Writing

Abstract:

Writing with a Purpose: the Antagonistic Metaphor 

“The primary aim in Emerson’s life and discourse is to provoke” (743)

-Cornell West, The Emersonian Prehistory of American Pragmatism

In Emerson’s time many of his contemporaries and colleagues struggled with his ability to dispense great words of thought and action, but felt that he fell short on his ability to practice what he preached. Len Gougeon specifically uses the example of Charles Eliot’s struggle with Emerson’s ability to articulate great thought and inspire movement, but that he takes little act in reforming. However, Emerson was very aware of his strengths, and the best use of his efforts believing that “Nothing so marks a man as imaginative expression. A figurative statement arrests attention” (298). Emerson’s texts are rich with antagonistic metaphors that aim to engage the reader into thought and action.

Metaphor with a Purpose: Emerson the Antagonistic Writer

Draft #2 12.04.13

“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).

What sets Emerson apart from those individuals of true racism is that he approaches the topic with a scholar’s eye. The deterrents he feels are imposed on everyday man affect his thoughts as well. A common misconception with Emerson’s writing is that it may appear to be an analysis of all of the wrong that he sees with the everyday man, but is actually based off of his own struggles with thoughts of conformity.

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? (485)

-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.” (487)

Emerson’s journals are very insightful, and exhibit his early struggles with thought and conformity while a member of the divinity. The reason for Emerson’s use of the metaphor of slavery is simply because he himself could feel the oppression of society weighing down upon him. There is frustration in his words at the realization that he feels as though society wants to covet his true nature. Society has expectations that are not in his true nature to fulfill. It is wrong for society to have these expectations, and attempt to strip man of his essential rights towards progressive thought, speech and action.

However, Emerson is faced with limitations, and preaches the beliefs and scripts of others, of which are not his own convictions. He is in a helpless and regretful situation. Emerson is aware of the solution, that to lose the influence of expectations will allow him inspire those young minds around him to not conform. In doing so, he will create a platform of his own based off of his true nature and thought, and in doing so will gain confidence in the words that he speaks having no regrets

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

Emerson uses metaphor to antagonize his readers. Not only does Emerson use bold statements to make his connections to very heated topics of his time, but he also provides a struggle of thoughts about those topics. Emerson’s writing is never one-sided, and this is due to the fact that he believes there are limitations to everything. Whether it is in nature, thought or action – to Emerson, they all have never ending boundaries in which nothing can be solved or definite.

The antagonistic presence in his writing appears when he addresses limitations, especially in his essay Fate. When looking back at his earlier essays such as The American Scholar, it is interesting to see where he leaves the reader – eyes open, mind kindled, body in motion, but in Fate he seemingly puts a lid on the reader’s previous motivations. However, it only appears as so. What Fate is truly doing, is observing the extreme importance of the “man-thinking,” and the role that thought plays in the fate of an individual. Thinking men are a necessity to human function, and with out them man becomes complacent and limitations suppress him. This is why there always needs to be progression of thought instead of hovering and reiterating the knowledge and philosophies of those that came before. The minds of the past should never be discounted, but should be viewed as contributions towards progression. Where is your contribution? Mankind needs it to go the next round with fate.

Fate and thought are in a constant power struggle, sometimes man is on top, and has come to new realization. However with time, that new realization becomes the old, which in effect makes it the new Fate, the new boundary, the new limitation. As said before, there is no winning the war with thought, but there is no winning the war for Fate either. Fate can send floods, but man has constructed dams. Fate can take the ideas of the past, and make them law, but man can think, and therefore challenge those laws.

With the notion that there is a necessity for thinking man to battle with fate, what better way to combat oneself than with taking the offensive and antagonizing fate? Emerson does this through his writing, and one of the most reoccurring metaphors in his arsenal is alluding to the idea that all men are slaves.

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.

“History is the action and reaction of these two, — Nature and Thought; — two boys pushing each other on the curb-stone of the pavement. Everything is pusher or pushed: and matter and mind are in perpetual tilt and balance, so. Whilst the man is weak, the earth takes up him. He plants his brain and affections. By and by he will take up the earth, and have his gardens and vineyards in the beautiful order and productiveness of his thought.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fate

 Fate heavily debates the relationship between limitations and thought, and the influence that the cause and effect of that relationship has on the character of man. Human history is conditional on actions and reaction. In order for history to occur there is a give and take between nature and thought. Nature can act out by creating barriers in many forms, but man can react with thought on how to overcome those barriers, and gain the upper hand. However, eventually nature will act in a way to try and breakdown or over come the barrier set in place by thought. If one is substantially weaker than the other, there is an unbalance. One consumes the other, which in turn can be just as disastrous. If man uses thought to his advantage he could maintain the productive process, provided through cause and effect, of a balanced history.

The problem with the topic of history is that it is almost too attractive. Even as children we are drawn to the stories of the past, and absorb them into our minds. Children hear the horrific accounts of battle, but sometimes only recall their favorite wartime hero, forsaking all of the others. Sometimes in history nature becomes too strong, limitations are set too high, and fate dictates all. The suppression of thought can be a hard place to come back from. This is why men must always be thinking, and have power to act to create a reaction. The question of “How Shall I live?” should be on the forefront of thought. The only thing that can overcome our incompetence is the power to put thought into action.

