#; is Emeison ieauy to be ieboin in
16 of "Expeiience". What is this new Ameiica he has founu in the West. In what
sense is it unappioachable.

It is, fiist of all, a place, a new woilu into which he passes physically on his
Westein tiips. It is not a puiely innei woilu, but a place. St. Paul iefeis to uou as
uwelling in an "unappioachable light" (1 Timothy 6:16). The piefatoiy poem in
"Expeiience" iefeis to uou as "the inventoi of the game 0mnipiesent without
name." The light in which uou uwells is omnipiesent. It is not ieachable by an
effoit of will. Tiy as he might, anu tiy he has, he cannot ieach it by giasping foi it,
anu must await, anu then giatefully ieceive, its giacious piesenting of itself to him in
the veiy place wheie he is. Emeison has alieauy stoou in this light. Be has caught
glimpses of an Ameiican futuie that is alieauy piesent in its intimations.

Emeison continues: "I shoulu feel it pitiful to uemanu a iesult on this town
anu county, an oveit effect on the instant month anu yeai. The effect is ueep anu
seculai as the cause. It woiks on peiious in which moital lifetime is lost. All I know
is ieception; I am anu I have: but I uo not get, anu when I have fancieu I hau gotten
anything, I founu I uiu not" (2S). By "pitiful," he may mean both pitiable anu
compassionate. "Seculai" causes anu effects aie outsiue the iegulatoiy authoiity of
the chuich. In a less familiai sense of "seculai," these causes peitain to the woilu in
this age, in which intimations of the next age aie alieauy piesent. Emeison's
contiast between 7#=.+8 something one has ieceiveu anu 8(;;.+8 it places initiation
of the most impoitant spiiitual piocesses beyonu the inuiviuual's will.

To put the point in moie tiauitional language: the piocess of "#+);.5.)#;.*+ oi
,(.5.)#;.*+ is initiateu by ,.=.+( 8-#)(, a tiansfoimative powei capable of ieoiienting
the will, of causing it to tuin away fiom woiluly confoimity anu towaiu the
(impeisonal) souice of giace. This is a mattei of enteiing into the new woilu into
which we aie passing, which is in the veiy place wheie the cities anu faims aie, only
seen in a new light. What falls to us, as inuiviuuals, is the task of coming to iuentify
with anu paiticipate in oui spiiitual tiansfoimation@ which tuins out to be a piivate,
but not meiely piivate, fiuit of accepting an unueseiveu gift. "The meiit itself, so-
calleu, I ieckon pait of the ieceiving" (2S). Thiee chapteis latei in !""#$"% '()*+,
'(-.(" comes a slim chaptei calleu "uifts," one thesis of which is: "The best of
hospitality anu of geneiosity is . . . not in the will, but in fate."

TL U=#1,%&2 V%*'84 C7#&2( &'7 W&,#%-&2 6#&2-,N &( P-(1%#=&', V*%27(

Emeison is awaie that his iesponses to loss, eaily anu late, can be explaineu
fiom a thiiu-peison peispective as effects of his tempeiament. Be is natuially
uisposeu to iesponu coolly to what tianspiies aiounu him, to seek solituue, to
ietieat within when faceu with pain oi loss. Be may even be constitutionally
uisposeu, when confionteu with the ueath of his fiist-boin chilu, to expeiience the
loss with a lethaigic giieving ovei his inability to giieve. Iuealists piefei to think of
themselves as moveu by the highest things, by puie iueas anu iueals, but the happy
anu sau manifestations of theii iuealism can also be uesciibeu as moous, as innei
states causeu by the inteiaction of tempeiament with exteinal ciicumstances.

Take this soit of explanation fai enough anu you aiiive at mateiialism, a loiu
of life that piesents itself as iuealism's uebunking opposite. Iuealism anu
mateiialism uefine themselves ovei against one anothei, anu thus appeai to be
joineu iathei moie closely than they might piefei. The one takes authoiitativeness
to be locateu solely on the subject siue of the subject-object uichotomy, while the
othei takes it to be locateu solely on the object siue of the same uichotomy. Beie we
have anothei uncanny paiallel to Begel's 97(+*1(+*4*8$@ foi Emeison is, in effect,
ietiacing the seiies of these one-siueu foims of consciousness as they have
appeaieu, while piepaiing the way foi an enuing in which ":.-.; melus its subjective
anu objective moments by infusing mateiial piactice with iueals. The ;-3( -*1#+)(
thus iealizeu is the eiiant path, the "foibiuuing way," of the wanueiing auventuiei
who must be lost, uisoiienteu, befoie being saveu.

Fiom the peispective of the essay's final paiagiaph, the innei woilu of the
iuealist anu the outei woilu in which mateiialism holus sway #-(@ iespectively, the
woilu Emeison thinks anu the woilu he sees in the cities anu faims. Be has himself
peisonifieu the alienateu iuealist's conscience oi beautiful soul. Bis iueals have
been a meie ought, ielateu to the woilu he sees aiounu him in a way that falls
iauically shoit of >(.+8 -(#4.K(, in that woilu. When, in the seconu stiophe, he is
challengeu with the queiy, "why not iealize youi woilu," he can at fiist only answei
"polemically," which is to say, in a way that ieinfoices the sepaiation of the two
woilus. Now, howevei, the woilu he sees aiounu him is ievealeu as the joint
piouuct of ;7( *::*"(, )*11.;1(+;" (1>*,.(, ;7(-(: the mateiialist's commitment
to explaining all iuealizeu motivations away anu the iuealist's commitment to
essentially subjective iueals that coulu nevei, on the iuealist's own teims, be

Bissatisfaction with this iesult is Emeison's ieason foi tiansmuting
iuealism's pioblem of subjective anu objective woilus into St. Paul's pioblem of
confoimity anu tiansfoimation. To iemain in the alienateu stance of meie iuealism
is itself, in Emeison's cuiient view, ;* >( )#387; 3: .+ )*+5*-1.;$ ;* ;7(
3+;-#+"5*-1(, H*-4,. It is to ieinfoice that woilu by playing the pait of the
mateiialist's peifectly innocuous, peifectly ineffectual opposite numbei. The
tiansfoimation of genius into piactical powei is the oveicoming, on the pait of the
eistwhile withuiawn iuealist, of meie iuealism.

If I am iight about all this, the final paiagiaph of "Expeiience" has eveiything
to uo with Emeison's public embiace of abolitionism shoitly befoie the essay's
publication, anu I hope to explain in a few moments what he is saying about the
uangeis anu possibilities of that movement. The piioi step is to call attention to a
few ihetoiical uetails in his tieatment of mateiialism, uetails meant, I believe, to
associate mateiialism with slaveiy anu thus with spectial wiong.

Emeison takes two oppoitunities in 7 to slip a subtle iefeience to slaveiy
into his uiscussion of tempeiament, as if he meant to tag the concept's political
significance. Fiist, again like Begel, Emeison piesents phienology (the
pseuuoscience puipoiting to coiielate skull shapes with psychology) as a uamning
example of mateiialist ieuuctionism. Be iefeis to phienologists as "theoietic
kiunappeis anu slave-uiiveis," thus uiawing attention to theii iole in the uebate
ovei slaveiy. A few sentences latei, aftei gianting that tempeiament plays some
causal iole in human life, he associates the ieceiveu foims of tempeiament theoiy
with chains: "0n its own level, oi in view of natuie, tempeiament is final. I see not, if
one be once caught in this tiap of so-calleu sciences, any escape foi the man fiom
the links of the chain of physical necessity." A mateiialist who tieats tempeiament
as a loiu of life (anu appeals to the tempeiament of a iace in justifying the
enslavement of that iace) has actually placeu his own spiiit in chains.

Eailiei, I hau suggesteu that the piefatoiy poem's iefeience to spectial
wiong as one of the loius of life iaises the question of wheie Emeison's uiscussion
of this loiu of life is to be founu. The poem says, "spectial Wiong, Tempeiament
without a tongue," thus leaving open the possibility that "Tempeiament" anu
"spectial Wiong" aie two names foi the same loiu of life. The categoiy of
tempeiament is the theoietical lynchpin of ieuuctive mateiialism, as Emeison
uesciibes anu excoiiates it in S-7. It is also, of couise, the theoietical lynchpin of
iace theoiy, as Enlightenment anu Romantic intellectuals hau uevelopeu it.
Emeison has chosen his synecuoche foi mateiialism caiefully. Be is not himself
tempeiamentally uisposeu to enuoise mateiialism, but is tempeiamentally uisposeu
to holu his tongue in public on the neeu to take conceiteu action to abolish the gieat
wiong of slaveiy. Bis tempeiament, in its uniegeneiate conuition as a publicly
mute, beautiful soul, iationalizes his complicity in the mateiial actualities of slaveiy.
Peihaps he now wonueis whethei he has been confusing his tempeiament with his

In 2S, Emeison has an imaginaiy objectoi ask, "wheie is the fiuit." The
question woulu be especially poignant if taken, metaphoiically, to mean: Wheie is
Foi then Emeison's iesponse, that he finus "a piivate fiuit sufficient,"
becomes a confession that he woulu be happy simply to have Waluo back, oi at least
to finu a moie satisfying way of mouining him. If the question weie taken to be
about the fiuit of Emeison's woik as a makei of poems, his answei in 1844 woulu
suiely be that knowing how to complete "Thienouy" woulu suffice to make him

But Emeison is mainly iesponuing to the public's uoubts about his vocation.
Nany abolitionists, some of them in his own family, want him to account foi how he
spenus his time as a wiitei of essays that avoiu taking stanus on the gieat issues of
the uay. The objectoi is asking what he imagines coming of an essay like
"Expeiience." The tiansfoimation of Emeison's genius into the piactical powei of
wiiting coulu be calleu a piivate fiuit when vieweu as a iesolution of his peisonal
ciisis. Anothei piivate fiuit, peihaps a sufficient one, woulu be that of a single
ieauei beginning the piocess of spiiitual tiansfoimation foi which Emeison hopes
to seive as miuwife. An essay might ieach many ieaueis, but it auuiesses them in
theii solituue, one-to-one, whispeiing in theii eais, most often in the piivacy of theii
homes, wheie they uo theii ieauing. This is the task Emeison attenus to, the task he
wants to get iight, the task away fiom which he will not be luieu. Bis counsel to
himself is always: I*1:4(;( ;7." ;#"F@ ;7( ;#"F 5*- H7.)7 $*3- ;#4(+;" "3.; $*3@ #+, 4(;
;7( )7.:" 5#44 H7(-( ;7($ 1#$/ L*3 )#++*; F+*H H7(-( #44 ;7." H.44 4(#,/

If moie comes of his essays than that, something moie publicly beneficial in
significance, the fiuit woulu be 1*-( ;7#+ sufficient, as well as moie than welcome.
But whatevei that auuitional benefit might be, it must not be sought uiiectly, as the
ciow flies oi as the piopaganuist speaks, in a mannei that bypasses oi uishonois the
soit of peisonal auuiess an essayist takes on as a vocational uuty. In the seconu
stiophe of 2S, Emeison is still iesponuing to the imaginaiy objectoi polemically, in
effect by saying - a tau too uefensively, he iealizes - that he piefeis not to make
himself iiuiculous.

A ianting (""#$."; woulu inueeu be iiuiculous. Foaming at the mouth is not
what essayists uo. The iantei's most salient vice is eithei hypociisy oi cant.
excellent essay iesists the temptations associateu with these vices. Bypociisy is
Emeison's woiiy about himself when he examines the tensions between his own
uaily complicities in uomination - he uses sugai, employs seivants - anu what he
says as a lectuiei oi wiites as an essayist anu poet.
The hypociite's iant is
iiuiculous because it exposes the incongiuity between the speech anu life of the
iantei. The iesult is ethically ueficient but also ihetoiically so. Anyone not alieauy
in the choii can obseive the incongiuity anu will be uisposeu to laugh at it, iathei
than feeling the foice of the speakei's ieasons. In Aiistotelian teims, the (;7*" of the
speakei unueimines the peisuasive powei of the speech.

Cant takes some woithy moial sentiment one actually feels, such as uisgust
at slaveiy, anu then expiesses it in a mannei that implicitly puffs up the speakei as
the veiy goou peison who feels this passion so stiongly. In Bazlitt's apt
foimulation, "Cant is the voluntaiy oveichaiging oi piolongation of a ieal
Cant, Emeison thinks, is a song-like speech act that seives to unite the
alieauy-peisuaueu membeis of the auuience iitually in a feeling of self-satisfaction.
The implicit message is: M( #-( ;7( ,()(+; *+("@ $*3 #+, N/ N"+A; .; 8**, *5 3" ;*
)*+,(1+ ;7." (=.4 .+ H7.)7 H( 7#=( +* :#-;O The unconsciously uesiieu effect is that
of taking pleasuie anu piiue in one's outiage. Again, this is something that the not-
yet-peisuaueu membeis of the auuience not only see but also finu iiuiculous. The
cantei, like the hypociite, has a ihetoiical as well as an ethical ueficiency.

Emeison's essays offei fiateinal coiiection to such people, in the hope that
they can acquiie the viitues of theii callings as speakeis, wiiteis, anu iefoimeis
paiticipating in a gieat tiansfoimation. Canteis neeu to leain how to aujust theii
speech to the tiue puiposes of iefoim. Bypociites neeu to woik haiuei at getting
theii lives in oiuei, so that justifieu hatieu of one wiong is not theii only salient
viitue. 0theiwise, theii speech will be laugheu at anu ueseive to be laugheu at.
They will be giving the unconveiteu an excuse to stay out of the movement oi to
oppose it. Yet Emeison is in othei contexts piepaieu to see hypociisy as a step on
the staiiway towaiu viitue, which is why his fiateinal coiiection of the ianting
iefoimeis is hopeful.
I shall ietuin to the question of what goou can come fiom an
essay. What matteis at the moment is that an essay's fiuit, if the fiuit is to be any
goou at all, neeus to be the fiuit of #+ (""#$@ which is moie like a ieflective lettei to a
fiienu, oi an epistle, than it is like a campaign speech oi a position papei.

In the enu, immeuiately aftei speaking of ietuining to himself in solituue anu
hinting at ievelations whispeieu to him theie, Emeison iepoits that his muse seems
to have auviseu him to ignoie all iiuicule anu commit himself to the victoiy of "all
justice." Such a victoiy woulu haiuly be a meiely piivate mattei. Suiely, a victoiy
foi #44 justice woulu entail abolition of slaveiy. Why uoesn't Emeison just say so.

0ne ieason is that he wants his ieaueis to uiaw the conclusion foi
themselves. "A little guessing uoes |the ieaueij no haim, so I woulu assist him with
no connections," Emeison once saiu.
In "The Ameiican Scholai," he tells us what
buiuen he is placing on us, which he calls "cieative ieauing": "When the minu is
biaceu by laboi anu invention, the page of whatevei book we ieau becomes
luminous with manifolu allusion. Eveiy sentence is uoubly significant."
Be uoesn't
caie, oi uoesn't want to caie, whethei ieaueis holu him in contempt foi withholuing
an enuoisement of abolitionism fiom an essay like "Expeiience."

The point of auopting an elliptically essayistic style is to seuuce ieaueis into
paiticipating in the constiuction of an aigument oi naiiative, just as the point of an
allusive style is to involve ieaueis in the active ieconstiuction of theii ielationship
to a ieceiveu tiauition of texts. Aiistotle's C7(;*-.) auvises oiatois to employ
enthymemes, syllogisms with missing piemises. When the auuitoi supplies the
piemise foi himself, the oiation becomes moie poweiful. Emeison's style in
"Expeiience" caiiies this ihetoiical stiatagem to its limit. Theie is nothing in an
aigument oi among its most impoitant implications that he will not eliue in the
inteiest of peisuasive powei. The cost, of couise, is to iisk leaving all but the most
aleit, self-ieliant ieaueis utteily befuuuleu by, oi even funuamentally mistaken
about, what he is uoing. This cost he pays willingly, even glauly.

