Emerson and the Antagonistic Metaphor
“Meek young men grow up in colleges & believe it is their duty to accept the views which <others ha> books have given & grow up slaves” (365).
-R.W. Emerson, The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. V
Emerson often uses metaphor in a shocking way. In a time when the word slavery was closely linked with the actual enslavement of person based off of race, some might feel as though his constant use of the word slave is distasteful, and possibly a little racist. How dare he compare the influence of thought on man to the atrocities facing the African American nation? As noted by Cornell West, he is referred to as a “mild racist.” What that means exactly is hard to define, but West believes it to mean “he is a racist in the American grain in that his notion of human personality is, in part, dependent on and derived from his view of the races” (746).
The hindrances he feels are imposed on everyday man affect his thoughts as well. What sets Emerson apart from those individuals of true racism is that he approaches the topic with a scholar’s eye. As West points out, Emerson is exploring his understanding of the African American man’s personality. It is as if he is trying to understand the mind and view of the true racist man, before he can examine the ways in which those repetitive misunderstandings are generated.
“Emerson spent a significant amount of time and energy keeping up with the science of his day. His purpose seems to have been to be assured that the best knowledge available about nature buttressed and supported his idealism. An Important part of his reading focused on “whence came the Negro?”” (746).
In order to weed out a problem we must locate the roots. In Emerson’s dedication to staying current with his scientific knowledge, he studied the very same information being rooted into the young and impressionable. In studying the very reasons that certain races are fit to be slaves, the young minds were in fact becoming slaves themselves.
Emerson uses the metaphor of slavery not to be cruel and inconsiderate, but in hopes to inspire those strong-willed minds to see what he sees. “Nothing so marks a man as imaginative expression. A figurative statement arrests attention” (298). A lesson often taught to children growing up is to out ones self in someone else shoes. In the Bible it is suggested to “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” –Luke:6:3. By equating a condition such as slavery to everyman, Emerson makes a bold statement that forces listeners to pay attention to his words. Emerson is antagonistic in his approach. “The primary aim in Emerson’s life and discourse is to provoke” (743).
The metaphor of slavery is used throughout Emerson’s essay Fate. Fate is not an essay about slavery rather it is an essay that uses the metaphor of slavery to draw in the reader’s attention. Joel Porte describes how “the alert reader can discover, and take much pleasure in discovering, remarkable verbal strategies, metaphoric patterns, repetitions, and developments of sound, sense, and image throughout Emerson’s writing” (685). His use of language is clever, and allows for him to weave such intricate thought patterns to keep the reader questioning. As is common with Emerson’s writing, he often makes a finite statement, and has the reader convinced of his content; however, Emerson loves his “But[s].” This verbal strategy is used throughout Fate in conjunction with the metaphor of slavery. After exciting and grabbing the attention of the reader that Fate meets it’s limitations when antagonized by power in all of us, Emerson begins to recoil.
“Nor can he blink the freewill. To hazard the contradiction, – freedom is necessary. If you please to plant yourself on the side of Fate, and say, Fate is all: then we say, a part of Fate is the freedom of man. Forever wells up the impulse of choosing and acting in the soul. Intellect annuls Fate. So far as a man thinks, he is free. And though nothing is more disgusting than the crowing about liberty by slaves, as most men are, and the flippant mistaking for freedom of some paper preamble like a “Declaration of Independence,” or the statute right to vote, by those who have never dared to think or to act, yet it is wholesome to man to look not at Fate, but the other way: the practical view is the other.”
R. W. Emerson, Fate
The intended effect that is understood through Emerson’s language is that he truly wants to engage the reader. It is as if he finds something great that all of the individuals listening want, like the allusion of great power that can overcome Fate. Once he discovers their desires, and peeks their interests he says you cannot have it because you are all slaves. A bold metaphor, like the passage above, is more likely to resonate and impact a reader’s thought, because thought is required to unravel the meaning of the content.
one page summary sketch
I should probably clarify my final project proposal. Upon a second reading, I can see how it is a bit “provocative.” To begin the clarification process I’ve been to the library again, and found seven quotes from Emerson’s Journals or Letters that have to do with his use of slavery as a metaphor for the state of the American people, Emerson included as one of those individuals.
December 21, 1823
“Who is he that shall control me? Why may not I act & speak & write & think with entire freedom? What am I to the Universe, or, the Universe, what is it to me? Who hath forged the chains of Wrong & Right, of Opinion & Custom? And must I wear them? Is society my anointed King? Or is there any mightier community or any man or more than man, whose slave I am?”
-RWE, From Journal and Notebooks
April 18, 1824
“A score of words & deeds issue from me daily, of which I am not the master. They are begotten of weakness & born of shame. I cannot assume the elevation I ought – but lose the influence I should exert among those of meaner or younger understanding, for want of sufficient bottom in my nature, for want of that confidence of manner which springs from an erect mind which is without fear and without reproach.”
