Saturday, October 29, 2011

Emerson State of Mind

I'm preparing for my Monday class on Ralph Waldo Emerson, re-reading for the howmanyteenth time Nature. In a fashion that Emerson himself prescribes, I realize that the text contains endless possibilities according to what I as reader bring into the journey. [bracketed for now a tendril of thought on Emerson's infinity in the finite juxtaposed with the Borges story "The Library of Babel"]

Unbracketed, now, I was reading the passage, "Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena. Now many are thought not only unexplained but inexplicable; as language, sleep, dreams, beasts, sex." Emerson's list of things at the outermost frontiers of the human imaginative abilities to construct a grand unifying theory is a striking catalogue of psycho-analysis to come. Given my recent Derrida jag--The Beast and the Sovereign as well as a re-reading of "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," I am intrigued by Emerson's assemblage of language, animals, and dreams. For Emerson, the center of this assemblage is its very assembler: the human. He makes these powerful mysteries, but always mysteries to the human, perhaps even mysteries for the human--these are the things here to give us pleasure, particularly by signifying that within the human that transcends all of these things.

But what also catches my attention is the omission in Emerson's list of the machine, especially given his persistent, consistent attention to the machine in much of his writing. For Emerson the machine was totally under control, if at times misused. Not that many years later, Marx would posit the machine as one of the great mysteries, or at least the material instantiation symptomatic of the mystery of capital, in particular of industrial capitalist production.

Animals, dreams, language, and machines.

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