The ianting iefoimeis aie manipulai as well pione to cant anu hypociisy.
They take a paiticulai evil, such as slaveiy, as theii occasion, auopt paiticulai
changes in piactice oi aiiangements as theii enu, anu tieat the means to that enu as
meie instiuments foi achieving it. Nanipulai iefoimeis aie instiumentalists. The
loiu of life to which they bow uown is what Emeison calls "0se" in the piefatoiy
poem. Philosopheis call it 3;.4.;$. (The moial philosophy that ieuuces iightness to
0se is utilitaiianism. A philosophei who extenus this appioach to epistemology anu
political theoiy may be calleu a 1#+.:34#- :-#81#;.";/) Like all action, in Emeison's
view, manipulai iefoim expiesses the chaiactei of the agent, betiaying moie of the
uoei than the uoei typically knows. "Buman chaiactei eveimoie publishes itself,"
Emeison wiites in "Spiiitual Laws." "The most fugitive ueeu anu woiu, the meie aii
of uoing a thing, the intimateu puipose, expiesses chaiactei. If you act, you show
chaiactei; if you sit still, if you sleep, you show it."
The manipulai iefoimei
manipulates, theieby ievealing his manipulative chaiactei. That othei people entei
into his plans as meie means exposes a uefect in his chaiactei, a uefect opposeu to
iespect foi uemociatic inuiviuuality. Instiumentalism, accoiuing to Emeison, is
laigely what ails society. Its theiapies make things woise.

When Emeison iefeis in 1S of "Expeiience" to "peifect calculation," he is
iuentifying an iueal of piactical ieason that acquiies its authoiity fiom what he hau,
two paiagiaphs eailiei, teimeu the "miu-woilu." This is wheie "life appeais so plain
a business, that manly iesolution anu auheience to the multiplication-table thiough
all weatheis, will insuie success." Coleiiuge employs the image of the
"multiplication table" pejoiatively in his pieliminaiy iemaiks to the "Aphoiisms of
Spiiitual Religion" in 0.," ;* C(54();.*+.
As Emeison sees it, when instiumental
ieasoning is extenueu beyonu the miu-woilu of planting, shopping, anu investing to
the iealm of ethical anu political tiansfoimation, its calculations piove faulty. This
is why theie aie no examples of success foi the enteipiise of manipulai iefoim, as
juugeu by its own utilitaiian tests.

The utopian expeiiment of Biook Faim, iefeiieu to in "Expeiience" as
"Euucation-Faim", was a manifest failuie. This is suiely one of the faims Emeison
has in minu in the fiist stiophe of 2S. I uoubt that he iegaius it as an instance of
manipulai iefoim. Be uesciibes it as a place wheie "the noblest theoiy of life sat on
the noblest figuies of young men anu maiuens, quite poweiless anu melancholy"
(11). Piesumably, the lives of those young people weie meant to embouy the
theoiy of life that leu to the founuing of Biook Faim. Bau the theoiy been embouieu
in those lives, peihaps genius woulu have been tiansfoimeu into woilu-
tiansfoiming powei. Insteau, that theoiy sat on the young people; it oppiesseu
them. The faim's way of life was supposeu to exemplify >(.+8 ;7( )7#+8( that the
founueis weie calling foi, iathei than being a meie instiument foi attaining a goal
uistinct fiom the way of life itself. Emeison commenus >(.+8 ;7( )7#+8( entaileu by
noble iueals, but he uoes not think that Biook Faim succeeueu in this. The attempt
to iemove oneself fiom the woilu cannot succeeu, fiist, because the olu complicities
iemain, acknowleugeu oi not, anu, seconu, because one cannot tiansfoim the woilu
by sepaiating oneself fiom it.

"But ah!" Emeison auus in 1S, "piesently comes a uay, oi is it only a half-
houi, with its angel-whispeiing, which uiscomfits the conclusions of nations anu
of yeais!" So ;7(-( #-( gieat tiansfoimations. A histoiical example is the emeigence
of Chiistianity, which Emeison tieats in 18. We know fiom this anu many othei
examples not only that life )#+ anu ,*(" change uiamatically, anu on a scale much
gianuei than that being attempteu ineffectually at Biook Faim, but also that all big
changes aie "uncalculateu anu uncalculable," as he puts it in 1S. Inuiviuuals
"uesign anu execute many things." What "comes of it all," howevei, is "an unlookeu
foi iesult," which is "veiy unlike" what any of them "piomiseu" themselves.

Emeison is putting a hopeful Romantic twist on a tenuency most thinkeis
have vieweu in a moie tiagic light. Bis claim is that the most valuable foims of
change, at the social-histoiical level as well as at the peisonal level, tenu to be
3+#+;.).:#;(, >$:-*,3);" *5 .+;(+;.*+#4 #);.*+ iathei than something as simple as a
5345.44(, :4#+.
Theie is a stiong sense in which the cieatois of Chiistenuom, the
Piotestant Refoimation, Renaissance liteiatuie, natuial science, a post-feuual
economy, anu the Ameiican iepublic uiu not know what they weie uoing, let alone
what the uoing uiu. Whatevei Columbus set out to uiscovei, it wasn't the woilu
Emeison sees in the cities anu faims of the Atlantic coast. Shakespeaie uiu not set
out to be '7#F(":(#-(/ Be just heeueu his muse anu stuck to his calling.

DL C',/-,-*' &'7 C,( P-(1*',#',(

The whispeiing angel is one of Emeison's poetic images foi the beneficially
tiansfoimative powei that inuiviuuals can ieceive when opening themselves to
thoughts aiising fiom an innei, intuitive souice ueepei than will. Bis
peisonifications of the souice also incluue "muse," "genius," anu "Cieatoi." When
speaking philosophically, he explicitly uenies that the souice shoulu be conceiveu as
a peison anu speaks insteau of the soul oi 0vei-soul, which he uoes not hesitate to
uesciibe as uivine.
Two piessing questions foi lattei-uay ieaueis like me, who
finu his metaphysics unbelievable anu his use of the teim ,.=.+.;$ a stanuing
invitation to self-ueception, aie whethei anu how his theoiy of the imagination's
iole in peisonal anu social tiansfoimation might be uisentangleu fiom its moie
uubious Romantic tiappings. Emeison's moueinist anu piagmatist heiis - such as
Nietzsche, }ames, Bewey, Santayana, Stein, Stevens, Roity, Cavell, Ammons, Kateb,
anu Cameion - have placeu these two questions in the centei of the post-Romantic

Tuning in to the innei souice of cieative anu spiiitual intuition involves what
the thiiu stiophe of 2S calls "solituue" anu "ietuining." Retuining is what the self
uoes when coming back to the innei souice, "aftei the sallies of action, |toj possess
oui axis moie fiimly" (21). Self-ieliance, as the self-consciously cultivateu habit of
iesisting confoimity, cleais the way foi ieception of the intuitive ueliveiances of the
imagination. The imagination is one of seveial faculties that ieceive intuitions, the
otheis being memoiy, sensoiy peiception, anu conscience. 0nlike peiception,
which Emeison iegaius as essentially meuiateu, the imagination is taken to be
essentially unmeuiateu.

Because he believes that its genuine ueliveiances aie "ievelations" of a
common minu oi soul to which all human beings have access, Emeison is
peisuaueu, at the time he wiites G#;3-( (eight yeais befoie "Expeiience")@ that
ietuining to his solituue in the iight spiiit is ;7( :-.=.4(8(, H#$ of connecting at the
ueepest level with what (=(-$ *;7(- .+,.=.,3#4 H7* (<()3;(" # ".1.4#- -(;3-+ .+ ;7(
"#1( ":.-.; H.44 #4"* .+;3.;. Bis ieflections on tempeiament in "Expeiience" show
that he is having uoubts about his belief in intuitive spiiitual commonality. While he
iejects the ieuuctive mateiialism of tempeiament theoiy, he suspects that
uiffeiences in tempeiament, upbiinging, anu expeiience among inuiviuuals might go
somewhat ueepei than he hau pieviously imagineu. The ieasons he gives foi
qualifying oi iejecting his uoubts about intuitive spiiitual commonality have stiuck
his many of his moueinist anu piagmatist heiis as specious.

Richaiu Roity will seive as an instiuctive example of such an heii.
wants to ieconstiuct something like Emeison's imagination-centeieu account of
cultuial tiansfoimation while uiopping Emeison's faculty psychology anu, in
paiticulai, his claim that intuitive ieason (one of Emeison's names foi the
imagination) pioviues piivilegeu access to spiiitual tiuths. Roity follows Begel in
chaiging Romanticism in geneial, anu thus Emeison by implication, with conflating
two senses of immeuiacy oi givenness: the plausible notion that imaginative
intuitions aie noninfeiential anu the uubious notion that they aie pie-conceptual
anu thus innocent of cultuial conuitioning. Bewey takes this chaige ovei fiom
Begel, though he uoesn't have a veiy fiim giip on it. Roity, having ieau Wilfiiu
uiaws the uistinction moie piecisely (when he caies to be piecise),
puts it to woik in an account of tiansfoimation.
Let me now tiy to state concisely
how that account uepaits fiom anu yet iemains inuebteu to Emeison.

Eveiyone ielies on imaginative intuitions when ieflecting on how to live.
Ethical oi spiiitual intuitions aie ueteimineu in pait by the tempeiament, linguistic
tiaining, anu expeiiences of a cultuially situateu inuiviuual. These intuitions aie not
piivilegeu oi univeisal but contingent anu socially constituteu. Suppose Emeison
was wiong to think that they put us in contact with the 0vei-soul. Be coulu still be
iight to claim that they play a pivotal iole in both peisonal anu cultuial
tiansfoimation. Peisonal tiansfoimations aiise foi the soits of ieasons Fieuu
uiaggeu out of the uaik. Cultuial tiansfoimations aiise whenevei intuitions
officially iegaiueu as ueviant anu uncoopeiative begin to be wiuely iecognizeu as
sounu. 0iatois, poets, novelists, visual aitists, consciousness-iaising gioups (such
as the Tianscenuentalists), anu new meuia of communication (such as the public
lectuie oi 67( D.#4) can, with luck, change what counts as a sounu intuition oi
legitimate ieason.
Eventually, a new paiauigm of the ieasonable, socially
coopeiative peison begins to take holu in society at laige. In times of laige-scale
change, what a ieasonable peison looks like anu how coopeiative he oi she neeus to
be aie inevitably going to be contesteu questions.

This account is inteiesting anu instiuctive, as fai as it goes. 0ne thing that is
obviously missing fiom it is a stoiy about the ioles of oiganizational anu
institutional powei in laige-scale social change, a topic I take up in P4(""(, 0-( ;7(
Emeison has little to say about oiganizations anu institutions, so I
won't say moie about them heie. Be uoes go much fuithei than Roity uoes,
howevei, in tiying to explain how tiansfoimation woiks anu what the impeuiments
to it aie. Bis name foi the main impeuiment is confoimity, a topic that holus a
position in his outlook analogous to the position of iueology in Naix's. (The only
thing in Roity's account of cultuial tiansfoimation analogous to iueology ciitique is
his iionic commentaiy on mouein philosophy.) Emeison's ciitique of confoimism
shows that he is much less sanguine than Roity is about the status of intuitions in
noimalizeu ethical anu political uiscouise.

Roity anu Emeison agiee that the establisheu cultuie geneiates 1*"; of oui
intuitions, but Emeison appeais to finu this thought moie woiiisome than Roity
uoes. Emeison holus that the establisheu cultuie is coiiupteu by the selfishness,
naiiowness, anu othei vices of the people who inhabit it. The vices of oui elueis
anu peeis helpeu ueteimine what we have come to see as intuitively tiue, iight, oi
goou. Nany of oui intuitions aie theiefoie likely to be uistoiteu. Self-ieliance is the
iemeuy Emeison piesciibes foi this ueficiency. It is neithei a sweeping anti-
authoiitaiianism, noi a geneializeu iejection of tiauition.

By the time we ieach late auolescence, accoiuing to Emeison, we finu
ouiselves moie oi less thoioughly accultuiateu. What biings us to this point is a
long piocess of instinctively imitating oui elueis anu peeis anu being iepeateuly
coiiecteu by them. 0ui intuitions - incluuing those about what is *>=.*3"4$ the case
anu those about what ieasons #+$ -(#"*+#>4( :(-"*+ woulu -(#"*+#>4$ accept -
have taken shape.
We woulu not be bettei off without a language oi an
upbiinging, of couise, because then we woulu be ignoiant anu otheiwise ill
equippeu foi vaiious activities we value. But to iemain in the sleepy spiiitual
conuition of confoimity is to fail to take iesponsibility foi one's own commitments
anu actions. In confoimity, the establisheu self simply follows the habits put in
place by accultuiation, while iepiessing thoughts anu ignoiing foims of excellence
that challenge socially appioveu uispositions anu iuentities.

Self-ieliance is exeicising iesponsibility foi oneself, on behalf of oneself anu
otheis, beyonu the confines of meie confoimity. Emeison giants that his name foi it
is inauequate.
In piactice, what he calls self-ieliance uoes not involve ielying on oi
iealizing a given self. It uoes involve opening oneself to the possibility that
unauthoiizeu thoughts, till now iepiesseu, might ueseive to be iegaiueu as tiue,
libeiating, cieative, oi otheiwise excellent. The self on which Emeison wants his
ieauei to iely is the "unattaineu but attainable self" that appeais one step up on the
ill-lit spiiitual staiicase oi "mysteiious lauuei" wheie she finus heiself.

As a piactice oi uiscipline, self-ieliance involves biinging one's iepiession of
unauthoiizeu thoughts to consciousness. Confoimity maintains itself by geneiating
authoiizeu intuitions, but also by inculcating the habit of iepiessing unauthoiizeu
thoughts, whethei they be aiiiveu at noninfeientially oi not. I take this explanatoiy
thesis to be one of Emeison's majoi contiibutions to social psychology. Self-ieliance
aims to illumine anu uestabilize the habit of confoimist thought-iepiession. An
example of a iepiesseu thought in 1844 coulu be the infeiential iealization that
slaves haivesteu the cotton in one's fishing net oi the intuitive obseivation, while
listening to a Fieueiick Bouglass oiation, that the speakei is intelligent. But
iefoimeis also foim gioups that maintain soliuaiity by fosteiing thought-iepiession
among theii membeis. Thus, anothei example of a iepiesseu thought in 1844 coulu
be the notion that theie is hatieu in what a paiticulai abolitionist is saying about his
foes. Piofessois foim gioups too. 0ne of my iepiesseu thoughts, until iecently, was
the inkling that "Expeiience" is less uesponuent, moie ieasoneu, anu moie favoiably
uisposeu towaiu action than the scholais say.

Kateb wiites that, in Emeison's view, "one shoulu iespect one's involuntaiy
peiceptions anu iule ieveiies."
This is coiiect if we take it to mean that the
peiceptions anu ieveiies must be iespecteu as :*;(+;.#4 souices of insight. Emeison
is cleai that a paiticulai unauthoiizeu thought 1.87; *- 1.87; +*; ueseive to be
iegaiueu in a positive light. Intuitions at ouus with the establisheu social consensus
aie +*; +()(""#-.4$ woithy of enuoisement. They might themselves, on examination,
piove selfish, false, oi mau.
This is why Emeison feels compelleu to link the woiu
"sanity" to the teim "ievelations" in the thiiu stiophe of 2S. Some nonconfoimist
intuitions aie inheiently insane oi unsounu. They aie uelusoiy fantasies, lacking in
ievelatoiy value. Anu some nonconfoimist intuitions, though sounu in themselves,
can, by uominating a peison's minu, cause him oi hei to become monomaniacal.
These aie two uistinct foims of insanity oi spiiitual imbalance. Emeison wants to
guaiu against both. I will come back to the seconu in 7 below.