-RWE, From Journal and Notebooks
January 30, 1829
“But, brethren, whilst I distrust my powers, I must speak firmly of my purposes. I well know what are the claims, on your part, to my best exertions and I shall meet them, as far as in me lies, by a faithful performance of duty. I shun no labour, I shall do all that I can . . . I am your affectionate friend and servant, Ralph Waldo Emerson.”
-RWE, From Journal and Notebooks
October 9, 1832
“I will not live out of me
I will not see with others’ eyes
My good is good my evil ill
I would be free – I cannot be
While I take things as others please to rate them
I dare attempt to lay out my own road
That which myself delights in shall be Good
That which I do not want – indifferent,
That which I hate is Bad. That’s flat
Heneforth, please God, forever I forego
The yoke of men’s opinions. I will be
Lighthearted as a bird & live with God.”
-Emerson in his Journals, Porte 1982
August 18, 1837
“Meek young men grow up in colleges & believe it is their duty to accept the views which <others ha> books have given & grow up slaves.”
-R.W. Emerson, The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. V
June 19, 1838
“Forget the past. Be not the slave of your own past. In your prayer. In your prayer, in your teaching cumber not yourself with solicitude less you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place . . . But dare rather to quit the platform, plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, & swim far, so shall you come back with self respect, with new power, with an advanced experience, that shall explain & overlook the old. Trust you emotion.”
-R.W. Emerson, Selected Journals 1820-1842
August 1, 1839:
“But I wish to say – at least let our theory not be slavish: let us hope infinitely & accustom ourselves to the reflection that the true Fall of man is the disesteem of man; the true Redemption selftrust; the growth of character is only the enlargement of this, & year by year as we come to our stature we shall inherit not only forms & churches & communities but earth & heaven.”
-R. W. Emerson to Harrison G. O. Blake, The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. II
These quotes, and any others that I come across in my research, will open my essay to provide the reader with a better angle of my thought process. It will be important for me to clarify that I am not depicting Emerson as making light of the actual enslavement of African Americans. To do this, I will first bring in passages from the critics that have thoroughly addressed Emerson’s stance on slavery. They have analyzed the claims of many critics that call him to task about his often-perceived racist language. I will use their words to allow for a thorough explanation of both sides of the argument. Additionally, passages from the Fugitive Slave Law and Emancipation will provide great detail of his anti-slavery position.
Once I’ve provided some background on Emerson’s anti-slavery position, I will introduce his essay Fate as my focus piece. I will provide a summary of Emerson’s particular topics that he addresses in the essay. Joel Porte does a thorough analysis of Fate that will help me stay on track with my understanding, and provide good supporting evidence to my points. After demonstrating a good knowledge of my chosen essay I will begin working with my long passage that addresses Emerson’s use of slavery as a metaphor. Emerson uses specific references to Americans being slaves to books, minds of the past and politics (The American Scholar, Politics.
This slavery of the human mind leads to suppression of “thought.” Thought allows for a strong power of will that must be balanced (referencing back to the passage from Fate. To have slavery present in America in any form whether of the body or mind, makes for unbalanced Americans.
It is interesting to me how one hundred and fifty years after the texts of Ralph Waldo Emerson were composed that some of the same issues resonate from his nineteenth century America to our modern day America. However, when one stands back and examines the evolution of mankind, one hundred and fifty years is miniscule. At most, it is four maybe five generations of separation. In evolutionary psychology we study our ancestral societies and their egalitarian way of life. As humans, we know that that we have empathy, and the ability to reason – we know how to treat one another as equals regardless of their strengths and skills. We began that way, so what happened? Who knows… some may deduce that it came from the advancement of consumerism others from territorial expansion or something as simple as fighting over a mate. When did human kind go from being relatively docile equalitarianism to aggressive possessors?
It is interesting that many readers of Emerson’s work can identify ways in which his issues correlate to today’s largest issues. I see it the other way. I feel as though America has addressed and rectified many of the wrongs that Emerson struggled with in his lifetime; however, new issues will always arise. We have no slavery (in this country), All races and genders have equal rights (in theory), everybody is encouraged to think for themselves (maybe a little too much) and we are constantly attempting to atone for the actions of our ancestors (constantly!).
We, in America, have no legal slavery. In fact we go so far the opposite way in that many people do not work for money, they work for charity. However, in many under-privileged regions, there is still slavery or what can be considered a form of slavery in child labor. So while it is not physically present among Americans, it is very mentally present.
In America, every citizen has equal rights, however discrimination and prejudice is still very current. While equality has come a very long way since Emerson’s time, simply granting freedom and allowing equality does nothing when deep-rooted prejudices are still in existence. The problem is that, as Americans, we are allowed, encouraged even, to have individual opinions, and it is naïve to expect that such opinions or lifestyles can change over night. It has been one hundred and fifty years and there are still people that hate and discriminate based on race and gender, and there always will be. Americans have all the rights to feel that way. It is not illegal to hate a black man. It is illegal to kill a black man, or a black woman, or a white man, or a white child, but every person has the right to hate, and vocalize their hate within certain parameters of slander.