While the passage does not directly reference the metaphor of all Americans as slaves, it is addressed in the way in which Emerson points out the pattern of our history, and the habits that individuals have to fall in line behind the rule of one man’s wishes even if it means forsaking those that are of a different party. This falling in line is the first step towards enslavement of the American mind. However, the followers know that they are being lead, and it takes a strong man to act upon the truth. Emerson is insisting upon the need for new action within the minds of the American people to help solve the problem of the times.

Draft #1

“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.

“History is the action and reaction of these two, — Nature and Thought; — two boys pushing each other on the curb-stone of the pavement. Everything is pusher or pushed: and matter and mind are in perpetual tilt and balance, so. Whilst the man is weak, the earth takes up him. He plants his brain and affections. By and by he will take up the earth, and have his gardens and vineyards in the beautiful order and productiveness of his thought. Every solid in the universe is ready to become fluid on the approach of the mind, and the power to flux it is the measure of the mind. If the wall remain adamant, it accuses the want of thought. To a subtler force, it will stream into new forms, expressive of the character of the mind. What is the city in which we sit here, but an aggregate of incongruous materials, which have obeyed the will of some man? The granite was reluctant, but his hands were stronger, and it came. Iron was deep in the ground, and well combined with stone; but could not hide from his fires. Wood, lime, stuffs, fruits, gums, were dispersed over the earth and sea, in vain. Here they are, within reach of every man’s day-labor, — what he wants of them. The whole world is the flux of matter over the wires of thought to the poles or points where it would build. The races of men rise out of the ground preoccupied with a thought which rules them, and divided into parties ready armed and angry to fight for this metaphysical abstraction. The quality of the thought differences the Egyptian and the Roman, the Austrian and the American. The men who come on the stage at one period are all found to be related to each other. Certain ideas are in the air. We are all impressionable, for we are made of them; all impressionable, but some more than others, and these first express them. This explains the curious contemporaneousness of inventions and discoveries. The truth is in the air, and the most impressionable brain will announce it first, but all will announce it a few minutes later. So women, as most susceptible, are the best index of the coming hour. So the great man, that is, the man most imbued with the spirit of the time, is the impressionable man, — of a fibre irritable and delicate, like iodine to light. He feels the infinitesimal attractions. His mind is righter than others, because he yields to a current so feeble as can be felt only by a needle delicately poised.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fate

 Fate heavily debates the relationship between limitations and thought, and the influence that the cause and effect of that relationship has on the character of man. Human history is conditional on actions and reaction. In order for history to occur there is a give and take between nature and thought. Nature can act out by creating barriers in many forms, but man can react with thought on how to overcome those barriers, and gain the upper hand. However, eventually nature will act in a way to try and breakdown or over come the barrier set in place by thought. If one is substantially weaker than the other, there is an unbalance. One consumes the other, which in turn can be just as disastrous. If man uses thought to his advantage he could maintain the productive process, provided through cause and effect, of a balanced history.

Nature is not finite; it can be changed from its original state (as in solid to liquid). However, it will only give way to thought. It will not be a simple task, but a challenge to measure the power of man’s thoughts. The way in which the nature is adapted will be an expression of the character of the man’s mind, and a clear depiction of his wants.

From the changes to nature by one man, other men will follow and abandon their own thoughts to follow in line with his thoughts. However, the change in thought, is not entirely new, but is related to the thoughts before it. All progression of thought is available to everyman, but some see it first, and then others follow. The man of thought is the most impressionable, and the most likely to use their power of thought to challenge limitations. The necessity for the challenge is due to the need for balance between nature and thought. One impressionable man’s thought in the past, becomes the nature of the future. The new nature must always be challenged.

The necessity for challenge is always “in the air;” however, it takes the impressionable man that is inspired with the “spirit of the times” to recognize the need for a change. “His mind is righter than others,” because he has the power to follow his thoughts no matter how far removed from the traditional nature of others.

This passage stands out because as humans, we often try to learn from our mistakes, our history. This is exactly the type of message that I believe that Emerson is trying to convey to the American people. We have nature, which is challenged by thought. Eventually that thought becomes the new nature, and all fall in line with that train of thought. Most commonly the thought that created the new nature was created by the want of one individual, and quickly became the wants of many others.

The problem with the topic of history is that it is almost too attractive. Even as children we are drawn to the stories of the past, and absorb them into our minds. Children hear the horrific accounts of battle, but sometimes only recall what their favorite wartime hero, forsaking all of the others. Sometimes in history nature becomes too strong, limitations are set too high, and fate dictates all. The suppression of thought can be a hard place to come back from. This is why men must always be thinking, and have power to act to create a reaction. The question of “How Shall I live?” should be on the forefront of thought. The only thing that can overcome our incompetence is the power to put thought into action.

While the passage does not directly reference the metaphor of all Americans as slaves, it is addressed in the way in which Emerson points out the pattern of our history, and the habits that individuals have to fall in line behind the rule of one man’s wishes even if it means forsaking those that are of a different party. This falling in line is the first step towards enslavement of the American mind. However, the followers know that they are being lead, and it takes a strong man to act upon the truth. Emerson is insisting upon the need for new action within the minds of the American people to help solve the problem of the times.

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