Melville's Clarel

The Perils of Religious Stagnancy: Herman Melville’s “Clarel”

In today’s post, I will briefly discuss my interpretation of the character of Nehemiah in Melville’s epic poem Clarel, and I will contrast him with David Fenimore Cooper’s “parallel” character, David Gamut, in The Last of the Mohicans. At first glance, Nehemiah seems to be a typical stock character that serves as a foil to the character of Clarel. While the poem’s eponymous character dons the role of the believer undergoing a crisis in faith—Nehemiah plays the role of the obnoxious blind believer who follows religious doctrine and religious scripts in an uncritical and naïve fashion. When Clarel first encounter’s Nehemiah, the self-proclaimed “sinner” makes his reliance on the Bible and religion overt. As he is holding a the holy scriptures near his chest, Nehemiah states the following:

“Consult it, heart; wayfarer you,

And this a friendly guide, the best;

No ground there is that faith would view

But here ’tis rendered with the rest;

The way to fields of Beulah dear

And New Jerusalem is here.” (Melville 29, emphasis mine)

Note that to some extent, there is a slight ambiguity in these verses. As Nehemiah holds the scriptures near his chest, he states that “this a friendly guide, the best.” On one hand, we are aware that Nehemiah does become Clarel’s guide through the lands of Jerusalem, and thus, he can be referring to his own capabilities of sauntering knowledgeably through the premises of the holy lands. On the other hand, the word guide carries heavy pedagogical, and to some extent, religious connotations. Keeping in mind that Nehemiah has the scriptures in hand, it is possible to read this verse as an offering to be not only a guide through the physical premises of Jerusalem, but also “the best” spiritual guide. It is no secret that Nehemiah is a religious fundamentalist, and his religious views serve as a stark contrast not only to Clarel’s views, but also to the views of Rolfe, another religious skeptic who questions religion through debate and through historicizing. Throughout the remainder of the narrative, Nehemiah’s positioning of the Bible as the best guide is certainly put to the test.

I think it is at first easy to compare Nehemiah with David Gamut due to their reliance on holy scriptures, their desire to shove their beliefs down other characters’ throats, their use of music to spread the holy word, and their supposed presence as stock characters within their respective narratives. However, there are important differences between the two. In The Last of the Mohicans, Gamut’s religious views are always mocked by other characters, particularly by Hawkeye, for they are deemed impractical within the premises of the wilderness. Nehemiah, on the other hand, in spite of his overly zealous views, does manage to convey some degree of respect with his religious views; after all, bear in mind that there are in Jerusalem, a physical space in which spirituality certainly has some degree of practical agency. This is particularly seen in the instance in which a Turk views Nehemiah as someone worthy of admiration because he is free of sin—and a man free of sin is worthy of praise no matter what religious doctrine they adhere to:

The Turk went further: let him wend;

Him Allah cares for, holy one:

A Santon held him; and was none

Bigot enough scorn’s shaft to send.

For, say what cynic will or can,

Man sinless is revered by man

Thro’ all the forms which creeds may lend. (Melville 29)

The biggest difference between Nehemiah and Gamut is their purpose and their willingness to change in the narratives. Nehemiah is without a doubt a static character. He lives and dies as a man who truly believes in the ideas transmitted by the scriptures, and his faith always guides his actions and his views. Gamut, on the other hand, goes through a series of dramatic changes in Mohicans. Although at first he is a religious idealist, he slowly but surely leaves aside religious doctrine in order to delve into the pragmatism needed to survive in the wilderness. I think that there is also much to be said with the fact that Nehemiah dies and Gamut survives. When approaching this notion from a Darwinian perspective, Gamut was willing to adapt in order to assure his subsistence; Nehemiah’s unbending religious will, on the other hand, ultimately leads him to his downfall:

The visions changed and counterchanged–

Blended and parted–distant ranged,

And beckoned, beckoned him away.

In sleep he rose; and none did wist

When vanished this somnambulist. (Melville 256).

True, Gamut was indeed annoyingly adherent to his religious beliefs during the first half of Mohicans, but this adherence ultimately proved to be an aid rather than a hindrance. Whenever Gamut relied on the scriptures or song to defend him against peril, they always aided him in a humoristic fashion. For instance, his penchant for singing in the face of danger was perceived by native Americans to be exceedingly bizarre, or even brave. After all, it does take bravado to sing in the face of death.

However, as can be seen in the verses above, Nehemiah’s belief pushes him to the verge of insanity, to the extent in which the magical realm of belief fuses with the world of the real. Nehemiah’s faith goes on to embrace a hallucinatory edge that ultimately pushes him to his death, for in his nightly “visions” he sees a New Jerusalem rising from the sea, and he promptly sleepwalks to his demise. In due course, this creates a rather harsh message on behalf of Melville. While Cooper, to some extent, was parodying zealous religious belief with the character of Gamut, this character always embraced a sense of light-heartedness and flightiness that made this critique gentler in comparison to Melville’s. Melville’s depiction of a zealous believer ultimately reinforces the perils of stagnancy when it comes to the battle between knowledge and belief. And at least when focusing on the character of Nehemiah, knowledge certainly wins out.

