The Argument of Literature: Emerson, Philosophy, and Traditions of Criticism
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe Argument of Literature: Emerson, Philosophy, and Traditions of Criticism offers four interpretations of critical moments of the career of Emerson’s work. It argues that putting Emerson’s work in the canon of philosophy requires one to redefine what philosophy is—roughly, thinking really hard about sometimes abstract questions, being able to go up and down the scale of life, back and forth across the knowledge of our times. The particular argument Emerson makes on behalf of literature is that since philosophy should be defined loosely and blandly as the “love of wisdom,” and wisdom can be found anywhere, one should construct the conversations of philosophy across time with more liberal principles of inclusion, such as the abstract conversations about critical self-image found in every humanistic discipline. Chapter One charts how Emersonians came to be trained in English departments, and what affect that has had on their view of Emerson. It addresses what happens if one focuses too much in one’s education on argument and loses track of one’s self-image, how one fits into the rest of the world. Chapter Two then takes up the specific moment of argument surrounding Emerson’s Divinity School Address, treating Unitarianism as a microcosm of democracy. It argues that Emerson’s rejection of authority forces the philosophical question, “How do we treat authority over ideas if there is to be freedom of thought?” Chapter Three then works out, in a systematic way in the sphere of theory, how one can maintain certain existential commitments, like a coherent self or social relations, if one takes seriously Emerson’s radical antiauthoritarianism. Chapter Four gives a full reading of Emerson’s essay on Plato, Emerson’s clearest account of what he thinks good philosophical work looks like once one relinquishes authority in the way he has.
Degree ProgramGraduate College