However, not every American citizen clings to his or her families’ past prejudices. In modern American society one’s public image is easily built, and easily destroyed. Sometimes not out of their own actions, but the actions of our grandparents and great grandparents that stay with them. Bilateral descent directly connects individuals with possibly harmful actions of their ancestors. Therefore, many individuals feel an obligation to make reparations towards present day relatives of those individuals harmed in the past through the acts of their past relatives. Additionally, our country is abundant in scholarships and grants, non-profit and government money aides to help ensure that specific ethnicities are given the opportunity to thrive.
With this brief and not completely thorough examination in mind, I often wonder, “what would Emerson think?” How would he feel about today’s society that he had such a profound influence on, and in reality still greatly influences? Would he be delighted to see that no matter who you are, if you want to be heard, it can be done. What would his stance be on immigration, and America’s debt? What would he think about the Middle East, or about the Boston Bombing? Would he recognize ethnic stereotypes? Would he be proud of our concerned for the American people? What would Emerson write about if he were alive today?
A Brief Biography of R.W. Emerson
Something that always occurs when I am reading any of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s texts is my curiosity of what exactly was happening in his life when he was writing any of his pieces. I decided that for my thinking post this week; I would get to the bottom of my curiosity. I just finished watching a biography called Emerson: The Ideal in America. While I am sure that a written biography would have given me more insight, for the sake of time, I chose to go with the film portrayal. Below, is a one-page summary of the insight that I gained about Emerson’s personal life.
The documentary chronicled Emerson’s life events in correlation to his work. As a young boy, Emerson experienced the bitterness that accompanied death when his well-providing father died. Without his father’s income, his mother and siblings fell into poverty. His mother made sure hat he and his brother received an education, and alternated sending them to school because they only had one overcoat between the pair of them. Growing up, Emerson was raised, and very strongly influenced by women. Mary Moody Emerson, his aunt, was one of the influential women, and is said to be his model for his later essay Self-Reliance.
At the age of fourteen, Emerson was accepted into Harvard, and began to write in a journal. After attending Harvard, he began teaching in a school for young girls. Later in 1826 Emerson began to preach. However, he became ill and travelled to Florida to recover in 1827. While in Florida it is said that Emerson first began to awaken to his thoughts of experience and action.
Emerson returned to Massachusetts in 1828 to a more conventional lifestyle. In 1829 he was ordained into ministry at the Second Church of Boston, and married Ellen Louisa Tucker. As an active member of his community Emerson became chaplain of the Massachusetts legislature and joined the Boston school committee. After a short while of being married, Ellen died of Tuberculosis at the age of nineteen.
After Ellen’s death, it is believed that Emerson began writing about a guiding spirit. Additionally, he began to look down upon the rising occurrence of religious sects, and resigned from ministry in 1832. Emerson sold his house and, in poor health, boarded a ship to leave America on Christmas Day. He was not even thirty years old.
Emerson landed in Europe where he studied art in Italy and science (animals/plants) in France. In England Emerson was first introduced to Transcendentalism. He stayed in Europe for nine months before returning back to England with his health much improved. Upon his return, Emerson began writing books and preparing lectures.
In 1835, Emerson married his wife for the remainder of his life, Lidian, and the following year welcomed his son Waldo. Additionally, in 1832 Emerson’s first book Nature was privately published. While it did not sell very well, those that read and comprehended his thoughts studied his controversial book.
Emerson was growing in popularity and joined the Lyceum movement, which expanded education past formative years. He came to be a traveling lecturer, and in 1837 gave his lecture at Harvard of The American Scholar.
In the years to follow, Emerson became well acquainted with like-minded individuals, one of which was Henry David Thoreau, whom Emerson encouraged to begin writing a journal. Around this same time that Emerson was accumulating a band of followers, Lidian wrote a Transcendental Bible to better define, and weed out the true scholars, from those just pretending to be. In 1839, his daughter Ellen was born, and Emerson began his work on his literacy magazine The Dial while all the time continuing to read and write. As is mentioned in some of his texts, Emerson began to take an interest in the texts of the Native Americans. He engaged in the process of acquiring knowledge and expanding. In 1841 Emerson published his first series of essays (Self-Reliance), and in December of the same year he began to share his belief that he did not feel as though he belonged to Transcendentalism, but would rather be associated with the term “Idealism.”
Sadly on January 27, 1842, Emerson’s son Waldo passed away at the age of five from Scarlet Fever. This in turn resulted in the composition of his poem Threnody, which strongly depicts his grief, and his will to prevail at the same time. In the years after Waldo’s death, Emerson and Lidian had two more children, a daughter Edith and son Edward Waldo.
Emerson continued to write, and became very involved with the editing of The Dial, and in 1846 released a book of collected poems with “rigid schemes of rhyme and meter.”
In the late 1840s, Emerson’s books began to sell better, and financially his family was well off, thus he began to travel and lecture farther away from the areas of New England and New York, including Canada. He took interest in and spoke out against the oppression he was seeing towards women, Native Americans and African American slaves. In the 1850s, Emerson’s fame grew, and was well noticed in America, and England. In 1855 he received a book by Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, which coincidentally sparked a great scholarly friendship between the writers.