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Reference:

Herman Melville’s Clarel (Northwestern University Press)

Sample page from Neil Babra's adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

Conference Proposal on Shakespeare and Comics… ACCEPTED!

Great news! My proposal submission for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCAACA) National 2013 Conference was approved today! This year the conference will  take place at the Wardman Park Marriott in Washington D.C. from March 27th-30th. My paper, titled Beyond “Words, Words, Words”: Soliloquies, the Graphic Novel, and the Great Shakespearean Divide, will be part of the “Adaptation” subject area of the conference, which deals with how adapters and adaptations are concerned with the cultural aspects of particular works as they are translated from one medium into another.

Here is the abstract that I submitted with my proposal. The paper is actually written in its entirety, and I am currently working with Dr. Peter Holland at the University of Notre Dame to explore possible venues for publication:

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The study of Shakespearean works is traditionally grounded on practices and approaches that are conceptually binary, resting on dual and at times contradictory modes of operation and interpretation: playtext and performance, linguistic and non-verbal, intentional or accidental. However, what occurs when these dichotomies fail to sustain the weight of Shakespearean works? In order to address this question, there is a particular binary that I want to focus on: source texts and adaptations. Certainly, these two “divergent” categories are invoked when graphic novel adaptations of Shakespearean works come into play. These creations bridge the chasm between performance and text by implementing the visuals and performative aspects made present in film and play performances, and combining them with the narrative pacing and the interpretive freedom provided via a static text.

The graphic novel curtails a sense of hybridity between reading and viewing, further pushing the explanatory limits that encircle Shakespeare’s dramatic works. This expansion manifests through the combination of images and words in ways that are impossible to achieve by approaching a performance or the playtext independently from one another. With this in mind, I approach a selection of soliloquies depicted in graphic novel adaptations of Hamlet using a method that I call close-decoding, which involves a meticulous look at how image and text are juxtaposed to offer an interpretation of a Shakespearean work, and how conventions unique to the comics medium serve to invoke performative aspects of the play in a static format.

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Within my paper, I explore many comics adaptations of Hamlet, including the downright awesome adaptation created by Neil Babra, and even some Manga adaptations.

Sample page from Neil Babra’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

Anyway, I am absolutely thrilled that my proposal was accepted. Washington D.C., here I come!

 

The Marble Faun

The Last of the Hybrids: The Marble Faun

I am a huge fan of breaking binaries. I think this comes to no surprise when taking into account that my interests lie primarily in areas that refuse to be categorized as either X or Y: young adult fiction, graphic novels, queerness, and digital humanities, among others. Perhaps this is why I got awfully excited when encountering Bruno Latour’s work titled We Have Never Been Modern last semester, because in essence, it strives to highlight the fact that the binaries imposed by the advent of modernity fail to endure within a world based on hybridity.

An example of this notion is the supposed division between human and machine: although culture teaches us that there is an obvious separation between organic/sentient human beings and the synthetic machine, note that there are instances in which both categories merge—thus, the distinction between what’s human and what’s a machine becomes increasingly difficult to discern. Touchscreens, for instance, depend on an organic touch. Amputees are experimenting with mechanic and bionic prosthetic limbs. The computer has even shifted the way we manage and process information (after all, why bother remembering when Google can do all the heavy work for you?).

With this in mind, when reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, I was quite struck and captivated with the eponymous statue depicted within the novel’s title. The novel makes specific reference to Praxiteles’ Resting Satyr, a sculpture that portrays a representation of the Greek human/animal hybrid, albeit one that tends to lean more towards the human side of the spectrum. In other words, the subject of Praxiteles’ sculpture does not represent a traditional satyr with a body that is half goat and half human, but rather, it portrays a nude man with pointed ears, wild hair, and a pelt made with a feline skin draping over his chest (see the image above). I thought it was particularly interesting that Hawthorne’s novel puts so much emphasis on the sense of hybridity that the faun embraces. For instance, when the artists—the main characters of the novel—first approach the marble faun, Kenyon remarks on the beauty of the statue in a fashion that verges on the realm of idolatry:

“Nature needed, and still needs, this beautiful creature; standing betwixt man and animal, sympathizing with each, comprehending the speech of either race, and interpreting the whole existence of one to the other. What a pity that he has forever vanished from the hard and dusty paths of life—unless,” added the sculptor, in a sportive whisper, “Donatello be actually he!” (Hawthorne 6)

Notice that the faun inspires awe and admiration not only because it is aesthetically impressive, but also because it embraces a moralistic and thematic idealism that Kenyon in particular is drawn to. The faun refuses to be categorized either as human or animal, and he is depicted as arbitrator between the social and the natural world. However, by pointing out that the figure of the faun has vanished from the social sphere, there is an implication that humans have lost the ability to bridge the opposing spectrums of humanity and naturalism. Kenyon proceeds to draw parallels between the marble faun and Donatello, seeing as the latter’s sense of innocence and naiveté give him an aura of purity that has yet to be tainted by the stain of human experience.

