Emerson's Contemporaries and Kerouac's Crowd: A Problem of Self-Location

Emerson's Contemporaries and Kerouac's Crowd: A Problem of Self-Location

Emerson's Contemporaries and Kerouac's Crowd: A Problem of Self-Location

Emerson's Contemporaries and Kerouac's Crowd: A Problem of Self-Location

Synopsis

"Emerson's Contemporaries and Kerouac's Crowd examines self-location in the works of six authors; Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Baraka. This topic - so crucial in the minds of the writers in both centuries - has received a surprising lack of critical interest. By returning to the philosophical underpinnings of these writers, and by examining what they considered important about what they wrote, Bradley J. Stiles hopes to correct some popular misreadings of the nineteenth-century writers and provide a new approach to reading the twentieth-century authors by juxtaposing them alongside their predecessors." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In an early journal entry Walt Whitman writes, “I cannot understand the mystery, but I am always conscious of myself as two—as my soul and I: and I reckon it is the same with all men and women.” Whitman's belief that the self is somehow double echoes a concept of human identity described by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Nature—a conviction that the self is composed of two parts: an eternal, timeless consciousness that Emerson and others refer to as “soul,” and a separate consciousness existing within the constraints of the space/time continuum, inhabiting the body. Emerson's and Whitman's notion of selfhood has recurred in much of American literature ever since, differing in form and context, yet constantly demonstrating the phenomenon of a self watching itself in evident alienation—two parts, separate, but self-identified; differently motivated and valued, but commonly accountable; oppositely disposed at death, yet sharing a common destiny. This “divided self” (as Gay Wilson Allen terms it) creates a literary tradition that is at once phenomenological and metaphysical in orientation.

What Emerson tries to do in Nature is break the self down into its various elements and examine the ways in which soul reigns over materiality. the venue for this examination is a conceptual world similarly disintegrated so that all of its parts are examined separately, in isolation from one another, but combined into a carefully controlled admixture of the individual ingredients. Unfortunately, Emerson's self is often reduced to the subject of “Self-Reliance,” relegating it to the realm of capitalist self-absorption or the self-aggrandizement of a dominant ideology, while more problematic implications of this concept of identity have been lost or ignored. I would like to argue that . . .

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