In the 1860s, during the time of the Civil War, Emerson’s memory began to fail, and he wrote less and less in his journal. While he held anti-slavery opinions, he did not want to be publicly involved. His intellectual contemporaries began to die first with Thoreau in 1860 then with Mary Moody Emerson in 1863. Additionally, while he does not specifically make mention of the incident in his published works, Lincoln is assassinated at the close of the Civil War on April 14, 1865.
In 1872, a servant started a fire in attic of Emerson’s home. The family and neighbors managed to save Emerson’s study from the destruction. While you house was being repaired, Emerson took his last voyage away from America with his daughter Ellen to England and Egypt. After his return to Massachusetts in 1873, he rarely lectured. On April 27 1882, Ralph Waldo Emerson died at the age of seventy-eight. It has been said that his last words were “oh, that beautiful boy.”
Who doesn’t like to think? Thinking is great!
Emerson liked to think. Who doesn’t like to think? Thinking is great. However, I’m starting to get the impression that Emerson’s mind was never at rest. I have to say, that if given the opportunity to go back in time, I’d love to get data on his sleep cycles to find out exactly how much rest his busy brain actually got. I know that it’s kind of crazy, but it would be interesting all the same.
So anyway, Emerson likes to think – this we know. So I’m going to think about Emerson. Looking back on the discussion in class today, I find it very amusing that what had to have been close to 40 minutes was spent on discussing the meaning behind Emerson’s thought process in a passage that was approximately five sentences in length. However amused I may be, I have a reoccurring thought every single time that I read any of Emerson’s Essays, which makes perfect sense as to how it was even possible to talk about this passage for that long. I feel as though a person could read and study Emerson’s material for a lifetime, and die with many unanswered or unobserved questions. I can’t help, but feel like this is a crazy notion of mine because when giving it some thought, Emerson created all of the work compiled in the Norton Edition within his own lifetime. Not to mention all of his work that was not included into this particular compilation. His lifetime did nearly span the 19th-century, and he did live into his late seventies that provided plenty of time for his works to add up. Although, a reader has to remember that while his texts may appear as though he was pondering, and working out a specific thought process, that he knew what he was trying to get at, and used his essays as a way to breakdown his thought process in an in depth context.
Something that has stayed with me after reading Joel Porte’s The Problem of Emerson, is when he brings to attention the common criticism that some readers feel as though we’re not getting the real Emerson in his essays, and that he leaves a lot of himself out of his texts. This can be seen in many of his essays where he’ll prompt a rhetorical question. An example of this was talked about today in class about Experience. “Where do we find ourselves?” (198) He then provides his version of the answer, but a lot of the meaning in the answer is debatable or requires a deep assessment of the language that he uses. Examples like this are why I feel as though there is no end to what a person could pull from Emerson’s pieces. They may not be the easiest texts to dissect, but they’re like an interesting riddle.
Getting back to the theory that Emerson skated around incorporating any personal identity into his pieces seems to me like it would have been done intentionally. I look at his essays as Emerson attempting to work out a thought process, and sometimes he comes to conclusions, and some topics are carried over in continuation of thought in another essay. It makes perfect sense that he wouldn’t be putting an end to any theory since he frequently preaches to the reader to be boundless with inquisition, and to not conform to what books, teachers or culture expects of a person, but that’s just what I think…
Taking Action: Accepting the pingback
As Emerson talks about in The American Scholar, one of the influences of the mind is to take action. That has not always come easily to me, especially during this past semester. In three out of four of my classes there is the need to participate in online sharing whether through this blog, or on discussion boards. Apart from in class discussion and project presentation, I have never participated in any type of academic sharing in high school or in college. In the two-years that I attended the University of New Hampshire, most of my courses were lecture-based in a way that you were sitting in a spacious amphitheater-like lecture hall. Sometimes the class size filled the room, and other times there were far less than half of the seats filled. Attendance was never taken, and it was very easy to stay anonymous. However much I liked anonymity, I understand now how that was not conducive to a gainful education.
It has been a strange type of internal struggle to not let it bother me that anything that I write or that any theories that I ponder can be scrutinized by more than just the instructor of my class. I feel, as though it is a situation that I will become more comfortable with over time, and that is a step in the right direction.
Tying this situation of mine into Emerson’s proposal, I would more than likely fail at taking action. I love to read, think and analyze, and I am happy to write an essay or create a presentation for a grade, but that is typically where the appeal ends for me. Recently, as a result of using Word Press, and its ability to share my writing material with more than just the instructor and members of the class, I received a request to “pingback” my paper on New Historicism for others to locate and read – not even remotely in my comfort zone. When I first received the email, my immediate reaction was to think that some one had a disagreement, and maybe I got some part of the study wrong. I read the comment, and realized that I could breath a little easier because, it was only someone wanting permission to link my essay as “related material” with an archive post about Stephen Greenblatt as a guest speaker.
