By John Michael Corrigan

ISBN-10: 082324234X

ISBN-13: 9780823242344

"The transmigration of souls isn't any myth. i might it have been, yet women and men are just part human." With those phrases, Ralph Waldo Emerson confronts a quandary that illuminates the formation of yankee individualism: to adapt and turn into totally human calls for a heightened engagement with historical past. americans, Emerson argues, needs to become aware of history's chronology in themselves--because their very own minds and our bodies are its evolving record.

Whereas scholarship has tended to lessen the magical underpinnings of Emerson's thought of the self, his depictions of "the metempsychosis of nature" exhibit deep roots in mystical traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Platonism and Christian esotericism. In essay after essay, Emerson makes use of metempsychosis as an open-ended template to appreciate human development.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman transforms Emerson's perception of metempsychotic selfhood into an expressly poetic occasion. His imaginative and prescient of transmigration viscerally celebrates the poet's skill to imagine and dwell in different our bodies; his American poet seeks to include the total kingdom into his personal individual in order that he can communicate for each guy and girl.

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Additional resources for American Metempsychosis: Emerson, Whitman, and the New Poetry

Sample text

Many men have taken their first step” along history’s series, but, Emerson argues, the “Divine Effort in a man” consists in escaping the tyranny of the singular self and struggling to embody the fuller arc of the material series: “All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step, in a continuous line” (LL 1: 157; or LL 2: 92). Emerson also explicitly imagines the dynamics of extending history’s great series of being in terms of metempsychosis, Neoplatonic in its auspices and necessarily open to the prospect of volatile and transcendent transformation.

The first object, in being known, is altered for consciousness; it ceases to be the in-­itself, and becomes something that is the in-­itself only for consciousness. And this then is the True: the being-­for-­consciousness of this in-­itself. Or, in other words, this is the essence, or the object of consciousness. 53 The complexity of Hegel’s argument can, for our purposes, be simplified in order to emphasize that being’s series—­the succession of objects that arises for consciousness—­expands to engender a new object that is different from the object before it.

As he writes in “History,” the “soul’s advances are not made by gradation, such as can be represented by motion in a straight line; but rather by ascension of state, such as can be represented by metamorphosis,—­from the egg to the worm, from the worm to the fly” (W 2: 163; emphasis added). 37 In his early journals and lectures particularly, Emerson’s desire for a new synthesis between metaphysics and science is palpable. In fact, one of the key lines in “History” that illustrates how this “metempsychosis of nature” is to be enacted—­“Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself” (W 2: 6)—­was first recorded38 in an 1837 journal that explicitly contextualizes such activity as part of the “Progress of the species” whereby “the chemical production of a new substance [is made] by the combination of old” (JMN 5: 384).

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American Metempsychosis: Emerson, Whitman, and the New Poetry by John Michael Corrigan


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