The qualification maue in the pievious paiagiaph is impoitant. It implies
that Emeison's attiibution of piivilegeu epistemic status to intuitive ieason is less
consequential than it initially seems. If I can be mistaken about which of my
intuitions aie sane, then I am not entitleu to assign an intuition authoiitative status
simply on the basis of its phenomenal qualities. 0nly aftei taking othei
consiueiations into account am I able to ueteimine with some ceitainty that a
paiticulai intuition can have intuitive ieason as its souice. If that is tiue, then the
spiiitual iealm compiises "that which is its own eviuence" in a holistic way, iathei
than by viitue of self-authenticating, incoiiigible, ievelatoiy episoues.

The contiast between sanity anu insanity that Emeison has in minu belongs
not to oui iegime of psychological uiagnosis, but to a long tiauition in which
Pythagoias, the Sociatic tiance anu ,#.1*+.*+@ Plato's 97#(,-3" anu the N*@
Aiistotle's 9-*>4(1#;#@ 1 Coiinthians 2:9, Isaiah 64:4, Eiasmus' N+ 9-#."( *5 ?*44$@
Ficino's baptizeu Plato, Buiton's 0+#;*1$ *5 B(4#+)7*4$@ anu Nontaigne's !""#$"
became stanuaiu points of iefeience. "Expeiience" quotes fiom Buiton anu, as we
have seen, biiefly mentions Nontaigne. The iefeience to Nontaigne comes
immeuiately aftei a iemaik about insanity in 8.

Nontaigne holus that theie aie ecstatic intuitive states, that they consist in
the soul's ielease fiom the bouy, that they aie associateu with the melancholic
tempeiament, anu that they lift the soul towaiu the uivine, if sane, oi ieuuce a
human being to a meie beast, if insane. 0n the last of these points, Eiasmus is
attiacteu to the "scanualous" notion of 7*4$ 5*44$ that he finus in St. Paul's epistles to
the Coiinthians. This notion implies that a kinu of mauness can inueeu be
ievelatoiy oi uivine. Beveloping this notion is iisky business foi a Renaissance
Catholic, because it biings Eiasmus into the neighboihoou of the Nontanist heiesy,
as he iealizes. 0ne misstep anu Eiasmus will be officially chaigeu with heiesy anu
face censoiship, peihaps even toituie. If an ecstatic state can be both ievelatoiy
anu .+)*7(-(+;, so that the peison in iaptuie uoes not know what he is saying, how
is this to be uistinguisheu fiom a conuition in which a uiabolic powei plunges the
soul into uaikness. Anu who is to say what is actually going on.
The ecclesial
hieiaichy is woiiieu about the fiist question anu has a fiim answei to the seconu.

Emeison shows awaieness of these questions in "Self-Reliance," when he has
an objectoi say: "But these impulses may be fiom below, not fiom above."
Emeison, who faces the possibility ostiacism but not the iack foi his heteiouox
views, boluly ieplies that his impulses "uo not seem to me to be such; but if I am the
Bevil's chilu, I will live fiom the Bevil."
Emeison's use of the teims "sanity" anu
"insanity" in "Expeiience" suggests a moie cautious appioach to the same issue.
'#+( ievelations aie neithei holy folly, incoheient, noi uiabolical. Be now appeais
to agiee with Nontaigne in taking sanity to be an essential piopeity of heighteneu
ievelatoiy states.

But theie aie seveial othei questions auuiesseu by Nontaigne that Emeison
is ponueiing: (a) whethei ievelatoiy ecstasy can be attaineu without uivine
assistance, (b) whethei pagan ecstasy anu seculai poetic iaptuie can be ievelatoiy,
(c) whethei oiuinaiy people, as opposeu to saintly ascetics, shoulu welcome
iaptuious states, anu (u) whethei public appeals to ecstatic ievelations not alieauy
authoiizeu by the chuich can be beneficial to political life.
Nontaigne answeis no
to all foui questions, as uoes Coleiiuge.

Emeison agiees with Nontaigne about (a), the necessity of giace, but iejects
flatly negative answeis to the othei thiee questions. 0n (b), the issue of pagans anu
poets, he siues with Ficino anu the eaily Woiuswoith against Nontaigne anu
Coleiiuge. 0n (c), Emeison aigues that eveiy sane human being, not meiely a small
class of melancholic geniuses, is capable of life-enhancing, ievelatoiy ecstasies when
ieauing poetiy oi communing with natuie. Anu on (u), while iecognizing the iole
that public appeals to ecstatic ievelations hau playeu in fomenting the ieligious
wais, Emeison holus that such tuimoil was an inevitable accompaniment to the
collapse of ossifieu ieligious anu political establishments. Appeals to ecstatic
ievelations aie iife in tiansitional peiious. Theie is no getting aiounu the messy
piocess of soiting thiough those appeals collectively so as to uistinguish the sane
fiom the insane.

Coleiiuge anu Emeison aie Romantics ieasseiting the ievelatoiy value of
some ecstatic states ovei against Enlightenment ciitiques of enthusiasm anu
miiacle. When "Expeiience" tuins to the loiu of life calleu "suipiise," Emeison is
joining in the Renaissance uebates ovei (a)-(u) that Romanticism hau ieviveu. Foi
the most pait, he employs the vocabulaiy of those uebates. But because the context
foi the Romantic ietiieval of that vocabulaiy is post-Kantian, the teim .1#8.+#;.*+
acquiies a new piominence anu a stiongly positive connotation in his thinking that
it uiu not have foi Eiasmus, Ficino, oi Nontaigne.
Foi English-speaking
Romantics, Coleiiuge's uistinction between the imagination anu fancy ieplaces the
ieceiveu uistinction between .1#8.+#;.* anu :7#+;#".# (the lattei being the moie
elevateu faculty in the classical, meuieval, anu Renaissance souices)/

With Coleiiuge's elevateu conception of the imagination in minu, Emeison
wiites: "The uistinction of fancy & imagination seems to me a uistinction in kinu. . . .
The Imagination is vision, iegaius the woilu as symbolical & pieices the emblem foi
the ieal sense, sees all exteinal objects as types."
The souice of imaginative vision
is inteinal. Neithei imaginative vision noi fancy iesults fiom infeience, but only the
foimei issues in ievelations. When speaking of the piivilegeu souice of intuitive
insight, Emeison geneially auheies to Coleiiuge's uistinction.

As I have alieauy suggesteu, Emeison views Chiistian oithouoxy's way of
auministeiing the uistinction between sounu anu unsounu intuitions as an aibitiaiy
anu stultifying attempt to keep spiiit fiom moving foiwaiu. The authoiity of a
paiticulai set of constiaints on what counts as ievelatoiy cannot, accoiuing to
Emeison, be establisheu simply by pointing to ;7( +((, foi a uistinction between
sounu anu unsounu intuitions. When a paiticulai gioup sets itself up as an aibitei
of the uistinction, it not only exeits powei aibitiaiily ovei otheis, but also thieatens
to uampen oi extinguish the cieativity of the human spiiit. Chiistian oithouoxy,
Emeison complains in "The Bivinity School Auuiess," behaves "as if uou weie
It is theiefoie woiking against its own piofounu intuition of uivinity.

Emeison giants the neeu to uiffeientiate between ievelatoiy anu unsounu
intuitions, but uoesn't tiust any ecclesial hieiaichy oi intellectual elite - such as
Coleiiuge's "cleiisy" - to auministei the uistinction. New spiiitual intuitions will
inevitably seek expiession. Some of them will be sounu. The piocess of aiiing them
compensates foi the ossification of unieflective habit anu foi the tenuency of elites
to confuse institutional anu cultuial stasis with the common goou. Cleiics anu the
cleiisy associateu with them will seek to suppiess change anu meet with some
success. But in eveiy epoch, oithouoxy ultimately fails to silence the intuitions that
exceeu its bounus. If this weie not the case, spiiitual histoiy woulu have come to a
stanustill a long time ago. Theie woulu have been no Isaiah, no }esus, no Luthei, no
Winstanley, no Wollstoneciaft, no Woiuswoith, no Wilbeifoice, anu no

0ne thing that makes the piesent epoch uistinctive - anu uistinctively
uemociatic, accoiuing to Emeison - is the incieasingly wiuespieau intuition,
especially in Ameiica, that (=(-$*+( has the authoiity, as well as the iesponsibility,
to expiess spiiitual anu ethical intuitions, to uiaw infeiences fiom them, anu to
examine them ciitically. Emeison believes that this ciucial meta-intuition
withstanus ciitical examination. It is a thought that appeais eviuent to mouein
people who aie sufficiently self-ieliant to fiee themselves fiom confoimity, anu it is
confiimeu as such on ieflection. The uiscipline of self-ieliance, of libeiating oneself
fiom the self-censoiship iequiieu by confoimity, fiees one to intuit one's authoiity
anu iesponsibility in such matteis. To affiim the meta-intuition on ieflection is to
auopt an attituue of self-tiust - as an officeholuei, so to speak, in the piiesthoou of
all believeis anu in the citizens' iepublic. The same attituue "applieu to anothei
peison is ieveience," Emeison iemaiks in a jouinal entiy.

What if the uiscipline of self-ieliance 8(+(-#;(" the intuition. This question is
impoitant foi the ciitical appiopiiation of Emeison by the piagmatists, especially
those like Bewey, who aie influenceu by Begel's uoctiine of the piimacy of social
piactices. Fiom the vantage of such piagmatists, the cultuie in which political
uelibeiation goes foiwaiu, anu in which concepts acquiie the significance they have,
is a collection of social piactices that geneiate uesiies anu intuitions (peiceptions,
memoiies, imaginaiy visions, etc.) as inputs, employ ieasoning to govein change in
commitments (beliefs anu intentions), anu have actions as outputs, with the actions
uoubling back to iepiouuce anu sometimes the social piactices (anu thus the uesiies
anu intuitions). 0ne ieason foi ieieauing Emeison touay is his impoitance,
especially but not only in an Ameiican context, as a piactical innovatoi, as someone
who stiongly influenceu the uevelopment of piactices that helpeu make avant-gaiue
ait, nonconfoimist spiiituality, anu uelight in natuie impoitant souices of intuition
anu vitality in uemociatic cultuie.

Emeison is content to allow a fieewheeling piocess of expiession anu
ciiticism to go foiwaiu, tiusting that new thoughts meiiting acceptance will
eventually be uiffeientiateu fiom those that fall shoit. The piocess is not foolpioof,
howevei, anu he giants that theie aie uistuibingly many nonconfoimists who aie
foolish. Some of them aie also bigoteu anu egotistical. Foolishness, bigotiy, anu
egotism aie among the vices that clouu one's vision of spiiitual tiuths anu inteifeie
with the uialogical piocess of soiting thiough new spiiitual claims. Confoimists
tenu to be fai moie numeious than nonconfoimists anu no less pione to vice.
Confoimist complicity in injustice gives iise to cowaiuice anu sloth, which in tuin
cieate a bias against honoiing novel intuitions in oneself anu in otheis, accoiuing to
Emeison's essay "The Conseivative."

XL M*'(#%Y&,-Y# 5%8/+#',( )%*+ 0%&1,-1&2 9<=#%-#'1#

As a young man, Coleiiuge uefenueu ievolution anu Woiuswoith's gieat
innovations in poetiy, but quickly became uisillusioneu with iauicalism anu aligneu
himself publicly with the Biitish impeiial establishment. In 67( ?-.(+, (18u9-1u)@
Coleiiuge uefenus constitutional aiiangements that make possession of piopeity a
pieiequisite foi the exeicise of political powei. Be bases his aigument explicitly on
the platfoim of piuuence oi expeuiency, which he calls "piactical Expeiience,"

employing that concept as Nontaigne uoes in "0n Expeiience." It is the
unueistanuing, not intuitive ieason, that ought to caiiy authoiity in the political
spheie, Coleiiuge aigues. The moial spheie is something else again.

Foi Emeison to finu his way towaiu open embiace of abolitionism, he must,
in effect, woik his way back to something ioughly like the iauicalism anu
uemociatic spiiit of the young Coleiiuge. In uoing so, Emeison wishes to leain
something fiom Coleiiuge's piuuential conseivatism without extinguishing the
political ielevance of intuitive ieason. Emeison giants that expeiience (in the sense
that uistinguishes the piacticeu ciaftsman fiom the novice) is ielevant to politics,
but aigues on the basis of expeiience (histoiical examples) that intuitive ieason
cannot be quaiantineu in an essentially nonpolitical moial spheie. Intuitive ieason,
in the foim of the moial imagination, asseits its own authoiity against piopeity anu
piivilege whenevei human beings ueciue not to iepiess theii nonconfoimist
thoughts. It is uoing so now against the institution of slaveiy, which wiongly ianks
"0se" oi "expeuiency" ovei human uignity as a ieason foi action. Failuie to
acknowleuge that intuitive ieason sometimes asseits its piioiity ovei expeuiency is
to leave oneself without an auequate explanation of mouein political change as a
phenomenon linkeu to spiiitual oi cultuial change.

Coleiiuge's political imagination, Emeison thinks, is uominateu by the
example of the Fiench Revolution. As a chilu of uissenting Piotestantism, an
Ameiican, anu a tentative sympathizei with abolitionism, Emeison has othei, moie
hopeful examples of mouein uemociatic impulses in minu: the Piotestant
Refoimation, the English Revolution, the Ameiican Revolution, anu the
emancipation of slaves in the Biitish West Inuies. A faii-minueu appiaisal of all
histoiically piominent examples of political self-ieliance entails a moie balanceu
conclusion than Coleiiuge's. The wisuom of expeiience lies in an attempt to
combine: (a) the iefoimei's awaieness of the political ielevance of moueinity's
spiiitual tuin to human uignity with (b) the conseivative's awaieness of the uangeis
anu excesses of iefoim. Coleiiuge hau passeu fiom (a) to (b), iathei than having the
wisuom to holu them togethei in his minu. Emeison woulu have seconueu Bazlitt's
comment on Coleiiuge's change of minu: "Such is the fate of genius in an age, when
in the unequal contest with soveieign wiong, eveiy man is giounu to powuei who is
not eithei a boin slave, oi who uoes not willingly anu at once offei up the yeainings
of humanity anu the uictates of ieason as a welcome saciifice to besotteu piejuuice
anu loathsome powei."

Fiom Emeison's point of view, Nontaigne is the most eloquent ciitic of
ecstasy in the Renaissance anu no less pieoccupieu than Coleiiuge with a single
example of convulsive change. The Fienchman's conseivatism is a ieaction to the
violence anu ciuelty of what he fiankly calls the -(4.8.*3" wais. The wise man uefeis
to the chuich as the sole souice of ceitainty anu uefeis to the authoiity of an
aumitteuly impeifect state as an alteinative to chaos. Aftei a life of public
involvements, incluuing militaiy seivice, Nontaigne ietiies to his stuuy:
We shoulu set asiue a ioom, just foi ouiselves, at the back of the shop,
keeping it entiiely fiee anu establishing theie oui tiue libeity, oui piincipal
solituue anu asylum. Within it oui noimal conveisation shoulu be of
ouiselves, with ouiselves . . . . theie we shoulu talk anu laugh as though we
hau no wife, no chiluien, no possessions, no followeis, no menseivants, so
that when the occasion aiises that we must lose them it shoulu not be a new
expeiience to uo without them. We have a soul able to tuin in on heiself; she
can keep heiself company; she has the wheiewithal to attack, to uefenu, to
ieceive, anu the give.