In embracing Emerson’s theory that in order to be an “American Scholar” I must be willing to act, I accepted the pingback, and my stomach did a backflip when I realized that anyone looking up Stephen Greenblatt could stumble upon my essay.
I am thinking of this as an exercise in taking action. I am uncomfortable with any conflict that I might find in having my essay in a more public light for those who are probably more experienced in the dynamics of New Historicism to be able to read and leave a comment. I could really be worried about nothing, and receive no comments, or I could get a lot of feedback and criticism. Either way, I am taking my initial step towards action by accepting the pingback. I hope Emerson would be proud…
Love is Dangerous
Up in Michigan by Ernest Hemingway makes use of the metaphor love is dangerous. When reading the text, many of the words associated with what the main character, Liz, is feeling involve pain. However, on further inspection, it is true that she is feeling pain, but what is it about pain that causes unease? Typically pain is dangerous. Pain may not always happen due to dangerous situations, and sometimes occurs in situations most seemingly to be safe. An example of this is portrayed in Hemingway’s essay with Liz and Jim. Although it’s never vocalized, Liz and Jim are in a relationship, and a seemingly harmless one at that. However, under a particular situation, and a lot of whisky, it becomes dangerous.
Not all love is painful, but it can be argued that all love is dangerous. In a good perceivably healthy relationship in which both people are heavily invested in the benefits of one another, pain may not be present, but danger is. One individual could become uninterested in the relationship and break it off, causing pain to the other individual. Another scenario is the sad situation of unexpected death, causing pain to the survivor. Therefore, love is not always painful, but there is always a risk, a danger that accompanies love.
The way in which Hemmingway provides this concept of love is dangerous is through the descriptions of Liz’s physical state and emotions. The reader is first introduced to the effect Jim is having on Liz when Liz admits that liking certain aspects about Jim, whether his appearance, his actions or even how he is perceived by others, leaves her to “feel funny.” This funny feeling has later progressed into her being “afraid” of Mrs. Smith taking notice of her desire to make him something special for his hunting trip. Later, Liz is starting to loose sleep while thinking about Jim, which in turn starts to cause her to be “weak” and “sick.”
Lastly, when Jim finally embraces Liz, a sequence of her being described as “frightened” begins. Liz’s fright is accompanied by her endurance of “such a sharp, aching, hurting feeling that she thought she couldn’t stand it.”
Liz feels all of these perceivably dangerous feelings and emotions, and ignores her body’s internal warning signals that correlate with her love for Jim. The outcome not only leaves her to deal with the fact that “he had hurt her,” but now she is sad and “crying.”
The metaphor of Love is dangerous, really works in this essay to possibly make the reader sympathize with the desires of the naïve character Liz. As readers, the warning signs are present in the text to argue that she has no business getting mixed up with a character like Jim, but by being gradually introduced to her love through the use of dangerous and painful language the reader can humanize and understand her reasoning for going on a walk with him. Not every reader will be able to relate to a girl loving a bad boy, but most anyone can relate to a desirably dangerous situation.
Disney Junior: What is a poem?
For this week’s project I’m reading A Tape for the Turn of the Year by A.R. Ammons. It’s very interesting in the way the poem is structured. There are moments when I feel as though I’m reading a journal entry, and then there are moments when I read a passage multiple times, stumbling over one particular line of text to try and make sense of it all. His mood in his tone shifts from day to day and with each individual subject. He switches between peaceful observance to seemingly more erratic, more confused and more questioning of the matter. It is interesting to me that he would even attempt this project of using up an entire roll of adding machine paper because apart from the forced minimal width, there is not much difference from simply typing the same amount of words on pieces of paper, right? It’s not as if his work was as continuous as the form of the scroll. While continuity was essential for the scroll to re-ravel itself in the trash can, Ammons was discontinuous in that he was very much able to step away from the typewriter, and wrote everyday for as long as it took for him use up the roll.
So then, what makes the fact that he used an adding machine roll of paper so special- so significant? I suppose it depends on whom you are asking, especially when taking last week’s writing assignment into consideration with the vast schools and disciplines of criticism available to analyze with. If there was not the entire back story about how and what materials were used to write the poem entries, would the content still be as meaningful, or is it all in the unique approach Ammons took where all of the desirable context is embedded in the usage of the roll?
What is interesting to me is that it never occurred to me to question this piece of work as anything other than a poet making poetic-like journal entries, in some aesthetically meaningful way until I was having a ritual Friday night Disney Junior cartoon session with my two-year old daughter. One of the segments in between the main show was a child asking, “What is a poem?” I love this, and it makes me laugh because the children’s answers were very innocent and cute talking about the use of rhyme, nature and beauty. It begs the question, what would these children think about Ammon’s’ work? Is Tape a poem? Or is it really just a collection of journal entries, and observations?
