Emerson and Thoreau: American Transcendentalism
30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003
In the 19th century, a small group of New England radicals seeking a break with spiritual conventions, an immediate encounter with the natural world, and a revitalization of daily life—what Emerson called “an original relation to the universe”—became known as transcendentalists. What kind of individual life, and what sorts of social communities, did the transcendentalists imagine? How did they understand notions like “self-reliance” and “experience”? Is Thoreau’s famous move to Walden Pond best interpreted as a proto-libertarian withdrawal from the community, or the first step towards a new community, differently oriented and committed? In this course we will read Emerson’s Nature and his major essays, and Thoreau’s Walden and selections from his journals. We will be attentive to how transcendentalist thought was influenced by German idealists, English romantics, the Bhavagad-Gita, and other sources, and how it in turn influenced abolitionist actions and communal utopian experiments. (Thoreau, on a visit to Brook Farm: “As for these communities, I think I had rather keep a bachelor’s room in Hell than go to board in Heaven.”) Critical reading will include Stanley Cavell, Barbara Packer, and Leo Marx.
Course ScheduleWednesday, 7-9pm
April 17 — May 22, 2013