Prentiss Clark, “‘Pulse for Pulse in Harmony with the Universal Whole’: Hearing ‘Self-Reliance’ Anew” (pp. 319–341)
This essay recounts how Ralph Waldo Emerson, the nineteenth-century thinker perhaps most associated with individualism, is equally, and perhaps necessarily, a student of the intimacies in which we exist. More specifically, the essay contests the explanatory power criticism generally attributes to what Emerson called “self-reliance” by delineating how “self-reliance” (the idea and the 1841 essay by this name) participates in Emerson’s broad work of investigating what he termed “man’s true position in the universe” and its implications for one's conduct of life. In this reading, which draws from Emerson’s neglected as well as canonical essays, lectures, and sermons, “the infinitude of the private man”—the “one doctrine” Emerson says he teaches in all his lectures—has less to do with the singular human self as such than with our standing ever amid innumerable and consequential relations and accountable for all it entails. Ultimately, this essay hopes to demonstrate how Emerson speaks, from the first, to the ethical potential of rediscovering our connections—connections to ourselves, fellow persons, nature, and beyond (even when at the distances to which our differences can put us).
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