Personally, I very much still give Ammon’s Tape merit as a book of poetry. There are many aspects of his work, which I’m analyzing for our writing project, that are very consistent with poetic form. However, going back the child’s question on Disney, “what is a poem,” I truly feel the easier question could be asked, “what is not a poem?” I do believe that a person would find far fewer answers to that question rather than to the never-ending possibility of answers as to what constitutes a poem.
My own postcard
Agha Shahid Ali’s Postcard from Kashmir reminded me of my own instances of longing for home. I can really relate to the remorseful tone indicated by the reader. My husband is in the military, and because of that we often move. We spent around seven years in California, upon which I knew entering the state that it was not going to be the right fit for me. It was excessively hot except at the beach where you would want it to be. On days that you could actually see the mountains through the smog, they were not lush and green, but instead boulders dotted with tall stiff pine trees, so unlike the round encompassing variety of maples, oaks and birches found at home. I have never been a huge fan of humidity, but it is nothing compared to the dry, itchy desert air. There were no back roads lined with trees, just an endless branching of highways and interstates. It seemed every inch of what could have been considered a meadow was covered in residential or commercial development. Not a thing was small town, and the faces were all so unfamiliar, and would remain that way, even if I did see them again.
Especially around September, I would get into a funk, and think about autumn in New Hampshire, my favorite season. When a person grows up in a climate with seasonal change, sunny and humid in the summer, cool and colorful in the fall, cold and white in the winter and rainy and green with new flowers in the springtime, it is a difficult mission to find semblances of home where the landscape never changes and the only variation is that the temperature alters between blazing hot and warm. It is very much in the heat that I found my discomfort.
Halloween looses its edge when there is nothing to allow a chill to run up your spine and your face paint is melting off of your skin. The aroma of a roasting turkey wafting out of a cracked window mixed with cooling spiced pies does not engage an appetite in quite the same way as it does on a cool crisp day. It is almost impossible to be excited to put up Christmas lights when their beauty is only really enhanced by the accompaniment of a fresh coating of white fluffy snow.
I always missed my family, and the large parties to celebrate the holiday season, but it was honestly nothing compared to my longing to cuddle up on the couch wrapped in a blanket and allowing a hot cup of coffee to warm me. For my children finding pure bliss in something as simple as yard work turning into hours of endless fun rolling around in the fallen leaves. It was the notion of knowing that my kids were missing out on the excitement of waking up to only to find out that it was a snow day, and their only task for the day was to draw their tracks and make their stamp in the perfectly white blanket of snow.
For half of the year I always found myself pining for the familiarity of home, but I could never find it.
Through examining the finding of the class’ opinions on the subject of “What is English” I touched upon some reoccurring themes to their thinking.
“Every time we communicate with someone, or every time we write, or every time we read, or every time we listen, the roots of our understanding harken back to our English studies.” –Josh Snell
“English is our life, it touches everything, the book you just finished, the poster you just hung up, or even the thank you spoken to the person who held the door open for you. Whether it is the spoken or written word, English is our lives; it encompasses so much of how we define the world, its culture.” –Andrea Pepin
Josh and Andrea both feel that English encompasses everyday life, and is present in all of our actions.
“What to do with this English major? The possibilities are endless.” –Heather Burdwood
“English is too big of a field of study to combine it into one major.” –Samantha Scott
“English as a discipline should remain defined as: Anything pertaining of the English language. Webster’s be damned. . .” –Richard Cautela
Heather, Samantha and Richard suggest that it is impossible to define what makes an English Major, and that it will never stop evolving.
“English allows us to analyze patterns of language, work critically with texts, write expressively, and communicate non pragmatically.” –Kaitlyn Derry
“English is the ability for someone to write, read, comprehend and constantly learn from literary texts, both historical and in present day.” –Rachel Lanza
Part of Kaitlyn and Rachel’s focus is that one must be able to read, comprehend, express and write as an English Major.
“The English major is very complex, but if you take a step back you can see that it is really about finding yourself, and figuring out what is important to you.” –Dylan Florian
“An unexamined life is not worth living. English causes us examine life, because English is our way of life. That is who we are. We are the song that you listen to on the radio. We are the mountains of bookshelves spread out across the country. We are the old folktales told around the fire. We are English.” –Alyssa Bonin
Dylan and Alyssa refer to the idea that the study of English expands our perspectives, and in doing so allows us to examine ourselves.
“The answer to “What is English?” can be answered numerous ways- as originally touched upon.
English is reading, writing, analyzing but it is also loving, living, understanding, and being in touch with humanness.
English is a way of life; it is complex and simple.
English is contradictory, sometimes makes no sense, and other times brings people through moments of clarity so strong and unexpected that it changes a life.
English is learning to write sentences in school up to and through completing a beloved and time consuming book series.
English is the string of a violin to a violinist, new paintbrushes to an artist, a plunger that does not have to be used to a plumber, and laughing happy children to their mother.” –Nicloe Carrobis
Nicole sums up the above quotations from multiple people in the class through offering up multiple definitions on what the study of English can be. English can be viewed as the primary education of reading and writing that allows us to eventually comprehend and analyze texts. English can be a way of discovering life through clarity, but at the same time bringing confusion. English can be abstract imagery and observation.
