Monday, October 31, 2011

Emerson State of Mind, Cont'd

Today's American Lit to 1860 class was one of those days seared into the memory, especially for use when things go pear-shaped.
Things were already looking up when I came into the classroom and several students were already talking up how much Emerson had energized them.
Then I started us out with a condensed lecture on Transcendentalism, in particular its origins tied to debates over Locke and Kant.

But then I just sat down and opened the discussion to whichever currents formed around the pushes and pulls of what caught students' attention. And this class always has excellent questions!

They wanted to talk about Emerson in relation to metaphysics, his notion of Nature and how humans are integrated into it, and a passage that reads, "The shows of day, the dewy morning, the rainbow, mountains, orchards in blossom, stars, moonlight, shadows in still water, and the like, if too eagerly hunted, become shows merely, and mock us with their unreality."

That last one especially launched us into a great discussion about attitudes towards "being in nature." Together, we imagined what Emerson would say if we took him on a class field trip to REI. Considering if he is suggesting that when you treat "nature" directly as a commodity, it becomes commodity, unreality. Emerson's a slippery one--sometimes I think he looks like a libertarian narcissist and then all of a sudden he looks like he's an ecological thinker of the highest order, but only when read against the grain of his usual eco-characterizations by the myriad of plastic stuff with his quotes embossed upon them.

We talked about Aldo Leopold's injunction to "think like a mountain," and how Emerson never gives this sort of injunction because it is in his philosophical paradigm absurd. Empathy is not the point for Emerson, not because of narcissism, but because of its patent impossibility--it's disrespect for other material.

I hope the same fires burn as we get into Walden the rest of this week!

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