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Friday, 7 October 2011

Emerson's views in the "American Scholar" on literature

According to Emerson, books are full of learning of the past. These books change mere facts into virtual truths and thus pose a great danger. He feels that every book is only a partial truth since it was written based on the happenings during the times it was written. It cannot be applied to other times since each age has its own books and can establish its own truth. Another danger from books is that they wean the scholar away from original thinking. Scholars get overawed by the brilliance of the past writers and discouraged from exploring new ideas and seeking individualized truths (Cheever 2006).

Emerson says that a bookworm of a scholar is the worst of all the scholars because he focusses on trivial matters of scholarship and relegates larger ideas to the background. Such people are antithetical to the expectation of Emerson. He feels that the streak of creativity in man is the representative of divinity. If man stops being creative, it means that he is distancing himself from God and therefore from nature(Cheever 2006).

Literature has its adverse influence on genius too according to Emerson. He cites the idolization of Shakespeare by English dramatists who tried to copy Shakespeare for nearly two hundred years, burying their own imaginative creations. Emerson feels that true scholars should resort to literature only when he is devoid of his own creative thinking (Cheever 2006).

Emerson has some appreciation too for literature. Whether during ancient times or later, reading had the capacity of completely defeating time in the sense that one forgets the passage of time while reading. Reading had made its contribution to the nourishing of thinking of some original thinkers also. But reading should be critical in such a way that it nourishes and complements the original and creative thinking (Cheever 2006).

Cheever, S. 2006. American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau; Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work, Thorndike Press, Detroit.

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