While these are not the complete views of classmate’s overall outlook on what composes an English Major, the quotations that I pulled stood out in their writing as they reoccurred. The consensus I have reached through thinking about my own research as well as theirs is that there will never be an exact definition to describe the English Major. Every individual’s opinions are unique, and individuals will always have an opinion. And maybe, just maybe, we can all agree on that?
The Use of Force, and the use of a different perspective
In William Carlos Williams’ The Use of Force the narrative is told from the perspective of the doctor, but has the additional characters of the sick girl and the concerned parents. Being a parent of young stubborn children, I immediately related to the parents and by extension, the doctor in the story. However, while discussing the text in class, I became aware that many of my classmates wouldn’t be able to identify with anyone, but the child, and decided to think about if I could relate to her as well.
For me, identifying with the girl is difficult because through the story, I was not necessarily looking for ways in which the doctor’s thoughts were inappropriate, and I could understand his feelings of frustration with his patient. Listening to some of the others in the class talk about how they understood why the girl was defiant, and scared made me realize that I didn’t understand, or that it was not my primary concern.
Looking back on the specific examples that showcase the girl’s fear; her attacking the doctor and knocking his glasses to the floor, biting the tongue compressor even though the outcome caused additional injury, I can now see how the child was trying desperately to not have her secret revealed, and in the end that was her behavior’s intention. She was all along trying to hide her sore throat to avoid a doctor’s visit.
I suppose in her opinion that the little girl was first furious with her parents for even initiating a doctor’s visit, and possibly the reason for her initial non-cooperation. Additionally, her first attack could have been her ploy to inform the doctor to stand-down. The piece that stood out to me was when the doctor inferred that “then the battle began.” I myself have a very stubborn child that has resorted to running down a hall to avoid a vaccination, and I see the similarity in the actions of the little girl. In her mind, if she puts up enough resistance, possibly she will end the doctor’s visit. This doctor is a terrifying presence to her, he’s moving in close to her, and threatening her by asking her to open her mouth or else he’ll do it for her. In addition, he’s pitting her father against her by his holdeing her down and aiding the doctor.
Finally the girl resorts to pleading because fighting is not getting her anywhere. She yells out, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing me!” Surely in her thought process, that will end the doctor’s assault. She gets a brief victory in the concern of her mother, but that is quickly turned down by her father. In an act of defiance, she breaks the tongue compressor, and is bleeding from the injury, and it’s the doctor’s fault for putting it in her mouth in the first place. The doctor is not deterred from his task and actually requests a more indestructible material. The look on his face is “burning” with enjoyment at her suffering. At that moment, her worst fears are confirmed as the doctor grabs her neck and jaw to pry her mouth open, to expose her secret. Now that her secret has been found out, she’ll have to endure more torture from possibly more doctors. She attacks him once more, just for good measure.
Relating to the emotions of the little girl, I can now see the menacing presence that this male doctor must have had on her. She was sick and scared, and uncomfortable with his touching her. Similarly, he was a stranger, and children are to be warned of strangers, and the uncertainty of what they may do. Additionally, the doctor admits in the narrative his inappropriate thoughts and desires He recognizes that it is evident on his facial expressions, which he believes the sick girl to observe.
Journals to become literature?
After talking in class about when given the opportunity, anyone can tell a story, it made me recall something my brother Rob was talking about not too long ago. My brother is sixteen years older than me, and had a close relationship with our father’s father, Granddad. After Granddad passed away several years ago, Rob came across journals from the earlier years in his life when he traveled to South America frequently for business in the middle of the twentieth century. I did not have a close relationship with Granddad, and didn’t think much a bout it, until Professor Long mentioned stories from his grandfather in class. My thought was, how wonderful for my brother to have this interesting insight into a person that he only knew in his later years. He was able to observe what motivated our grandfather, and got a glimpse into foreign nations of a very different decade. Maybe, he possibly even learned something, such as a life lesson or gained wisdom over his years of travel.
Similarly, this made me think about something addressed from a Medieval Literature class. We were reading Beowulf, and discussing the fact that it was almost burned in a fire, and it was just by pure luck that any copy of the poem was preserved at all. There are even areas of the poem where the text breaks off into ellipses, implying that areas of the text may have been too damaged to decipher. Professor Pages told the class of another incident where a medieval manuscript was tucked away in a drawer of a large British Manor, that was not uncovered until the early twentieth century.
In summing up my thoughts, I think more people should seriously consider the act of journaling, or if you have a great storyteller in your life, encourage them to write down their tales. The person might never be around for the day, but you never know what written word will become of value in the future. It could even evolve into a twenty-first century form of literature.
Reading like an Athlete
“Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or framework. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not a few coteries of writers.”
—Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas.” (1871)
The passage above from Whitman’s essay Democratic Vistas suggests that in order for a reader to thrive, they must first be active. Comparing the reader to a gymnast makes the connection that the reader must see the text as a challenge to overcome and accomplish. However, simply reading the text is not enough. Whitman is imploring the reader to exercise their mind, by being alert and attentive to the content material. In essence, not allowing ones mind to drift to a different subject matter, and to focus making connections much like a gymnast on the parallel bars better make their connection from bar to bar or else they may find themselves drifting to the floor.
Looking again at the specific example given of a gymnast, an individual that excels in their sport must be focused, and practice skills to perfection. Similarly, a reader must practice and exercise their brain through examining what they’re reading. There’s a process involving gaining new knowledge from unfamiliar text subjects, acquiring new vocabulary and importing outside subject material to make a stronger connection when analyzing a text.
The words in the last sentence of the passage acquaint Whitman with the likes of a coach. It might be a stretch, but when reading the last line back using a motivational undertone that a gymnast’s coach might use while trying to inspire them to do their best, one can almost hear the plea from Whitman to the readers to always be looking to excel.
“That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not a few coteries of writers.”
The expression “There’s no ‘I’ in team” resonates in that as a team nation of readers, more will be gained if the opinions and observations of more than a select group of writers are contributing. Writing is infinite, and the more diversity in material and theories, the more likely to keep a reader engaged and enthused to come to their own original ideas to share with the masses, making the abundance of knowledge a “team” effort. Just as an Olympic gymnastics team can’t always rely on one standout competitor. In order to win as a team, they all have to be great. “Coach Whitman” is enticing the nation of readers to come together to work hard and give the effort to create an ever-growing wealth of the written word.
What is an English Major?
Week 1: 08.28.13
After conducting some research into the English departments at multiple universities and colleges, I’ve come to the observation that they are all very similar in structure. There are many differences in the disciplines offered, and I would not believe that they are all using any type of universal guidelines to define what specific courses make an English major. However, the similarities viewed were involving the commencement of required courses followed by the branching out to accentuate a certain discipline.
At each institution researched, a pattern emerged in their English curriculums. All English majors, whether disciplined in linguistics or creative writing, really aim at providing a solid foundation in literature and how to analyze said literature. However, the topic of literature is a very broad spectrum with no cookie-cutter mold as to what qualifies as literature. For example, here at Keene State there is a required course in the study of English Literature: Beginnings to 18th Century (ENG321) for an English literature major, but additionally, a student may choose to take Modern American Indian Literature (ENG347) as an elective (6). In addition to reading and writing the literature being studied, a student is expected to be able to convey their understanding and analysis of the text through their own writing whether in a blog or an essay.
With respect to branching out and emphasizing a certain discipline, the options from institution to institution are very diverse. The larger state universities tend to offer an abundance of more specified disciplines, Like Stanford University and Louisiana State University (LSU) (3,4). While smaller institution, Like Keene State and Bowdoin College’s English Departments offer 2-3 options for emphasis (2,5). For example Stanford University offers a creative writing course like many other institutions, but also has a major that emphasizes on Creative Writing for Poetry. Additionally they offer English majors that emphasize in English Literature and Foreign Language Literature as well as English Literature and Philosophy (3). LSU offers a degree in Writing and Culture, where the description depicts that the reading material branches away from an emphasis on literature, and analyzes newspapers, budgets and rhetorical and cultural perspectives (4). Keene State offers two disciplines focusing on literature or writing, and Bowdoin offers the same with the addition of The Major in English and Theater (2,5).
To answer the question, “what can you do with an English Major,” I would have to say that my research revealed an abundance of continuing education and job opportunities. The University of Wisconsin, Madison’s English Department website, has a tab called “Beyond the Major” in which it lists over 15 career path opportunities to be considered as an English major. Some of theses examples were as straight forward as Journalism to other unconventional ideas such as, being a parole officer (1). It may seem odd that somebody may want a degree in English to be a parole officer, but the truth is, having a strong foundation in reading and writing never hurt anyone. A lawyer has to read document after document varying from many different topics, and if that individual is well trained in active reading and critical analysis, their tedious tasks will be met with an upper hand.
In my personal career path I have a strong desire to pursue a Master’s degree in guidance counseling. The generalized prerequisite to attend graduate studies for guidance counseling is to have attained a bachelor’s degree in education. If I continue down this projected path, my background in English will be monumentally important. Part of my job will be to help high school students with their post-secondary paths, and a lot of writing on my part will be expected in aiding them. No institutions would be impressed if any written document from myself were to be tainted with grammatical errors, misused word or spelling errors.
In wrapping up my research observations, I’m comfortable in concluding that all English departments have a similar core structure that is unique through the specifics of the courses offered, but all maintain a high emphasis on the importance of literary understanding and comprehension. Once those prerequisites are accomplished, the options for an English major are vast depending on any one individuals personal life goals. In conclusion, I offer up that there really is no way to have an absolute definition of what an English Major is, but instead that having a degree in English provides you with the tools to thrive in the English world or any other career path an individual desires. Having a thorough English education will always be a handy tool to always keep in your back pocket.