Oct 26, 2008

Transcendentalism (1836-1850)

In this entry I'll try to talk briefly about Transcendentalism but before I do that you guys need to put in mind that transcendentalism is a philosophical and literary movement and this entry will only give you an overview of it.

Transcendentalism as I see it, is a continuation of England's romanticism. Its leader Ralph Waldo Emerson, was strongly influenced by William Wadsworth, a prominent figure in England's romanticism. Thus both movements celebrate individualism and demand intimate connection with nature which will eventually help in self-discovery. The only difference between the two movements lies in their relationship with people. The romanticists have cut off their ties with people therefore they maybe a bit of dreamers and escapers. The transcendentalists, on the other hand, focused on educating and teaching their people therefore they are more like social reformers.

Before I start discussing their tenets, you need to know who are the most important transcendentalists. They are: Ralph Waldo Emerson the father of transcendentalism and my spiritual Uncle, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller. Of course there are many other transcendentalists but those are the leaders of transcendentalism.

Basic Tenets of Transcendentalism:

1. An individual is the spiritual center of the universe - and in an individual can be found the clue to nature, history and, ultimately, the cosmos itself. It is not a rejection of the existence of God, but a preference to explain an individual and the world in terms of an individual.

2. The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self - all knowledge, therefore, begins with self-knowledge. This is similar to Aristotle's dictum "know thyself."

3. Transcendentalists accepted the neo-Platonic conception of nature as a living mystery, full of signs - nature is symbolic. (the Romanticist share the same idea)

4. The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-realization - this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies:

a. the expansive or self-transcending tendency - a desire to embrace the whole world - to know and become one with the world.

b. the contracting or self-asserting tendency - the desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate - an egotistical existence.

This dualism assumes our two psychological needs; the contracting: being unique, different, special, having a racial identity,ego-centered, selfish, and so on; the expansive: being the same as others, altruistic, be one of the human race, and so on.

The transcendentalist expectation is to move from the contracting to the expansive. This dualism has aspects of Freudian id and superego; the Jungian shadow and persona, the Chinese ying/yang, and the Hindu movement from Atman (egotistic existence) to Brahma (cosmic existence).

-"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen." Ralph Waldo Emerson

-"People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character." Ralph Waldo Emerson

-"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." Margaret Fuller

-"I have urged on woman independence of man, not that I do not think the sexes mutually needed by one another, but because in woman this fact has led to an excessive devotion, which has cooled love, degraded marriage and prevented it her sex from being what it should be to itself or the other. I wish woman to live, first for God's sake. Then she will not take what is not fit for her from a sense of weakness and poverty. Then if she finds what she needs in man embodied, she will know how to love and be worthy of being loved." Margaret Fuller

-"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something." Henry David Thoreau

-"If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. Men will believe what they see." Henry David Thoreau

-"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you." Nathaniel Hawthorne

some useful sites that might help you understand their philosophy: American Transcendentalism, The blog of Henry David Thoreau
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