This passage fiom "0n Solituue," an essay that iepeateuly extolls self-tiust, is the
mouel foi Emeison's ietieat to the tianquility of 7." stuuy, uesciibeu in such viviuly
peisonal teims in "Self-Reliance" - not to mention viiginia Woolf's 0 C**1 *5 Q+(A"
QH+/ But as a close ieauei of the !""#$"@ Emeison must have been stiuck, at the time
of his own uesponuency aftei little Waluo's ueath, by Nontaigne's foithiight account
of his own stiuggle to oveicome melancholic uistuibance anu buinout (what Buiton
calls "melancholy auust"). The piivate ioom to which one iepaiis while shunning
family anu withuiawing fiom public life to examine oneself can be an unhappy

The peace one sometimes finus theie is inueeu an impoitant human goou.
Emeison feels this acutely. Be also values the pievention anu cessation of wai. But
he uoes not view the wais of Nontaigne's eia as fiuitless uistuibances. Be views
them as inevitable consequences of a spiiitual tuining that woulu take centuiies to
woik itself out. Nontaigne anu Coleiiuge weie both tiying to holu back
uemociatizing tenuencies that coulu not be containeu ovei the long haul, anu they
unueiestimateu the value that the new tenuencies might biing. A longei
peispective on the full iange of ielevant examples uoes not suppoit conseivatism:
"Nan lives by pulses; oui oiganic movements aie such; anu the chemical anu
etheieal agents aie unuulatoiy anu alteinate; anu the minu goes antagonizing on,
anu nevei piospeis but by fits. We thiive by casualties" (1S). This is not to ueny
that we also uie by casualties anu must enuuie the losses they impose on us. Such,
foi Emeison, is the expeiience of his lifetime, anu such is the wisuom of histoiy.

Emeison is awaie that when Nontaigne isn't using examples that lenu
suppoit to conseivative conclusions, he sometimes uses skeptical aiguments to
unueimine taking instiuction fiom examples altogethei. "0n Expeiience" sets out to
ueteimine what expeiience can teach, with "example showing the way." Yet it
eventually aigues that examples cannot be useu to settle anything, because
"Pieceuent is an unceitain looking-glass, all-embiacing, tuining all ways."
Emeison's peispective, such skepticism towaiu the value of examples unueicuts the
conseivative conclusions Nontaigne uiaws fiom the examples he favois. In the enu,
conseivatism is no bettei off than any othei view.

In 17, wheie Emeison iefeis to the univeisal impulse to believe, he aigues:
"skepticisms aie not giatuitous oi lawless, but aie limitations of the affiimative
statement." To avoiu self-iefeiential inconsistency, the skeptic has to limit the ieach
of uoubt anu in fact always uoes so if the pioject of uoubting stops shoit of self-
consumption. The task is to constiuct a "new pictuie of life" out of the "elements
alieauy exist|ingj in many minus aiounu you." The new pictuie must take the
skepticisms in "anu make affiimations out-siue of them, just as much as it must
incluue the oluest beliefs." Neithei skepticisms noi olu beliefs aie simply to be set
asiue. The pictuie Emeison pioposes casts Nontaigne's skeptical conseivatism as a
limitation, a qualification, of the affiimative statement of the neeu foi iefoim.

The public piocess of expiessing anu ciiticizing intuitions is often a uialogue
of the ueaf between flaweu iefoimeis anu flaweu conseivatives. It uoes not much
iesemble an iueal speech situation, anu sometimes leaus to wai. But it is not
optional. It will go foiwaiu whethei the cleiics, the cleiisy, the ietiieu philosopheis,
anu impatient iefoimeis want it to oi not. People living in the wake of }acksonian
uemociacy anu the Seconu uieat Awakening aie awash in unsettling anu conflicting

The same is tiue of us, which is anothei ieason Emeison is woith ieauing
now. Not eveiyone has the intuitions associateu with self-ieliance, not eveiyone
enuoises them on ieflection, anu theie is much uisagieement about what
acceptance of them implies ethically anu politically. Someone who acquiieu hei
sense of piopiiety fiom the lituigical piactices of an Anglican paiish might have one
set of intuitions. Someone who got his ieligion at an evangelical ievival meeting
might well have anothei. Anu someone who piefeis ieauing Romantic poetiy anu
attenuing lectuies on self-ieliance will piobably have yet anothei. Foi that mattei,
any one peison's intuitions aie bounu to be inteinally inconsistent. Conflicts among
intuitions - whethei they aiise within an inuiviuual oi between inuiviuuals - neeu
to be woikeu thiough, not wisheu away.

Boes anyone ieally leave theii most ueeply felt intuitions out of account
when ieflecting on impoitant questions. If not, the choppy wateis of uemociatic
antagonism aie not about to be calmeu by a call foi ieason. Essaying is a way of
woiking thiough the antagonisms, a way of staying afloat in those wateis. As
Emeison wiites in his uiscussion of Nontaigne in C(:-("(+;#;.=( B(+%
The philosophy we want is one of fluxions anu mobility. . . . We want a ship in
these billows we inhabit. An angulai, uogmatic house woulu be ient to chips
anu splinteis in this stoim of many elements. No, it must be tight, anu fit to
the foim of man, to live at all; as a shell must uictate the aichitectuie of a
house founueu on the sea.

ZL C',/-,-*'B [-%,/#B &'7 0%&1,-1#(

We aie now in a position to see the impoit of Emeison's claim, uevelopeu in
"Chaiactei" anu "Spiiitual Laws," that chaiactei tenus to uisplay itself. A wise
obseivei can ueteimine the tiustwoithiness of an intuitive spiiitual claim by
viewing it as an expiession of the chaiactei of the claimant. That chaiactei
expiesses itself in eveiything the peison uoes anu can be juugeu by its fiuits. A
viituous peison can use this eviuence when assaying someone else's novel claim,
say, that slaveiy is an insult to his soul. If the claimant's life smells of vice, the claim
will caiiy less authoiity, which is why the bigoteu abolitionist has ihetoiical as well
as ethical ieasons to clean up his act. Emeison believes that viituous chaiactei
contiibutes to sounu spiiitual vision, which in tuin contiibutes to viituous
chaiactei. Be also believes that one viituous chaiactei can, geneially speaking, spot

Neeuless to say, uisputes ovei who is to be counteu as viituous can be as
contentious as uisputes ovei intuitions. If you aie viituous anu I am not, I am
unlikely to be peisuaueu by youi assessments of people anu theii intuitions. So the
appeal to viitue uoes not enu the uispute oi insulate it fiom the effects of vice.
Foolish people aie likely to be unuuly swayeu by false piophets anu uemagogues,
iegaiuless of what theii moie uisceining neighbois uo oi say. This, Emeison thinks,
has to be acknowleugeu as a uangei belonging to the uemociatic lanuscape.

"As I am, so I see," Emeison wiites in 21. It is a thought that initially
appeais in "Expeiience" as a thieat to confiuence in one's "instiuments." If my
subjective natuie ueteimines what I see, why tiust my physical oi spiiitual vision.
The same thought acquiies a uiffeient inflection when it is taken to mean: "If anu
only if I am viituous can I see viituously when assaying the claims anu chaiacteis of
those aiounu me." This, I believe, is how Emeison finally wants his uictum to be
taken. The appeal to viitue uoes not miiaculously calm the wateis, but it uoes iivet
oui attention on an impoitant featuie of all noninfeiential iepoits, namely that theii
appiaisal tuins on the authoiity, anu thus on the chaiactei, of the iepoitei. Repoits
of spiiitual intuitions aie like peiceptual iepoits in this iespect.

I saiu eailiei that some intuitions which Emeison ueems sounu in themselves
can nonetheless acquiie monomaniacal significance in someone's peisonality. Be
highlights this soit of insanity in 8, wheie he wains against fixation on a single
intuition, a tenuency that quickly becomes "ouious" when uiscoveieu in one's
companions. This is wheie he says: "We house with the insane, anu must humoi
them; then conveisation uies out." If he is iefeiiing to his wife Liuian, the point he is
making appeais to have less to uo with hei teais ovei little Waluo's ueath than with
hei aiuent commitment to abolitionism. Be that as it may, Emeison's philosophical
theiapy foi monomaniacal fixation is ieflecteu in his style, which enueavois to take
multiple intuitions, multiple canuiuates foi tiuth, with maximal seiiousness. Bis
way of shifting fiom one to anothei is uesigneu to bieak the ieauei of the tenuency
to become one-siueu.

Emeison is ielatively gentle in tieating this vaiiety of mania, because he
thinks it can actually be socially beneficial in "iepiesentative men" such as }esus,
Shakespeaie, anu Napoleon. Theii pieoccupation with a single thought oi pioject
enables them to stanu foi it with gieatei claiity, theieby moving spiiitual histoiy
foiwaiu if the ciicumstances aie iight. But we can uefenu ouiselves against theii
lack of balance by shifting oui attention to anothei figuie anu then anothei, in the
hope of iecognizing multiple viitues anu possibilities. Emeison insists that theie
ieally aie multiple viitues, but also that oui conceptions of viitue change
significantly ovei time.
The gieat figuies of viitue aie walking, talking
synecuoches. We aie lucky to have them all befoie us, so as not to be excessively
influenceu by one.

Emeison's ethical theiapy foi the one-tiack minu is less necessaiy at the
societal level, because any society alieauy incluues vaiious conflicting tenuencies,
each of which seives to mitigate anothei's uangeis anu biases to some extent. In
Emeison's benign view, the single-minueu iefoimei anu the stougy conseivative
help compensate foi one anothei's vices. "0f couise, it neeus the whole society to
give the symmetiy we seek. . . .Like a biiu which alights nowheie, but hops
peipetually fiom bough to bough, is the Powei which abiues in no man anu in no
woman, but foi a moment speaks fiom this one, anu foi anothei moment fiom that
one" (1u).

In a passage fiom "Self-Reliance" that Cavell has uone much to illumine,
Emeison says that he "woulu wiite on the lintels of the uooi-post, M7.1/" Emeison
auus, "I hope it is somewhat bettei than whim at last, but we cannot spenu the uay
in explanation."
M7.1 is an intuitive impulse oi impiession that aiises within us
fiom a souice uistinct fiom memoiy, intellect, oi conscience. It is the wiitei's
spiiitual iaw mateiial. What pioves bettei than meie whim is ietiospectively saiu
to have come fiom the imagination, the faculty that successfully taps into the
common R(.";. What pioves to be no moie than whim at last is ietiospectively
classifieu as something lacking in ievelatoiy value. In essaying, Emeison assays his
intuitions. In "Expeiience," as in many othei cases, the assaying involves putting
contiaiy intuitions up against one anothei, so as to piovoke fuithei thought.

Begel's system seeks to account foi ieason's .+5(-(+;.#4 woik of moving fiom
the piomptings of its intuitions to ieasoneu juugments of what qualifies as moie
than whim at last. Emeison is too much the Romantic, too little the iationalist, to
offei a systematic oveiview of Begel's soit. Neithei uoes Emeison's ieconsiueiation
of Locke, Bume, Kant, Coleiiuge, anu Nontaigne take the foim of a uialectical
aigument-by-elimination, uesigneu to leave only one absolute meta-theoiy stanuing
at the enu. But "Expeiience" is an exeicise of the uialectical imagination anu
Contiauictoiy intuitions aie biought into open antagonism anu the
uisciepant woilus mentioneu in the fiist stiophe of 2S aie finally ieconcileu.

Kateb chaiacteiizes Emeison as geneially "eagei to piesent the stiuggle,"
iathei than seeking haimony between the opposing thoughts.
I think Kateb is half
iight about this. Piesenting the stiuggle belongs to Emeison's stanuaiu pioceuuie,
as uoes a wholeheaiteu attempt to "impeisonate" fiist one outlook, then anothei (as
Kateb nicely puts it). But Emeison is open to vaiious outcomes. The soit of
haimony aiiiveu at in the conclusion of "Expeiience" is a peifectly happy outcome
fiom his point of view, pioviueu that it is ieacheu honestly. If one coulu say in
auvance of the expeiiment whethei the outcome woulu be haimony, utente, oi the
uiscaiuing of one antagonist as false, essaying woulun't be assaying.

Theie may also be something to leain fiom the piactices Emeison engages in
while gatheiing intuitions. Bis uaily activities - of walking in the woous, obseiving
natuie, paying attention to his uieams, ieauing poetiy, stuuying histoiy anu
philosophy, conveising with fiienus, anu listening to piecocious chiluien like little
Waluo - aie meant to open up channels of imagination that might leau to fiesh
spiiitual insight anu giowth.
(The loss of his son uepiives Emeison of a cheiisheu
souice of inspiiation, as well as a valueu offspiing anu imagineu heii.) Be keeps his
voluminous jouinal in oiuei to iecoiu his peiceptual anu spiiitual intuitions, as well
as facts that come to his attention, anu he latei subjects the whole lot to sciutiny
while ieassembling them into lectuie sciipts anu essays.

In 2S of "Expeiience," he speaks of "hiving" tiuths foi his ieaueis. Be puts
these into public ciiculation in the confiuence that the woithiest of his thoughts will
iesonate with othei people who, belonging to the same age anu subject to the same
iegimes of confoimity, will also have been tempteu to iepiess the same thoughts oi
something like them. "In eveiy woik of genius we iecognize oui own iejecteu
thoughts: they come back to us with a ceitain alienateu majesty" ("Self-Reliance").

The notion that a social ciitic oi political philosophei neeus to attenu caiefully to
the thoughts that confoimism iequiies us to iepiess can anu shoulu be uisentangleu
fiom Emeison's faith in a common minu oi soul. What finally eains Emeison the
authoiity to assay his intuitions is not his metaphysics but the honesty with which
he inteiiogates himself, his willingness to change his minu, the couiage with which
he enuuies his naysayeis, anu the attention he gives to the pioblematical
ielationship between examples anu geneialities. The metaphysics seives an
explanatoiy function foi him. It is one way of making sense of thoughts about
sacieuness, uignity, beauty, the sublime, excellence, anu evil that he is unable to
ueny. A ieauei can ieject the metaphysics while ietaining the thoughts, which is
why Emeison continueu to mattei gieatly to many ieaueis who eithei stuck with
peisonal conceptions of uivinity oi uioppeu the notion of uivinity altogethei.

17 associates what Emeison calls genius with what the Chinese philosophei
Nencius calls "vast-flowing vigoi." What this means is haiu to explain, Nencius
aumits, but when it is nouiisheu piopeily anu uone no injuiy, "it will fill up the
vacancy between heaven anu eaith." Beie again we finu genius oveicoming the
uualism between heavenly thought anu eaithly uoing. Emeison auus: "In oui moie
coiiect wiiting, we give to this geneialization the name of Being, anu theieby
confess that we have aiiiveu as fai as we can go."

Anyone, accoiuing to Emeison, can get in touch with his oi hei imagination
anu conscience. In that sense, eveiyone has a genius. This claim is cential to
Emeison's uemociatic Romanticism. Nietzsche, unfoitunately, uispenses with this
commitment. Bis eclipse of Emeison in the imagination of the Ameiican acauemic
left is an iionic confiimation of an olu Emeisonian theme - the Ameiican pioclivity
to seek authoiization fiom Euiopean souices. Ignoie Emeison anu his Ameiican
piogeny anu you might finu youiself neeuing Rancieie to ieuiscovei "the equal
powei of intelligence"
anu Babeimas to sense that something is missing fiom a
seculaiizeu society.
The uiscussion pioceeus foi the most pait as if Emeison
nevei existeu, as if Nietzsche inventeu himself out of whole cloth. A bettei staiting
point foi the conveisation woulu be the question of why Nietzsche suppiesseu the
uemociatic element in Emeison's peifectionism.

