Lecture Notes August 28, 1996
Stanley Cavell, "Thinking of Emerson"
1. Thoreau and Emerson: The Kantian background
"The universe answers to our conceptions."
Knowledge cannot extend beyond our experience: but they say, "be careful what you call experience."
2. Thoreau and Emerson: Beyond Kant
"The universe wears our color."
Emerson reverses Kant:
The succession of our moods are outward; neither realism nor solipsism.
3. Emerson as a philosopher
Like many other philosophers, he wants to bring philosophy to an end; but doing this is also doing philosophy.
Emerson wants to replace philosophy with man thinking, not a thinker. This has the task of cheering, raising, and guiding men. "Always our thinking is a pious reception" -- compare to Heidegger.
4. Criticisms of Emerson (and responses)
a. He lacked concepts of evil and the tragic.
Response: He advocates thankfulness, a "more than tragic" emotion. He talks about a "sacred affirmative" and "new creation."
b. He is a skeptic ("Pyrrhonist")
Response: He reconceives the truth of skepticism and provides for a response of acknowledgement; the world is to be received.
5. The relation of Thoreau and Emerson to writing
Heidegger turns to the poet Holderlin to find certain lessons about writing and philosophy; but Thoreau and Emerson "are their own Holderlins." Their writing relates to life itself as reading/thinking. Creating is not power but reception.
6. Emerson's philosophical message in "Circles"
How do new circles form? From inside, our growth is discontinuous. We just must "go on"--not through power but through "forgetting ourselves" or "enthusiasm." The passage about writing on the lintels of the door-post "Whim" is about the need for departure in life. Departure is hope and abandoning despair. Our fate is to be always leaving ("initial, medial, American.") Whereas Heidegger recommends dwelling or inhabitation, Emerson (and Thoreau) recommend abandonment and leaving.