Emerson and the Art of the Diary

Emerson and the Art of the Diary

Emerson and the Art of the Diary

Emerson and the Art of the Diary

Synopsis

This first extended literary description and analysis of Emerson's journals, argues that they, and not his essays, are Emerson's masterpiece, constituting one of the greatest commentaries on nineteenth-century America by one of our most acute formal intelligences. First developing the critical methodology needed to examine the journal form, a genre long neglected by literary scholars, Rosenwald goes on to consider how Emerson the diarist found his form and what form he found. Included are comparisons between the journals and Emerson's lectures and essays, other Transcendentalist journals, the German aphorism-book, and books of quotation by Montaigne and Eckermann. Finally, the author gives an account of how, in his old age, Emerson lost his mastery of the form.

Excerpt

The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred
tacks.

"Self-Reliance"

Although temperamentally given to epiphanies, Emerson found his diaristic form by fits and starts. Accordingly, the present account of that process follows a zigzag line. the first and longest section gives an account of the beginning and ending of the Wideworld series, comprising the first thirteen volumes of the journal; it describes the form of those volumes as a product of the normative model of the commonplace book expounded by John Locke and the subversive influence of the spiritual journal kept by Mary Moody Emerson, and presents Emerson's altering of that form as a denial, not of the influence, but of the normative authority, of the Lockean model. the second section narrates two brief episodes of diaristic apostasy: the atrophy of the journal during Emerson's ministry, and its metamorphosis into a travel book during his first trip to Europe. It presents these episodes as a story of how in the absence of the Lockean authority Emerson yielded to certain temptations leading him astray from the development of a genuinely Emersonian journal, suggesting at the same time that precisely this yielding to temptation made possible Emerson's conscious achievement, just after his return from Europe, of the form he had just been straying from. the last section presents the first of Emerson's mature journals as a form by which the conflicting influences bearing on the journal are consciously harmonized; it pays particular attention to Emerson's development of a new . . .

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