Emeison's uemociatization of 8(+.3"@ though somewhat jaiiing to oui eais,
iemains one of his most impoitant effoits at iesignification. }acksonian uemociacy
absoibs the inuiviuual into the heiu, whose spiiit is that of gioup egotism, anothei
manifestation of confoimity. A tyianny of the heiu ieplaces a tyianny of piopeitieu
gentlemen. Emeisonian uemociacy aspiies to iealize a uistinctive foim of sociality,
in which inuiviuuals aie empoweieu to woik theii way out of confoimity anu foim
fiienuships with otheis equally empoweieu. Eveiyone has iepiesseu intuitions, anu
anyone can wiestle with them. Emeison is not saying that eveiyone has the
vocation of a poet oi the ihetoiical gifts suiteu to that iole. The poet tuins the innei
quest of genius - empoweiing thoughts, iescueu fiom confoimist iepiession - into
something of public significance. The poet of uemociacy seives a iepiesentative
anu unsettling function in a piocess of social tiansfoimation in which eveiyone,
iegaiuless of class, iace, anu genuei, has the capacity, iight, anu iesponsibility to

That is wheie Emeison ultimately enus up, anyway. In ieaching this
conclusion, he has to stiuggle with his intuitions, ueciuing which to iegaiu as tiuths,
which as piouucts of mean egotism oi meie fantasy, anu which as piejuuicial
piouucts of confoimity. The stiuggle can be painful foi a lattei-uay ieauei to
witness, as it must have been painful foi Emeison to live thiough. Be uoes not finu
it easy to set asiue the piejuuices of iacism anu patiiaichy.
Be uoes a bettei job of
this than Nietzsche uoes, but foi some ieason Nietzsche is moie apt to be foigiven.
They may both be hanuicappeu by theii inuebteuness to Stoicism.

Emeison is amply blesseu with cieative genius, honesty, anu couiage, but not
with anything appioaching Nontaigne's sympathy anu meicifulness. Emeison's
empathetic imagination often stops shoit of feeling anothei's pain, as if eithei his
tempeiament oi cultivation of #:#;7(.# piohibiteu him fiom going fuithei. The
goluen iule of compassion is of little help to a wiitei who stanus at a iemove fiom
his own feelings. But theie is little point in uemanuing of Emeison what one gets so
abunuantly fiom Nontaigne, Stowe, uaiiison, oi Bouglass. Emeison's weie the
woius that biought Thoieau, Fullei, Whitman, anu Paikei to a boil, aftei all. Anu he
ianks with Naix, Fieuu, anu only a few othei moueins as a theoiist of gieat

JL [*1&,-*'B !%&'()*%+&,-*'B &'7 P#+*1%&1N

The woikings of genius, accoiuing to Emeison, aie not subject to will anu
they typically opeiate at a psychological level ueepei than the inuiviuual's
awaieness. uenius cannot be beckoneu at will. The imagination's intuitive
ueliveiances aie piioi to, moie basic than, will. The imaginative >-(#F;7-*387" that
accompany gieat tiansfoimations aie, foi this ieason, not manipulai, eithei foi the
inuiviuuals who fiist expeiience them oi foi otheis who come to iesonate with them
as genius is tiansfoimeu into piactical powei. Theie is something mysteiious anu
incalculable about both the causes anu effects of the most impoitant
tiansfoimations. This thought gives Emeison heait when enuuiing the silence of his
muse aftei Waluo's ueath. It coulu well be, he assuies himself, that this peiiou of his
life, which 5((4" like oblivion, is in fact a time when a new possibility is taking shape
in his imagination. 2S of "Expeiience" is that possibility maue manifest.

In 16 Emeison claims that anothei gieat tiansfoimation is unueiway. Like
othei effects of ueepei causes, "it knows not its own tenuency." Paiticipants in the
tiansfoimation aie "now skeptical, without unity," having been uistiacteu by the
"coetaneous giowth of the paits." Be piobably means that abolitionism has been
ueveloping unevenly anu has not yet coalesceu with othei potentially bountiful
tenuencies. The countiy has been suffeiing fiom the spiiitual consequences of an
economic uepiession. These aie the social coiielates of his peisonal ciisis, the
ieasons that his auuience is as uisoiienteu as he has been. Emeison auvises his
ieaueis to "beai with the uistiactions," which he has been examining in his essay.
Then, in a stiiking allusion to 1 Coiinthians 12:11-2u, he ueclaies that the seemingly
inuepenuent paits "will one uay be 1(1>(-"@ anu obey one will." "New Englanu
Refoimeis," a lectuie Emeison ueliveieu in Naich 1844 anu appenueu to the fiist
euition of !""#$"% '()*+, '(-.("@ uesciibes what piopei uniting is like. The "union
must be inwaiu, anu not one of covenants, anu it is to be ieacheu by the ieveise of
the methous" commonly in use. Piopei uniting leaves the membeis inuiviuuateu.
"The union must be iueal in actual inuiviuualism."

Alex Zakaiis elegantly uistinguishes Emeisonian inuiviuuality fiom both
absoiption into the mass anu meie fiagmentation. Be aigues that self-ieliance
seeks fulfillment in a kinu of social action.
Zakaiis anu I aie both offeiing
compensatoiy coiiection to Kateb's claim that "Self-ieliance cannot best show itself
in woiluly piesence oi activity." Zakaiis uoes not say much about "Expeiience," an
essay that is cential to Kateb's case. Kateb aigues that the "net effect" of the essay
"is that Emeisonian self-ieliance at its best must finally be giaspeu as something
mental, not active."
Kateb nevei comments on the essay's final paiagiaph, which
ueclaies that genius, something mental, will be tiansfoimeu into piactical powei,
something active, theieby embouying "the tiue iomance which the woilu exists to
iealize." Neithei uoes he take note of Emeison's implieu uistinction between
manipulai iefoim anu commenuable foims of social action.

These omissions help explain why Kateb's Emeison waveis unsteauily
between celebiation of uemociacy anu an anti-political theoiy of politics. Antipathy
foi manipulai iefoim is not antipathy foi genuinely uemociatic politics. D(1*)-#)$@
when Emeison employs it as a teim of commenuation, iefeis to the excellences
emeiging in the piesent age. Be also sometimes uses the teim moie neutially, as
when he speaks in 2S of the "uemociatic manneis" of manipulai iefoimeis. Like
all action, in Emeison's view, manipulai iefoim expiesses the chaiactei of the agent,
betiaying moie of the uoei than the uoei typically knows. The manipulai iefoimei
manipulates, theieby ievealing himself as manipulative. That othei people entei
into his plans as meie means exposes a uefect in his chaiactei, a uefect opposeu to
iespect foi uemociatic inuiviuuality. Nanipulai iefoim is one among many uefects
in a cultuie that is nonetheless lauuable foi its intimations of genuinely uemociatic
inuiviuuality anu coopeiation. Emeison is uistinguishing the uefects fiom the
intimations. Theie is no waveiing in his uistaste foi the foimei oi in his uesiie to
peifect the lattei.

The teim "hate" in the seconu stiophe of 2S echoes the example in "Self-
Reliance" of the "bigoteu abolitionist," whose chaiactei is out of kiltei with his
cause. Emeison uiu not hesitate to ueclaie that cause "bountiful," even in 1841,
when !""#$"% ?.-"; '(-.(" appeaieu. Be hau publicly iejecteu slaveiy fiom the time
of his veiy fiist seimon, but hau long haiboieu uoubts about abolitionism anu some
its leaueis. The bigot he has in minu in "Self-Reliance" is piobably the vain anu
"inconveitible" ueoige Thompson, whom Emeison's aunt hau thiust on him in
18SS. By the eaily 184us, while his uisappiobation of Thompson iemaineu stiong,
Emeison hau become an aumiiei of such abolitionists as Baiiiett Naitineau anu
William Lloyu uaiiison. The movement now helu moie piomise in Emeison's

"Expeiience" was publisheu in 0ctobei 1844, a few months aftei the
"Auuiess on the Emancipation of the Negioes in the Biitish West Inuies," his long-
awaiteu public uefense of abolitionism, on August 1.
Be consiueieu incluuing the
auuiess in !""#$"% '()*+, '(-.("@ but ueciueu to publish it sepaiately. Be must have
ueemeu the auuiess inconsistent with the essayistic style of the collection. The
essays, with "Expeiience" as the best example, aim to woik a ueep tiansfoimation in
the ieauei. They uo so by uelibeiately cieating inteipietive uifficulties, thiough
ellipses, allusions, anu paiauoxical juxtapositions that place a buiuen of thinking on
the ieauei.

The August 1 auuiess, like Emeison's othei piosaic wiitings anu speeches on
political issues, takes a simple uilemma foi gianteu as its topic anu aims to move the
auuience, as it weie, fiom one siue of the uiviueu house to the othei. Emeison nevei
consiueieu his gifts well suiteu to pailiamentaiy oi paitisan ihetoiic, anu often
expeiienceu a sense of vocational self-betiayal when engaging in it. Nost eaily
ieaueis of "Expeiience" woulu have been awaie that Emeison hau ueliveieu a majoi
uefense of abolitionism the pievious summei. Yet the essay collection publisheu
that autumn contains no foithiight statement on the issue. Insteau, it piesents a
theoiy, ethics, anu ihetoiic of tiansfoimation.

Assaying tiansfoimation is the vocation Emeison commits himself to shoitly
aftei leaving the pastoiate anu continues to caiiy out anu ievise until his minu fails
him. This vocation is compatible with suppoit of the abolitionist cause, as in the
August 1 auuiess, but not with suppoit of abolitionism as manipulai iefoim.
Emeison maintains that to be woithy of the allegiance of its membeis anu to be
successful on the teims they *387; to accept, abolitionism must be incoipoiateu into
a laigei piocess of peisonal anu societal change that #);3#44$ (1>*,.(" the highest
iueals of the age. If abolitionism can get that much iight, its unintenueu effects aie
likely to be goou on the whole, howevei incalculable they iemain in piospect.

This embouiment of the iueal in mateiial piactice is the tiansfoimation of
genius into piactical powei imagineu in the essay's last sentence. If Emeison weie
unable to see in abolitionism a sufficient actualization of the iueal woilu he ;7.+F",
he woulu not have been able in goou conscience to uelivei his August 1 auuiess.
Theie is a stiong sense, theiefoie, in which the tiansfoimation of genius into
piactical powei is alieauy, by Emeison's lights, accomplisheu - anu accomplisheu .+
abolitionism, consiueieu as an impeifect (but goou (+*387 to enuoise) iueal-infuseu
mateiial piactice. In Begelian teims, he is seaiching foi an acceptable conciete

Emeison is giving his abolitionist ieaueis both moie anu less than most of
them weie hoping to get fiom him: moie theoietical anu ethical ieflection on how
gieat tiansfoimations happen anu less oveitly abolitionist ihetoiic on the issue at
hanu. The theoiy of tiansfoimation is meant to infoim people caught up in the
miust of a gieat tiansfoimation, so that they might behave moie wisely, justly,
couiageously, anu patiently. The ethics of tiansfoimation holus up to iigoious
ciiticism iepiesentative types of vocation oi chaiactei (the iefoimei, the
conseivative, the poet) anu chaiacteiistics (uesponuency, self-ieliance). The
ihetoiic of tiansfoimation aims to uiaw the ieauei into a piocess of peisonal
tiansfoimation whose fiist step is an aveision to confoimity anu whose subsequent
steps incluue attentiveness to one's genius anu cultivation of genuinely viituous

Nany commentatois iemaik that "Expeiience" follows "The Poet" in !""#$"%
'()*+, '(-.("/ I cannot iecall a scholai mentioning that the essay aftei "Expeiience"
is "Chaiactei," which uevelops the claim about chaiactei's ielation to spiiitual
authoiity that I highlighteu above. The piefatoiy poem at the heau of "Chaiactei"
begins: "The sun set; but set not his hope: Stais iose; his faith eailiei up." A few
lines latei, the poem ieaus: "Be spoke, anu woius moie soft than iain Biought the
Age of uolu again: Bis action won such ieveience sweet, as hiu all measuie of the
The poem enus by iefeiiing to giief. Emeison is helping us view his essays
as a seiies, an oiueieu set. "Wheie uo we finu ouiselves. In a seiies . . . ." The
uisoiientation impeisonateu by the speakei at the beginning of "Expeiience" has
been tianscenueu by the time we ieach "Chaiactei." ulancing back, the speakei
iecognizes the impoitance of faith anu hope, just as he hau unueilineu the
impoitance of patience a page eailiei. Anu he explicitly counts his "woius" as
efficacious "action." In saying what he has saiu #>*3; the tiansfoimation of genius
into piactical powei, he aims to (55(); the tiansfoimation of genius into piactical

FL 9+#%(*':( 0**%

Noie than a yeai befoie giving his August 1 auuiess, Emeison hau wiitten in
his jouinal: "It is gieatest to believe & hope well of the woilu, because he who uoes
so, quits the woilu of expeiience, & makes the woilu he lives in." Eaily in 1844,
anothei jouinal entiy ieflects on the neeu, when auuiessing a laige assembly, foi
"painting in fiie my thought, & being agitateu to agitate. 0ne must ueuicate himself
to it anu think with his auuience in minu, so as to . . . entei into all the easily
foigotten seciets of a gieat noctuinal assembly & theii ielation to the speakei."

08.;#;.*+ is a keywoiu fiom the long tiauition of ieflection on ecstatic states that I
mentioneu eailiei, anu it appeais a uozen times in Nontaigne's !""#$"/

The enuing of "Expeiience" quits the uesponuency of the essay's opening
paiagiaphs anu, if I am ieauing iightly, biings his self-image as a wiitei into
coheience with his plunge into abolitionist politics. Emeison nevei ueliveieu
"Expeiience" to a noctuinal assembly, but in it he uoes get agitateu to agitate, anu
uoes finally paint in fiie his thought. The autobiogiaphical iefeiences of the fiist
paiagiaphs can uistiact us fiom what the essay aims to uo foi its ieaueis. Be begins
in the fiist-peison pluial. Be uoes not say, "Wheie uo I finu myself." Be says,
"Wheie uo H( finu ouiselves." Be then pioceeus to impeisonate the uisoiientation
of his ieaueis, while owning up to his own expeiience of uesponuency. They have
not lost little Waluo, but they have liveu thiough a uifficult peiiou with its own
chaiacteiistic temptations. The potential geniuses among them who shaie the
melancholic tempeiament anu a love of poetiy aie tempteu to loll in #)(,.#@ as he
has. 0theis in his auuience aie tempteu by the meie iuealism of the beautiful soul,
the utopianism of Biook Faim, the hypociisy anu cant of manipulai iefoim, the
uisenchantment of mateiialism - all of which fail to get iueals piopeily embouieu in
mateiial piactices, in chaiactei, in piactical powei.

At some level, Emeison suspects, all such ieaueis "wish to be saveu fiom the
mischiefs of theii vices, but not fiom theii vices. Chaiity woulu be wasteu on this
pooi waiting on the symptoms. A wise anu haiuy physician will say, I*1( *3; *5
;7#;, as the fiist conuition of auvice" (21). Emeison is alluuing to 2 Coiinthians
6:17: "Wheiefoie come out fiom among them, anu be ye sepaiate, saith the Loiu,
anu touch not the unclean thing; anu I will ieceive you." In the 184us, "coming out"
iefeiieu to the act of excommunicating one's chuich foi complicity in slaveiy.
"New Englanu Refoimeis," Emeison commenus coming out as "excellent when it
was uone the fiist time," but woiiies that it "loses all value when it is copieu." When
coming out is not itself an expiession of self-ieliance, he iegaius it as a veneei of
uemociatic manneis iathei than as an action that "flow|sj fiom the whole spiiit anu
faith" of the iefoimei.
In "Expeiience," coming out is a metaphoi foi a change in
one's iuentity.

