By John Michael Corrigan
"The transmigration of souls isn't any delusion. i might it have been, yet women and men are just part human." With those phrases, Ralph Waldo Emerson confronts a hassle that illuminates the formation of yank individualism: to conform and develop into absolutely human calls for a heightened engagement with heritage. americans, Emerson argues, needs to detect history's chronology in themselves--because their very own minds and our bodies are its evolving record.
Whereas scholarship has tended to lessen the magical underpinnings of Emerson's proposal of the self, his depictions of "the metempsychosis of nature" demonstrate deep roots in mystical traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Platonism and Christian esotericism. In essay after essay, Emerson makes use of metempsychosis as an open-ended template to appreciate human development.
In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman transforms Emerson's perception of metempsychotic selfhood into an expressly poetic occasion. His imaginative and prescient of transmigration viscerally celebrates the poet's skill to imagine and dwell in different our bodies; his American poet seeks to include the complete country into his personal individual in order that he can converse for each guy and girl.
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Additional resources for American Metempsychosis: Emerson, Whitman, and the New Poetry
Emerson does not insist upon Coleridge’s hierarchy where the understanding is the “humbler servant” of the immaterial, higher consciousness. Instead, these two sides of the self are equal, each claiming one side of the human being, one prevailing now, while the other achieves ascendency in the future. Emerson’s notion of double consciousness has direct implications for the psychological makeup of nineteenth-century American individuality not simply because it divides the self into two parts, but because it imagines the soul as an as-yet-unattainable principle of radical otherness.
Such an emphasis is decidedly Hegelian, for the German philosopher, in his Phenomenology of Spirit, explicitly articulates that this movement of World-Spirit over and beyond its manifestations comprises a pattern of consciousness, whose experience consists of successively embodying and discarding itself in order to know itself on ever-higher levels. Consciousness seeks an object, and in this effort, the object it perceives changes and springs anew as an addition to the series that consciousness undertakes.
In “The Metempsychosis of the Pine” (1851), Taylor adeptly uses the notion of transmigration as a grand analogy for the problem of poetic creation and reception in the age of industrialization. He begins simply enough with the conventional Romantic trope of nature suddenly revealing the hidden spiritual element that animates it: As when the haze of some wan moonlight makes Familiar fields a land of mystery, Where, chill and strange, a ghostly presence wakes In flower, bush and tree14 the double consciousness / 45 With a scheme similar to Emerson’s notion of metempsychosis in “History” (1841) where consciousness recollects and sequentially journeys through its own evolutionary history, Taylor depicts this ghostly wakening as a form of cognitive quickening in which reliving the past indicates the precepts of poetic ritual: Another life, the life of Day o’erwhelms: The Past from present consciousness takes hue, And we remember vast and cloudy realms Our feet have wandered through15 Reemerging with poetic prominence, the inner, ghostly life of the soul is freed from the rationality of daylight.