Emerson and Other Minds
Idealism and the Moral Self
Imprint: Baylor University Press
371 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.00 in
- Published: February 2021
In Emerson and Other Minds, Michael J. Colacurcio traces the long arc of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings. While Emerson seldom argues academically in his essays, he intends the essays to be primary acts of philosophy. The essays are also highly wrought literary performances, and so they need to be closely read in the New Critical manner.
Colacurcio proposes that Emerson is one of modernity’s central writers on the question of "privacy": the unsettling epistemological fact that even though people have the ability to share through language the experiences that shape their version of the world, no one else can fully experience another’s process of creating and evaluating the world. Emerson may imagine a transparent eyeball, but never a universal retina. This ineluctable privacy underwrites the famous moral doctrine of "self-reliance," but it also helps to explain the painful problems of love and friendship.
Colacurcio’s reading results in a two-volume compilation that reminds us of the importance of encountering and remembering Emerson for more than his famous sentences. Conversing with himself and other powerful minds on fundamental questions of human knowledge and behavior, Emerson produced brilliant essays—both philosophical and literary in the fullest sense—that richly reward closer examination.
Emerson and Philosophy
Part 1. Emerson before Nature
1 "My Time, My Talents, and My Hopes"
Private Writing and the Eloquent Self
2 Man’s Moral Nature
The Religious Subject and the Ethical Sublime
3 "Another’s Wealth"
The Self in Significant Relation
4 The Great Secularity of the World
Religion and Science as History
5 Persons and Letters
Emerson and the Science of the Human
Part 2. Paradigms of Thought and Action
6 Noble Doubts
Experience, Subjectivity, Theism
7 Pleasing God
Law Without Authority
8 "They Also Serve"
Emerson and the Talking Cure
Brilliant exegesis. For Michael Colacurcio, Emerson’s master subject, the majesty and loneliness of the self, was there all along, from the earliest sermons to the last essays. The teasing-out of that subject reveals Emerson’s profound engagement with the philosophers of his time, but most of all with the Christianity he inherited. What stands out most vividly in this vast work is Colacurcio’s conviction that Emerson was both ‘deeply religious and determinedly secular,’ willing to appropriate an old theological language for new ends.~Bruce Ronda, Professor of English and Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Studies, Colorado State University
In full command of early American literature and thought, as well as their antecedents, Michael Colacurcio reads Emerson as the preeminent philosopher of ‘the inviolable condition of subjective isolation.’ Here is a rigorous idealism that would appear to preclude neither acute apprehension of the world around us nor our ability to converse intelligibly with other minds. At the same time, it insists that even our closest communion with the world and with others, not least in friendship and love, is riddled with uncertainty and the grief of unknowing. In a magisterial study that stands alone in modern scholarship, Colacurcio ranges across the whole of Emerson’s essays to reveal the uncompromising thinker we have waited well more than a century to know.~Eric Sundquist, Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus of the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University
Emerson and Other Minds is an account of Emerson’s writings by a scholar deeply learned in philosophy and committed to ‘the pleasure of the text,’ and to the proposition that ‘an Emerson essay is better read as an imitation of what it feels like for a mature mind, of philosophic turn, honestly to conduct, without reliance on professional jargon, an ongoing internal debate about some enduring human question.’ Identifying Emerson as a theorist of privacy, Michael Colacurcio traces, through ‘indefatigable close analysis,’ Emerson’s examination of a fundamental question: ‘in what sense is the individual mind quite alone in the "splendid labyrinth" of vision and value which it in a very significant sense creates?’ This question embraces epistemology, human relationships, and language. In examining the interrelationships of these strands, Colacurcio offers us a rich and challenging book. Exploring the problem of ‘other minds’ in Emerson’s writings, Colacurcio reveals not only Emerson’s extraordinary mind, but his own as well.~Lisa Gordis, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English, Barnard College