Emeison's use of the expiession "this pooi" in 21 of "Expeiience" echoes
"Self-Reliance," in which he hau shockeu his ieaueis by asking, of the mateiially
uestitute, "Aie they 1$ pooi."
The question uiu not imply that he hau no geneial
obligations to the mateiially uestitute. Emeison was asking about his vocational
obligations, about his uistinctive iole in the woik of tiansfoimation. In
"Expeiience," he is the spiiitual physician calling 7." :**- to come out of the
mischiefs of theii vices, to be sanctifieu, to join in a mateiial piactice infuseu with
iueals of conuuct, chaiactei, anu community. To whom is he calleu to ministei. Any
ieauei in the piocess of coming out uespaii, oithouoxy, mateiialism, oi manipulai
iefoim, any ieauei with a iole to play in the laige-scale tiansfoimation that is

Notice how the following passage fiom the enuing of "The Ameiican Scholai"
anticipates the themes of alienation, vocation, intuition, patience, anu conveision of
the woilu latei uevelopeu in "Expeiience":
Young men of the faiiest piomise, who begin life upon oui shoies, inflateu by
the mountain winus, shineu upon by all the stais of uou, finu the eaith below
not in unison with these, but aie hinueieu fiom action by the uisgust
which the piinciples on which business is manageu inspiie, anu tuin
uiuuges, oi uie of uisgust, some of them suiciues. What is the iemeuy.
They uiu not yet see, anu thousanus of young men as hopeful now ciowuing
to the baiiieis foi the caieei, uo not yet see, that, if the single man plant
himself inuomitably on his instincts, anu theie abiue, the huge woilu will
come iounu to him. Patience, patience; with the shaues of all the goou
anu gieat foi company; anu foi solace, the peispective of youi own infinite
life; anu foi woik, the stuuy anu the communication of piinciples, the making
those instincts pievalent, the conveision of the woilu.

Bespeiate, alienateu young people of the faiiest piomise aie the coie of Emeison's
pooi, the congiegation he hopes to gathei in the lyceum. They all have ioles to play
in the conveision of the woilu. Emeison's calling is to awaken them, foitify theii
faith anu hope, anu ieveal to them that the light they can use to illuminate wheie
they finu themselves belongs as fully to theii bleak iocks as it belongs to any time
anu place.

The "huge woilu will come iounu" - it will become spheiical anu tuin to - the
one whose calling is to call, but only if he auheies stiictly to the uuties of his station.
That station is the opposite of stationaiy, because it iequiies peipetual uying,
iebiith into new woilus, anu tuining. Yet the one whose task it is to issue the
cockciow neeu not tiavel abioau to inhabit the new woilu. Because that woilu
tuins, the light comes to anyone who stations himself on the ioost.

Emeison goes on to speak of "that peculiai fiuit which each man was cieateu
to beai," which in his case is piivate oi singulai in its essayistic foim of auuiess anu
public in its substantive ielevance to the huge woilu coming iounu. In the 184u
lectuie "Refoim," Emeison says that he intenus to peisist in his piivate exeitions,
"this wise passiveness, until my houi comes when I can see how to act with tiuth as
well as to iefuse." A jouinal entiy speaks of letting "the iepublic alone until the
iepublic comes to me."
Be is not so much iefusing to make a public statement as
he is waiting foi what he iegaius as the oppoitune moment. While he nevei makes
entiiely cleai what he is waiting foi, anu is still piovoking the abolitionists long aftei
having ascenueu the platfoim to join them, the iepublic seems to have come to him,
by his ieckoning, in 1844.

In closing, let us tuin to Emeison's mysteiious mention of }ohn Flaxman's
uiawing of a scene fiom the !31(+.,(" of Aeschylus (22). In the play,
Clytaemestia kills hei husbanu King Agamemnon. The suiviving chiluien, Electia
anu 0iestes, aie hoiiifieu. Electia anu the gou Apollo uige 0iestes to kill his mothei
as ietiibution. Be uoes so. Now the Fuiies aie toimenting 0iestes. Theii iole is to
avenge patiiciue anu matiiciue. They aie ueities cieateu when the semen of a gou
touches the eaith, so they symbolize one way of embouying uivine eneigy in eaithly
uoings, namely vengeance. 0iestes takes iefuge in Apollo's temple. Apollo senus
0iestes to Athens unuei Beimes' piotection anu puts the Fuiies to sleep in oiuei to
uelay them.

When the Fuiies hunt 0iestes uown, Athena inteivenes anu conuucts a tiial,
with eleven Athenians joining hei as the juiy, the Fuiies functioning as piosecutois,
anu Apollo as the uefense attoiney. Athena casts the final vote, leaving the totals at
six to six, a tie entailing an acquittal. The Fuiies (oi !-.+$(", in uieek) aie then
ienameu the !31(+.,(" (the goou name compensating them foi the lost vote anu
piotecting Athenians fiom theii vengeance).

The uiawing by Flaxman uepicts 0iestes' supplication of Apollo, with the
Fuiies asleep on the thiesholu of the temple. Emeison wiites:
The face of the gou expiesses a shaue of iegiet anu compassion, but calm
with the conviction of the iiieconcilableness of the two spheies. Be is boin
into othei politics, into the eteinal anu the beautiful. The man at his feet asks
foi his inteiest in tuimoils of the eaith, into which his natuie cannot entei.
Anu the Eumeniues theie lying expiess pictoiially this uispaiity. The gou is
suichaigeu with his uivine uestiny.
What is Flaxman's uiawing uoing heie.

It concluues the section on Subjectiveness, in which the uiviue between
subject anu object is suiveyeu by one who iuentifies wholly with the foimei, in a
moou that enus in self-uefeating skepticism: "peihaps theie aie no objects" (18).
Subjectiveness centeieu in the intellect is a moou in which "Nuiuei in the
muiueiei" uoes not seem iuinous (19). Foi the intellect, uivoiceu fiom the
inteisubjective call of conscience, "theie is no ciime" (488). "Anu yet is the uou the
native of these bleak iocks," foi we neeu "the capital viitue of self-tiust"(21). The
colu Apollo is the gou of these bleak iocks. Be himself has inspiieu 0iestes to kill
foi the sake of justice. Be feels a measuie of iegiet foi this necessity, as well as
compassion foi the one befoie him, whose fate is to be hounueu by Fuiies. Apollo
has his own pieoccupations with highei things, with beauty, but also with a justice
that tianscenus the vengeance of an aggiieveu son.

The essayist's peisona is heie split, uualistically, between the seienely uivine
Apollo anu the supplicant 0iestes, whose conceins peitain to the tuimoils of the
Apollo can give 0iestes ielease fiom the Fuiies only foi a time. 0iestes
must eventually stanu tiial. A waimei gou, the female Athena, will conveit the
Fuiies into something less vengeful. Apollo will have to come out of his seiene
withuiawal in oiuei to uefenu 0iestes.

Apollo, Emeison wiites, "is suichaigeu" - that is, oveibuiueneu - "with his
uivine uestiny." In the boiueilanu between the uivine anu the eaithly, his
iesponsibilities appeai too heavy, peihaps incompatible. Apollo has a highei
concein, which involves seiene contemplation, but he also iealizes that his oiuei to
0iestes implicates him in eaithly affaiis. The bloou now uiipping fiom 0iestes' feet
anu the iage of the Fuiies sleeping on the thiesholu of the temple aie in some sense
Apollo's uoing. Bis seiene subjectivity, his pieoccupation with an aim that makes
the wants of his supplicants seem tiivial by compaiison, nonetheless entails
involvement in eaithly affaiis. Be has alieauy oiueieu 0iestes to kill his fathei's
killei. Soon he will be 0iestes' uefenuei befoie the tiibunal of justice in Athens.

But in this moment, at the enu of Emeison's uiscussion of Subjectiveness,
Flaxman's Apollo symbolizes the iauical yet tempoiaiy uisjunction of the two
spheies. Fiom this uualistic peispective, those spheies cannot be ieconcileu. In but
a few paiagiaphs, howevei, oui essayist will tiansfoim his Apollonian genius into
piactical powei, theieby calling his pooi to uo the same. Wheievei that happens,
mateiial piactices aie spiiit incainate. Bualism is oveicome.


Ralph Waluo Emeison, "Expeiience," was oiiginally publisheu as the seconu essay
in !""#$"% '()*+, '(-.(" (Boston: }ames Nunioe anu Company, 1844). I shall be
quoting fiom !""#$" #+, S();3-("@ eu. }oel Poite (New Yoik: Libiaiy of Ameiica,
198S), which is baseu on the fiist euition. To make my iefeiences to the text moie
piecise anu to pioviue a way of uesciibing the essay's stiuctuie, I have numbeieu
the essay's 2S paiagiaphs anu shall iefei to them by numbei. This piactice will
have the auuitional auvantage of assisting ieaueis who uo not have a copy of the
Libiaiy Ameiica volume hanuy. Emeison uiu not, neeuless to say, numbei the
paiagiaphs himself.
Nichel ue Nontaigne, 67( I*1:4(;( !""#$"@ tians. N.A. Scieech (Lonuon: Penguin,
2uuS) 12u7-69.
In comments on the fiist uiaft of this papei, Nolly Faineth suggesteu that the
piefatoiy poem's "Little man" is the supine human being who, lacking self-ieliance,
has been uwaifeu by his own uefeience to the loius of life. "Beaiest natuie" is
offeiing what Faineth calls "ieassuiance that the uisoiientation with which the
essay begins neeu not be cause foi uespaii." Ny inteipietation of the bouy of the
essay coheies nicely with Faineth's inteipietation of the piefatoiy poem. Nany
commentatois take "Little man" to be Emeison ueau son, little Waluo.
William Woiuswoith, "0ue. Intimations of Immoitality fiom Recollections of Eaily
Chiluhoou," in 67( M*-F" *5 M.44.#1 M*-,"H*-;7 (Noihaven, Benmaik:
Woiuswoith Libiaiy, 1994), S89.
Compaie a line spoken by 0ncle Chailie (}oseph Cotton) in Alfieu Bitchcock's
'7#,*H *5 # D*3>; (194S): "Bo you know if you iippeu the fionts off houses, you'u
finu swine." In 11 of "Expeiience," Emeison wiites: "Without any shauow of
uoubt, amiust this veitigo of shows anu politics, I settle myself evei the fiimei in the
cieeu, that we shoulu not postpone anu iefei anu wish, but uo bioau justice wheie
we aie." That's two Bitchcock titles in one sentence. Coinciuence. Piobably. But
'7#,*H *5 # D*3>; lifts the ioof fiom the home of what the sciipt calls "an aveiage
Ameiican family" anu exposes a failuie on the pait of that family to uo bioau justice
wheie they aie. 0ne of the sciiptwiiteis was Thointon Wiluei, who uiscusses
Emeison anu Thoieau as emblematic Ameiican wiiteis in 01(-.)#+ I7#-#);(-.";.)"
#+, Q;7(- !""#$"@ eu. Bonalu uallup (New Yoik: Baipei anu Row, 1979), chapteis 1
anu 2. If Bitchcock uiu ieau Emeison, it might have been at Wiluei's suggestion. In
any event, Bitchcock anu Emeison aie both ciitics of Ameiican social confoimity,
anu they both imagine themselves to be iemoving something, a ioof oi a faaue, that
oiuinaiily obstiucts oui view of what is happening insiue Ameiican "homes."
Robeit B. Richaiuson }i., !1(-"*+% 67( B.+, *+ ?.-( (Beikeley: 0niveisity of
Califoinia Piess, 199S), SS9-6u; Patiick }. Keane, !1(-"*+@ C*1#+;.)."1@ #+,
N+;3.;.=( C(#"*+% 67( 6-#+"#;4#+;.) TS.87; *5 Q3- D#$U (Columbia: 0niveisity of
Nissouii Piess, 2uuS), chaptei 14; }ulie Ellison, "Teais foi Emeison: !""#$"% '()*+,
'(-.("@" in 67( I#1>-.,8( I*1:#+.*+ ;* C#4:7 M#4,* !1(-"*+@ eu. }oel Poite anu
Saunuia Noiiis (Cambiiuge: Cambiiuge 0niveisity Piess, 1999), 14u-61.
The Immoitality 0ue concluues: "The Clouus that gathei iounu the setting sun
Bo take a sobei colouiing fiom an eye That hath kept watch o'ei man's moitality;

Anothei iace hath been, anu othei palms aie won. Thanks to the human heait by
which we live, thanks to its tenueiness, its joys, anu feais To me the meanest
flowei that blows can give Thoughts that uo often lie too ueep to teais." 67( M*-F"
*5 M.44.#1 M*-,"H*-;7@ S9u.
Foi an account of "Expeiience" as an expiession of a vocational ciisis, see Bonalu E.
Pease, "'Expeiience,' Antislaveiy, anu the Ciisis of Emeisonianism," in 67( Q;7(-
!1(-"*+@ eus. Bianka Aisic anu Caiy Wolfe (Ninneapolis: 0niveisity of Ninnesota
Piess, 2u1u), 1S1-66. I agiee with Pease on two ciucial points: fiist, in viewing
"Expeiience" as effecting a "ciisis of witnessing" that hau been essential to the
"piotocols" uefenueu in eailiei lectuies anu essays; anu seconu, in connecting
Emeison's iesolution of that ciisis with his uecision to enuoise abolitionism, a
theme I uevelop latei in this papei. While Pease anu I uiffei on vaiious textual
uetails, oui appioaches aie complementaiy.
}oel Poite, C(:-("(+;#;.=( B#+% C#4:7 M#4,* !1(-"*+ .+ V." 6.1( (New Yoik:
Columbia 0niveisity Piess, 1979), 197.
ueoige Kateb, !1(-"*+ #+, '(45WC(4.#+)( (Thousanu 0aks, CA: Sage Publications,
199S), S8.
Poite, C(:-("(+;#;.=( B#+@ 197-8.
In his unpublisheu Piinceton senioi thesis, Benjamin Elga asseiteu the
impoitance of ieauing "Expeiience" as a iesponse to "0n Expeiience." While my
own account of that iesponse uiffeis fiom Elga's, I am giateful foi his piovocation.
Foi a helpful commentaiy on the connections between expeiience anu piuuence
in Nontaigne, with special iefeience to "0n Expeiience," see victoiia Kahn, C7(;*-.)@
9-3,(+)(@ #+, 'F(:;.)."1 .+ ;7( C(+#.""#+)( (Ithaca, NY: Coinell 0niveisity Piess,
198S), chaptei S. Baibaia L. Packei uiscusses Emeison's iesponse to Nontaigne in
!1(-"*+A" ?#44% 0 G(H N+;(-:-(;#;.*+ *5 ;7( B#X*- !""#$" (New Yoik: Continuum,
1982), 199-211.
It is actually an anachionism to iefei to "0n Expeiience" oi "0n Solituue" as
essays. Nontaigne thought of them as chapteis in a book entitleu !""#."/ !""#."@ in
his vocabulaiy, aie attempts, analogous to the effoits of an appientice who uoes not
yet have the expeiience neeueu to piouuce a masteiwoik. As attempts at thinking
something thiough, they aie expeiiments oi tiials in which the wiitei tests his
commitment to this oi that thought anu to the pioject of honest self-examination.
They assay Nontaigne's chaiactei. But each chaptei in Nontaigne's book incluues
many (""#."/ See N. A. Scieech, B*+;#.8+( #+, B(4#+)7*4$% 67( M.",*1 *5 ;7(
!""#$" (Lonuon: Penguin Books, 198S), 1S.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 7uu.
Etienne ue La Botie, 67( 9*4.;.)" *5 Q>(,.(+)(% 67( D.")*3-"( *5 E*43+;#-$
'(-=.;3,(, tians. Baiiy Kuiz (New Yoik: Black Rose Books, 1997).
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ S6S.
The enuing of "Piouigal" coulu easily stanu as a conuenseu commentaiy on
"Expeiience": "aftei the visions of these losses, the spent seei, ueliveieu to
wastage, iisen into iibs, consigns knowleuge to appioximation, oiuei to the
vehicle of change, anu fumbles blinu in blunt innocence towaiu uivine, teiiible
love." A.R. Ammons, I*44();(, 9*(1"% YZ[YWYZ\Y (New Yoik: Noiton, 1972), 76-7.

