Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

By Richard E. Brantley | Go to book overview
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Suspenseful Subjectivity

Self-Reliance, although seemingly lacking clear structure, boasts a dual, empirical-evangelical argument; indeed, despite William K. Bottorff's view that the essay lacks a single, unifying argument,1 it hints at least at a synthesized, empirical-evangelical one. Emerson's skepticism, according to Michael, "inevitably links the identity of the self to the other's recognition," and since I hold that subjectivity in Self-Reliance leaves room for the other, I agree with Michael's view that "identity for Emerson is first and foremost a social creation."2 Nowhere, however, does Michael include Self- Reliance among his close readings of Emerson's prose. Thomas P. Joswick uses Kenneth Burke's The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology to demonstrate the "rich paradox" of the "notion of conversion" in Self-Reliance; "time," writes Joswick, is "transcended" in the essay "by an aggressive beginning in time."3 Similarly, my own approach translates this paradoxical notion into terms less Burkean, perhaps, but no less "aggressive" for being historical-evangelical, for the conversion motif in Self-Reliance, like all the essay's other idioms of spiritual experience, appropriates the "being in the world, but not of it" motif of the Bible. Evaluation of the essay, of course, can depend on one's judgment of its tone: while Whicher sees it as nonironic and disapproves of it,4 Barbara Packer and Van Leer see it as ironic and approve of it,5 but I see it as nonironic and approve of it. Self-Reliance, like The American Scholar and The Divinity School Address, emphasizes empirical thesis and evangelical antithesis over empirical-evangelical synthesis. As indicated by the title, moreover, the essay focuses on subjectivity so forcefully as to make the essayist's shifts to short, sharp presentations of the objective on the one hand and actual-ideal hints on the other essen


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