At the enu of "Coison's Inlet," Ammons ievisits paiagiaph 2S of "Expeiience": "I will
tiy to fasten into oiuei enlaiging giasps of uisoiuei, wiuening scope, but
enjoying the fieeuom that Scope eluues my giasp, that theie is no finality of vision
that I have peiceiveu nothing completely, that tomoiiow a new walk is a new
walk." I*44();(, 9*(1"@ 147-S1.
Alan B. Bouuei, !1(-"*+A" C7(;*-.) *5 C(=(4#;.*+% G#;3-(@ ;7( C(#,(-@ #+, ;7(
0:*)#4$:"( M.;7.+ (0niveisity Paik, PA: Pennsylvania State 0niveisity Piess, 1989).
}eiiy A. Beinuon was on the iight tiack in his biief note, "St. Paul anu Emeison's
'Self-Reliance'." 01(-.)#+ 6-#+")(+,(+;#4 ]3#-;(-4$% 0 2*3-+#4 *5 G(H !+84#+,
M-.;(-" 1 (1969): 9u. Bianka Aisic uiaws attention to the impoitance of Beinuon's
note in Q+ S(#=.+8% 0 C(#,.+8 .+ !1(-"*+ (Cambiiuge: Baivaiu 0niveisity Piess,
2u1u), SSS-6n16.
Notably: Packei, !1(-"*+A" ?#44@ chapteis 2 anu 4; Stanley Cavell, N+ ]3("; *5 ;7(
Q-,.+#-$% S.+(" *5 'F(:;.)."1 #+, C*1#+;.)."1 (Chicago: 0niveisity of Chicago
Piess, 1988); Cavell, 67." G(H L(; ^+#::-*#)7#>4( 01(-.)#% S();3-(" #5;(- !1(-"*+
#5;(- M.;;8(+";(.+ (Albuqueique, NN: Living Batch Piess, 1989); anu Patiick }.
Keane, !1(-"*+@ C*1#+;.)."1@ #+, N+;3.;.=( C(#"*+% 67( 6-#+"#;4#+;.) TS.87; *5 Q3-
D#$U (Columbia: 0niveisity of Nissouii Piess, 2uuS). Ny oveiview of Coleiiuge's
influence on Emeison is mainly inuebteu to Keane's caieful textual scholaiship.
Biakhage (19SS-2uuS) may be the gieatest filmmakei in the Ameiican avant-
gaiue. Bis 1974 film, 67( 6(<; *5 S.87;@ attenus to the light iefiacteu thiough an
ashtiay that Biakhage tuins in his hanu. In 9 of "Expeiience," Emeison wiites: "A
man is like a bit of Labiauoi spai, which has no lustie as you tuin it in youi hanu,
until you come to a paiticulai angle; then it shows ueep anu beautiful colois."
Anothei passage fiom "Expeiience" calls to minu Nathaniel Boisky's film 67(
E.".;#;.*+ (2uu2)@ anothei wonuious example of avant-gaiue ait: "I am at fiist
appiiseu of my vicinity to a new anu excellent iegion of life. By peisisting to ieau oi
to think, this iegion gives fuithei sign of itself, as it weie in flashes of light, in
suuuen uiscoveiies of its piofounu beauty anu iepose, as if the clouus that coveieu it
paiteu at inteivals . . . ." (16). Foi a splenuiu account of Emeison's influence on
Ameiican avant-gaiue film, see P. Auams Sitney, !$(" ^:".,( D*H+% E.".*+#-$
?.411#F(-" #+, ;7( V(-.;#8( *5 !1(-"*+ (New Yoik: 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess, 2uu8).
Sitney tieats Biakhage at length in chapteis S, 11, anu 1S, anu uesciibes 67( 6(<; *5
S.87; as "the paiauigm of his inwaiu tuin" in the eaily 197us (7S). Sitney's account
of Boisky can be founu in "Tone Poems: P. Auams Sitney on the Films of Nathaniel
Boisky," 0-; ?*-31 (Novembei 2uu7):1-8. I tieateu Biakhage anu Boisky in my
Stone Lectuies on ieligion anu film, ueliveieu at Piinceton Theological Seminaiy in
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 81.
Compaie ueoige Santayana, 67( '(+"( *5 P(#3;$% P(.+8 #+ Q3;4.+( *5 0(";7(;.)
67(*-$ (New Yoik: Bovei Publications, 19SS): "In iuealization piopei . . . what
happens is the elimination of inuiviuual eccentiicities" (111). "The mateiials of
histoiy anu tiauition have been melteu anu iecast by the uevout imagination into
those figuies in the piesence of which oui piety lives. . . . The Chiist men have loveu
anu auoieu is an iueal of theii own heaits, the constiuction of an evei-piesent

peisonality, living anu intimately unueistoou, out of the fiagments of stoiy anu
uoctiine connecteu with a name" (116). In ieflecting on the figuie of the viigin
Naiy, Santayana ueclaies it "a pity that a foolish iconoclasm shoulu so long have
uepiiveu the Piotestant minu of the contemplation of this iueal" (117).
Nontanism was a late 2
-centuiy Chiistian movement oiiginating in Phiygia.
Although initially known as the "New Piophecy," the movement was latei nameu
aftei its founuei, Nontanus. Two featuies of Nontanism mattei foi the puiposes of
this papei. The fiist is the movement's iejection of oithouox ecclesial authoiity's
iight to ueciue whethei this oi that piophecy allegeuly inspiieu by the Boly Spiiit is
authentic. The seconu is the movement's appioval of ceitain appaiently incoheient
foims of ecstatic piophecy as ievelatoiy.
The passage continues: "The ciicumstances, the peisons, the bouy, the woiu, the
memoiy aie foievei peiishing as the baik peels off the expanuing tiee." Quoteu in
Aisic, Q+ S(#=.+8@ 187.
Nolly Faineth, in hei comments on the fiist uiaft of this papei, speculateu that
one sense of "getting" at issue in this passage coulu be the epistemic notion of
unueistanuing something. If the conjectuie is iight, then when Emeison says that
he uoes not 8(; what he ieceives fiom the uivine souice, at least pait of what he
means is that he uoesn't )*1:-(7(+, what he has ieceiveu. uiven Emeison's
chaiacteiistic way of layeiing meanings, Faineth's conjectuie neeu not come at the
expense of the acquisitive sense of 8(;;.+8/
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ SS8.
"Anu theie aie, I feel, goou ieasons why we shoulu not leave Wholly untiaceu a
moie foibiuuing way." William Woiuswoith, Book vI of 67( !<)3-".*+@ in 67( M*-F"
*5 M.44.#1 M*-,"H*-;7@ 848. See Baviu Biomwich, V#K4.;;% 67( B.+, *5 # I-.;.)
(0xfoiu: 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess, 198S), 168.
I am suppoiting Bianka Aisic's claim that Emeison shoulu "be inteipieteu - along
the lines of the uieek :-#81#;#@ on which Naix's :-#<." is pieuicateu - as
tianscenuing the uiviue sepaiating us fiom the woilu we inhabit, since the
tianscenuing it pioposes, foi Emeison as well as foi Naix, means that subject anu
object . . . fall in love" (Q+ S(#=.+8@ 84). Bowevei, I uisagiee with Aisic's implication
that Emeison's pioximity to Naix on this theme puts uistance between these two
anu piagmatism, foi the same theme is of cential impoitance to Bewey anu to othei
piagmatists who weie influenceu, as Naix was, by Begel. I tiace these lines of
influence in "The Spiiit of Piagmatism: Beinstein's vaiiations on Begelian Themes,"
R-#,3#;( ?#)34;$ 97.4*"*:7$ 2*3-+#4 (foithcoming).
See Pamela }. Schiimeistei, S("" S(8.>4( B(#+.+8"% P(;H((+ 9*(;-$ #+, 97.4*"*:7$
.+ ;7( M*-F *5 !1(-"*+ (Stanfoiu, CA: Stanfoiu 0niveisity Piess, 1999), 142.
In his jouinals, he uses the teim "canteis" to uesciibe "ouious" abolitionists. Len
uougeon, E.-;3(A" V(-*% !1(-"*+@ 0+;."4#=(-$@ #+, C(5*-1 (Athens, uA: 0niveisity of
ueoigia Piess, 2u1u), 6S. In an 1846 poem, "0ue: Insciibeu to W.B. Channing,"
Emeison iefeis to "the piiest's cant" anu the "statesman's iant" as incompatible
with his "honieu thought." !1(-"*+A" 9-*"( #+, 9*(;-$@ eus. }oel Poite anu Saunuia
Noiiis (New Yoik: Noiton, 2uu1), 44S-6.

}ack Tuinei uiscusses these woiiies anu Emeison's eventual uowngiauing of
them in "Self-Reliance anu Complicity: Emeison's Ethics of Citizenship," in 0
9*4.;.)#4 I*1:#+.*+ ;* C#4:7 M#4,* !1(-"*+@ eus. Alan N. Levine anu Baniel S.
Nalachuk (Lexington: 0niveisity Piess of Kentucky, 2u11), 12S-S1. Tuinei's best
sentence is: "The woilu we inheiit is not innocent; we aie boin into complicity anu
iemain complicit as we ieach matuiity" (142).
"Though few people have the face to set up foi the veiy thing they in theii heaits
uespise, we almost all want to be thought bettei than we aie, anu affect a gieatei
aumiiation oi abhoiience foi ceitain things than we ieally feel." William Bazlitt,
"0n Cant anu Bypociisy," S*+,*+ M((F4$ C(=.(H, Becembei 6th, 1828.
The enuing of "The 0vei-Soul" looks foiwaiu to a uay in which man "will weave
no longei a spotteu life of shieus anu patches, but he will live with a uivine unity"
(!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 4uu). To see how this line beais on the ethics of hypociisy, one
neeus to unpack the allusion. In Act S, Scene 4 of V#14(;, the piotagonist speaks of
"A king of shieus anu patches." The tiauition behinu the phiase is that of uiessing
vice as a mimic King in a clown's suit of patches. Bamlet is iefeiiing to his vicious
uncle, the muiueiei of his fathei. Bamlet suspects his mothei of complicity in the
muiuei. She suspects him of mauness. Bamlet, aftei uiging hei not to go to his
uncle's beu, auvises hei that putting on a semblance of viitue, hypociitically, woulu
be a step upwaiu foi hei. In eleven lines, Shakespeaie uesciibes a piocess of ethical
tiansfoimation that leaus fiom outiight vice thiough hypociisy to viitue:
16u Assume a viitue, if you have it not.
161 That monstei, custom, who all sense uoth eat,
162 0f habits uevil, is angel yet in this,
16S That to the use of actions faii anu goou
164 Be likewise gives a fiock oi liveiy,
16S That aptly is put on. Refiain tonight,
166 Anu that shall lenu a kinu of easiness
167 To the next abstinence: the next moie easy;
168 Foi use almost can change the stamp of natuie,
169 Anu eithei mastei the uevil, oi thiow him out
17u With wonuious potency.
The ghost auvises Bamlet to "step between hei anu hei fighting soul," which is what
Emeison is uoing with iespect to his auuience. Emeison is hinting that some
membeis of his auuience suspect him of being mau, but also that he iegaius them as
complicit in evil. By alluuing to Shakespeaie, Emeison is also inviting his auuience
is to tiy on the appeaiance of viitue by confoiming outwaiuly to justice, in the hope
that uoing so will change the stamp (the chaiactei) of natuie. The invitation implies
that hypociisy can be goou foi the peison who auopts it. Foi a supeib account of the
long mouein tiauition of ieflection on the value of hypociisy as a way station on the
path to tiue viitue, see }ennifei A. Beiut, 93;;.+8 *+ E.-;3(% 67( S(8#)$ *5 ;7(
':4(+,., E.)(" (Chicago: 0niveisity of Chicago Piess, 2uu8). Beiut mentions V#14(;
on p. 1S4, but only in passing. Bei chaiitable uiscussion of my Emeisonian
peifectionism, on pp. 6-1u, uoes not take up Emeison's place in the tiauition she is

Quoteu in Packei, !1(-"*+A" ?#44@ 1.
!""#$ #+, S();3-("@ S9.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ S18.
Samuel Tayloi Coleiiuge, 0.," ;* C(54();.*+ .+ ;7( ?*-1#;.*+ *5 # B#+4$ I7#-#);(-@
*+ ;7( '(=(-#4 R-*3+," *5 9-3,(+)(@ B*-#4.;$@ #+, C(4.8.*+@ oiiginally publisheu in
182S. Emeison was familiai with the 1829 Ameiican euition, publisheu by Rev.
}ames Naish, Piesiuent of the 0niveisity of veimont, who incluueu a highly
influential "Pieliminaiy Essay" of his own on Coleiiuge's iueas.
See }on Elstei, "States That Aie Essentially By-Piouucts," '*).#4 ').(+)(
N+5*-1#;.*+ 2u.S (}une 1981): 4S1-47S.
Foi an excellent account of Emeison's conception of impeisonality anu the iole of
that conception in subsequent Ameiican liteiatuie, see Shaion Cameion,
N1:(-"*+#4.;$% '(=(+ !""#$" (Chicago: 0niveisity of Chicago Piess, 2uu7), esp.
chapteis S anu 4. Chaptei S is Cameion's ieauing of "Expeiience" as an elegy foi
Roity is moie apt to cieuit Bewey, Kuhn, anu Nietzsche than Emeison as souices
of his iueas, but Emeison is in the backgiounu, thanks to his influence on Bewey anu
Nietzsche. Coinel West illumines the lines of influence in 67( 01(-.)#+ !=#".*+ *5
97.4*"*:7$% 0 R(+(#4*8$ *5 9-#81#;."1 (Nauison: 0niveisity of Wisconsin Piess,
Wilfiiu Sellais, !1:.-.)."1 #+, ;7( 97.4*"*:7$ *5 B.+,@ with stuuy guiue by Robeit
B. Bianuom (Cambiiuge: Baivaiu 0niveisity Piess, 1997). 0iiginally publisheu in
B.++("*;# ';3,.(" .+ ;7( 97.4*"*:7$ *5 ').(+)(@ E*431( N% 67( ?*3+,#;.*+" *5 ').(+)(
#+, ;7( I*+)(:;" *5 9"$)7*4*8$ #+, 9"$)7*#+#4$".", eu. Beibeit Feigl anu Nichael
Sciiven, (0niveisity of Ninnesota Piess, 19S6), 2SS-S29.
See Richaiu Roity, "Intuition," in 67( !+)$)4*:(,.# *5 97.4*"*:7$, vol. 4., eu. Paul
Euwaius, (New Yoik: Nacmillan anu Fiee Piess, 1967), 2u4-12, foi a concise
uiagnosis of the ambiguities haiboieu in this concept.
A pieliminaiy sketch of Roity's unueistanuing of cultuial tiansfoimation appeais
in 97.4*"*:7$ #+, ;7( B.--*- *5 G#;3-( (Piinceton: Piinceton 0niveisity Piess,
1979). A statement of Roity's matuie position can be founu in I*+;.+8(+)$@ N-*+$@
#+, '*4.,#-.;$ (Cambiiuge: Cambiiuge 0niveisity Piess, 1989). Nost of Roity's
subsequent books have some beaiing on cultuial tiansfoimation.
This pictuie is uevelopeu most fiuitfully in Richaiu Roity, "Feminism anu
Piagmatism," in 6-3;7 #+, 9-*8-("" (Cambiiuge: Cambiiuge 0niveisity Piess,
1998), chaptei 11.
This last claim puts Roity in tension with }ohn Rawls, anothei influential
philosophei inteiesteu in teasing the notion of intuition away fiom the tiappings of
-centuiy intuitionism. Rawls pioposeu the fictive uevice of the oiiginal position
as a means of avoiuing what he iegaiueu as an excessively pluialistic soit of
intuitionism. Accoiuing to his mouel, imaginaiy contiactois pass behinu a veil of
ignoiance in oiuei to agiee on the piinciples of a social contiact. The veil leaves
them without access to theii moie iuiosynciatic intuitions anu commitments, as
well as to infoimation about theii iace, genuei, class, anu ieligious iuentity in the
ieal woilu. The piinciples appioveu on the basis of this thought expeiiment entail

that oiuinaiy citizens, when uelibeiating in the public foium on constitutional
essentials anu questions of basic justice, aie obligeu to iely essentially only on
-(#"*+" ;7#; #+$ -(#"*+#>4( ,(4.>(-#;*- )*34, -(#"*+#>4$ #))(:;. In this context, a
-(#"*+#>4( uelibeiatoi is supposeu to be "*).#44$ )**:(-#;.=(/ Roity's account of
cultuial change appeais to uestabilize the italicizeu concepts in a way that woulu
make them too inueteiminate foi Rawls' puiposes. The oiiginal position is meant to
issue in piinciples with ueteiminate implications, not in a peipetual agonism. As fai
as I know, Roity nevei puisueu this issue, which can be summaiizeu in the question:
What happens to public ieason's iestiictions in times of cultuial tiansition. A
ielateu Emeisonian woiiy is whethei Rawlsian political theoiy's appeal to the
notion of social coopeiation biases public ieason in favoi of confoimity. Rawls
iesponus to intuitionism in 0 67(*-$ *5 23";.)( (Cambiiuge: Baivaiu 0niveisity
Piess, 1971), 2u, S4-S9, 46-S1; anu 9*4.;.)#4 S.>(-#4."1@ expanueu eu. (New Yoik:
Columbia 0niveisity Piess, 2uuS), 7S, 92, 11S. Be explains the oiiginal position in
Rawls, 0 67(*-$ *5 23";.)(@ chaptei 1; anu 9*4.;.)#4 S.>(-#4."1@ lectuie 1. Bis account
of public ieason anu its iestiictions appeais in 9*4.;.)#4 S.>(-#4."1@ lectuies 2, 4, anu
}effiey Stout, P4(""(, 0-( ;7( Q-8#+.K(,% R-#""-**;" D(1*)-#)$ .+ 01(-.)#
(Piinceton: Piinceton 0niveisity Piess, 2u1u).
Anuiea Sun-Nee }ones, !;7.)" *5 ;7( Q>=.*3" (Piinceton 0niveisity uoctoial
uisseition, 2uu7) highlights the impoitance, foi a ciitical theoiy of iueology, of what
membeis of a society count as *>=.*3"4$ tiue oi goou.
The aumission comes in "Self-Reliance," !""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 272.
Emeison iefeis to the "unattaineu by attainable self" in "Bistoiy," !""#$" #+,
S();3-(", 2S9, in the fifth paiagiaph of !""#$"% ?.-"; '(-.("/ The expiession
"mysteiious lauuei," which appeais in "Ciicles," !""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 4uS, alluues to
uenesis 28:1u-19. It is this lauuei that becomes a uisoiienting staiicase when
vieweu with a uisconsolate eye in 1 of "Expeiience."
ueoige Kateb, 67( N++(- Q)(#+% N+,.=.,3#4."1 #+, D(1*)-#;.) I34;3-( (Ithaca, NY:
Coinell 0niveisity Piess, 1992), 7. Also see Kateb, !1(-"*+ #+, '(45WC(4.#+)(@ 18-2u.
Emeison took an intense inteiest in a youngei acquaintance of his nameu }ones
veiy (181S-8u), a poet anu mystic who was pione to ecstasies of questionable
sanity. In 18S8 veiy hau an intense expeiience of iuentification with Chiist anu
soon theieaftei iequiieu hospitalization. 0pon ielease fiom the hospital, veiy spent
a week with Emeison, who then confiueu to his jouinal that he hau tolu veiy "that I
saw cleaily that if my wife, my chilu, my mothei, shoulu be taken fiom me, I shoulu
still iemain whole with the same capacity of cheap enjoyment fiom all things."
Baibaia L. Packei, 67( 6-#+")(+,(+;#4.";" (Athens: 0niveisity of ueoigia Piess,
2uu7), 7u-81.
N.A. Scieech, !-#"13"% !)";#"$ #+, 67( 9-#."( *5 ?*44$ (Lonuon: Penquin, 198u),
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 262.
Foi an account of the tiauition of ieflection on ecstatic states anu of Nontaigne's
place in it, see Scieech, B*+;#.8+( #+, B(4#+)7*4$.

See the euitois' intiouuction to Samuel Tayloi Coleiiuge, P.*8-#:7.# S.;(-#-.#,
eus. }ames Engell anu W. }ackson Bate (Piinceton: Piinceton 0niveisity Piess,
198S), xcvii-civ.
This jouinal entiy is uateu August 1, 18SS. Ralph Waluo Emeison, '(4();(,
2*3-+#4" Y_`aWY_b`@ eu. Lawience Rosenwalu (New Yoik: Libiaiy of Ameiica, 2u1u),
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 8S/
'(4();(, 2*3-+#4" Y_`aWY_b`@ 747.
Samuel Tayloi Coleiiuge, M-.;.+8" *+ 9*4.;.)" #+, '*).(;$@ vol. 1, eu. }ohn Noiiow
(Piinceton: Piinceton 0niveisity Piess, 1991), 79-96, esp. 86.
William Bazlitt, 67( ':.-.; *5 ;7( 08( (Pioject uuttenbeig, 2uu4), fiom the chaptei
entitleu "Ni. Coleiiuge." 0iiginally publisheu in 182S.
Nichel ue Nontaigne, 67( I*1:4(;( !""#$"@ tians. N.A. Scieech (Lonuon: Penguin,
2uuS), 27u.
67( I*1:4(;( !""#$"@ 12u7, 12S6.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 696. Latei in the same chaptei, Emeison wiites that "the
woilu-spiiit is a goou swimmei, anu stoims anu wave can not uiown him" (7u9).
See }effiey Stout, D(1*)-#)$ #+, 6-#,.;.*+ (Piinceton: Piinceton 0niveisity
Piess, 2uu4), 217-24; Robeit B. Bianuom, B#F.+8 N; !<:4.).;% C(#"*+.+8@
C(:-("(+;.+8@ #+, D.")3-".=( I*11.;1(+; (Cambiiuge: Baivaiu 0niveisity Piess,
1994), 21S-21.
"Theie is no viitue which is final; all aie initial. The viitues of society aie vices of
the saint. The teiioi of iefoim is the uiscoveiy that we must cast away oui viitues,
oi what we have always esteemeu such, into the same pit that has consumeu oui
giossei vices" ("Ciicles"). !""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 411.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 262.
As P. Auams Sitney has pointeu out to me in coiiesponuence, Emeison might also
have in minu the uialectical stiuctuie of the Epistle to the Romans.
Richaiu R. 0'Keefe uses the expiession "uialectical imagination" in B$;7.)
0-)7(;$:(" .+ C#4:7 M#4,* !1(-"*+% 0 P4#F(#+ C(#,.+8 (Kent, 0B: Kent State
0niveisity Piess, 199S), esp. chaptei 1.
Kateb, !1(-"*+ #+, '(45WC(4.#+)(@ 9, wheie Kateb mentions "Fate" as the
exceptional case. I am saying that theie is a goou ueal of eviuence in "Expeiience"
that Emeison wants to haimonize iueals anu the mateiial piactices of iefoim. I shall
ietuin to Kateb momentaiily.
Aisic gives an infoimative account of these piactices in Q+ S(#=.+8@ paits 2 anu S.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 2S9.
I am not claiming that Emeison is cleai about the explanatoiy iole I believe his
metaphysics is playing foi him. Take his belief in the 0vei-soul. Ny suggestion is
that he ieaches this belief .+5(-(+;.#44$, as the iesult of an attempt to infei the best
available explanation of his evaluative intuitions. Coleiiuge woulu explain the same
intuitions in an oithouox Chiistian way, anu Bewey, Buikheim, Santayana, anu
Roity woulu explain them in a natuialist way.
Thinking of metaphysical commitments as having an essentially explanatoiy
iole in ielation to evaluative intuitions iaises some inteiesting possibilities foi a

theoiist of uemociatic cultuie. Suppose that Tom, Bick, anu Naiy all intuitively
iesponu to the Bieyfus case, the Anthony Buins tiial, oi the Abu uhiaib scanual with
moial ievulsion. When witnessing the ielevant events, each says, "That's 7*--.>4(,"
anu the juugment thus expiesseu is noninfeiential. The italicizeu evaluative
pieuicate is something they all employ. They apply it, let us assume, to the veiy
same cases. They might still give thiee uiffeient accounts - Chiistian, Emeisonian,
anu natuialist - of wheie the intuition comes fiom anu what it gets at oi is about.
The uiffeient metaphysical positions can be thought of as iepiesenting competing
attempts to iationalize intuitions that the thiee inuiviuuals have tiouble iejecting,
anu the metaphysical uebate among them can be moueleu as aiming foi a kinu of
ieflective equilibiium. Thinking of the metaphysical uispute in this way sheus light
on what the ielevant foims of oveilapping consensus might be, at the level of
coalitions anu at the level of the civic nation. Sometimes, shaieu intuitions anu
shaieu piactices of ieason-exchange mattei moie than shaieu explanations of
}acques Rancieie, V#;-(, *5 D(1*)-#)$@ tians. Steve Coicoian (Lonuon: veiso,
2uu6), 97.
}igen Babeimas, "An Awaieness of What Is Nissing," in }igen Babeimas et al.,
0+ 0H#-(+("" *5 M7#; N" B."".+8% ?#.;7 #+, C(#"*+ .+ # 9*";W'()34#- 08(
(Cambiiuge: Polity, 2u1u), 1S-2S.
See West, 67( 01(-.)#+ !=#".*+ *5 97.4*"*:7$. Euuaiuo Cauava ievisits these
themes piouuctively in "The uuano of Bistoiy," in 67( Q;7(- !1(-"*+@ eus. Bianka
Aisic anu Caiy Wolfe (Ninneapolis: 0niveisity of Ninnesota Piess, 2u1u), 1u1-29.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ S99.
Alex Zakaiis, N+,.=.,3#4.;$ #+, B#"" D(1*)-#)$% B.44@ !1(-"*+@ #+, ;7( P3-,(+" *5
I.;.K(+"7.: (0xfoiu: 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess, 2uu9), esp. 94-7.
Kateb, !1(-"*+ #+, '(45WC(4.#+)(@ p. 47.
Ny ieauing of "Expeiience" is theiefoie closei to Stanley Cavell's peifectionist
inteipietation than to Kateb's. Neai the enu of "Finuing as Founuing," Cavell quotes
the fiist nine sentences of2S. Bis biief commentaiy fiist takes up Emeison's
iesistance to manipulai iefoim anu then highlights the uiamatic call foi patience in
the thiiu stiophe. Cavell uoes not say how eithei of these sentences is to be ielateu
to essay's final sentence. Be uoes touch biiefly on that sentence elsewheie in
"Finuing as Founuing," but without illuminating its centiality to Emeison's oveiall
pioject. Stanley Cavell, "Finuing as Founuing: Taking Steps in Emeison's
'Expeiience'," in 67." G(H L(; ^+#::-*#)7#>4( 01(-.)#% S();3-(" #5;(- !1(-"*+ #5;(-
M.;;8(+";(.+ (Albuqueique, NN: Living Batch Piess, 1989), 77-121, esp. 111-1S, 79.
See also Cavell, "Afteiwoiu," in 67( Q;7(- !1(-"*+@ Su1-6.
uougeon, E.-;3(A" V(-*, 26, 66-7.
In !1(-"*+A" 0+;."4#=(-$ M-.;.+8"@ eu. Len uougeon anu }oel Nyeison (New Baven:
Yale 0niveisity Piess, 199S), 7-SS.
!""#$ #+, S();3-("@ 49S. Emeison's way of linking hope to action might contain an
echo of Book IX of 67( !<)3-".*+% "The foou of hope Is meuitateu action; iobbeu of
this Bei sole suppoit, she languishes anu uies. We peiish also; foi we live by hope

Anu by uesiie; we see by the glau light Anu bieathe the sweet aii of futuiity
Anu so we live, oi else we have no life." 67( M*-F" *5 M.44.#1 M*-,"H*-;7@ 884.
!1(-"*+A" 9-*"( #+, 9*(;-$@ S1u, S11.
In 0 I*11*+ ?#.;7 (New Baven: Yale 0niveisity Piess, 19S4), }ohn Bewey echoes
Emeison (anu Begel) as follows: "The aims of philanthiopists, of Floience
Nightingale, of Bowaiu, of Wilbeifoice, of Peabouy, have not been iule uieams.
They have mouifieu institutions. Aims, iueals, uo not exist simply in 'minu'; they
exist in chaiactei, in peisonality anu action" (48). "The aims anu iueals that move
us aie geneiateu thiough imagination. But they aie not maue out of imaginaiy stuff.
They aie maue out of the haiu stuff of the woilu of physical anu social expeiience"
William uoouell's I*1(W*3;."1c 67( D3;$ *5 '()("".*+ 5-*1 # I*--3:; I73-)7
appeaieu in 184S. Albeit }. von Fiank, 67( 6-.#4" *5 0+;7*+$ P3-+"% ?-((,*1 #+,
'4#=(-$ .+ !1(-"*+A" P*";*+ (Cambiiuge: Baivaiu 0niveisity Piess, 1998), 2S.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ S92-S.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 262.
!""#$" #+, S();3-("@ 7u.
These quotations aie fiom Keane, !1(-"*+@ C*1#+;.)."1@ #+, N+;3.;.=( C(#"*+@
287-8. Keane uoes well to highlight Emeison's allusion to Woiuswoith in "Refoim."
Ny inteipietation of Emeison's iuentification, anu of the iole the Flaxman passage
plays in the essay as a whole, uiffeis fiom that of Nauiice S. Lee in '4#=(-$@
97.4*"*:7$@ #+, 01(-.)#+ S.;(-#;3-( (Cambiiuge: Cambiiuge 0niveisity Piess,
2uuS), 182-91. Recall that I am ieauing the essay fiom the vantage of its final
paiagiaph. So my appioach to the Flaxman passage is via the question: "What
sense can we make of this passage given what Emeison says in 2S." If the last
sentence of 2S embiaces abolitionism as an iueal-infuseu mateiial piactice that
paiticipates in a bioauei cultuial iomance, then Apollo's eventual iole as uefenuei
of 0iestes becomes ielevant.
I am giateful to }ohn Bowlin, Euuaiuo Cauava, Scott Bavis, Nolly Faineth, Ryan
Baipei, ueoige Kateb, Lou Rupiecht, anu P. Auams Sitney foi comments on the fiist
uiaft of this papei. I have leaineu a gieat ueal about Emeison fiom Euuie ulauue
anu fiom the stuuents who took the giauuate seminai that he anu I taught on
"Religion anu the Fiagility of Bemociacy" in the spiing of 2u1u.