It does not take a genius to realize that Donatello is indeed the organic parallel to the marble faun. Yes, Donatello is explicitly referred to as a faun, particularly during the final chapter of the novel, in which Kenyon refers to him as “our poor Faun” (Hawthorne 291). But the parallels between Donatello and the mythical creature are deeper than we may initially deem. First and foremost, Miriam, one of Donatello’s fellow artists, makes no effort to hide the fact that she considers him to be dimwitted, naïve, and innocent. She even goes as far as to approach Donatello as an animal rather than a human being: “What a child, or what a simpleton, he is! I continually find myself treating Donatello as if he were the merest unfledged chicken” (Hawthorne 7). By approaching Donatello as an animal, he is being attributed a sense of hybridity similar to the one that the faun is known for embracing.

Donatello’s presumed innocence also depicts him as a blank canvas, to some extent. In this case, he is assumed to be no different from Praxiteles’ statue, in the sense that he deemed incapable of embracing darkness. As Miriam posits while scrutinizing the statue: “I suppose the Faun had no conscience, no remorse, no burden on the heart, no troublesome recollections of any sort; no dark future, either” (Hawthorne 6). However, it is obvious that the marble faun isn’t capable of human faculties because it is a non-living entity, which adds to the notion that Donatello isn’t a human in the traditional sense. The statue is free from darkness in both a figurative and a literal sense. It is incapable of suffering moral blemishes and it is also pristine and alabaster—free from markers of color. Note that this absence of color is also used to indicate neutrality in other 19th century American texts such as Melville’s Moby Dick, in which the whiteness of the whale reinforces its epistemological and ideological impartiality while also giving it a sense of visual salience.

I was personally drawn to the idea of Donatello/the faun as a non-modern symbol of the linkage between the natural world and the human world, but I also found it troubling that the only way to maintain a connection between these two worlds was through the embrace of innocence. Incorruptibility is paradoxical to humanity. Thus, if Donatello is the only person we encounter who has reached the age of twenty and still maintains the innocence of a child, and if he seems to be the last remaining member of “race” that has vanished, he certainly has a lot of weight on his shoulders. This, however, is what makes Donatello’s transformation in the novel’s climax so unexpected and slightly heartbreaking. He pushes the Model into the abyss, and this victim not only falls into a dark void of nothingness, but during his fall, he completely shatters the bridges of purity that were keeping the realm of the natural and the human associated.

Through the act of murder, Donatello is no longer a blank marble statue, but rather, he now carries the burden of guilt and experience—his being, or soul, is now daubed in scarlet. Donatello ostensibly comes of age with this murder, and this psychological transition into an “adult” realm carries both benefits and responsibilities. Note that this this transition is made quite vivid and overt in the novel, as evidenced by Miriam’s denotation of Donatello after his heinous deed:

She clasped her hands, and looked wildly at the young man, whose form seemed to have dilated, and whose eyes blazed with the fierce energy that had suddenly inspired him. It had kindled him into a man; it had developed within him an intelligence which was no native characteristic of the Donatello whom we have heretofore known. But that simple and joyous creature was gone forever. (Hawthorne 105).

Interestingly, although innocence is lost, intelligence is gained. Donatello is no longer the dimwitted creature that Miriam encounters at the beginning of the novel. Is Hawthorne approaching experience and intelligence as a rupturing force? Is he somehow implying that it is impossible to unite the estrangements that modernity has imposed upon us? Why did the last surviving unit of the symbolic race of fauns have to sacrifice itself? Furthermore, bear in mind that Donatello developed intelligence through sin. This then leads me to question the seemingly opposing nature of intelligence/experience and innocence. Is innocence tied with stupidity? Is it even possible to possess any degree of intellect while still holding onto goodness and virtue, particularly when innocence is so valued within society? Or does intelligence suggest the donning of our own personal scarlet letters?

Notice that despite his murderous act, Donatello very well has a piece of his “divinity” intact; however, the ending of this novel was extremely confusing and polemic because the original facilitator between the natural and human world is lost within the depths of the Castle of Saint Angelo. Perhaps humanity did lead the faun into a darker future. However, as readers, we are left to wonder whether or not Donatello had “pointed ears” or not. Was Donatello ever truly a faun, or was he approached as a non-modern mediator when he clearly didn’t possess the faculties to deal with this burden? Perhaps this is an inquiry towards the possibility of remnants of hybridity present within this modern world. I am not sure, but as always, the realm of possibility is indeed tantalizing.

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Source:

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun

Jacinto's Well (Pozo de Jacinto) in Isabela, Puerto Rico

Finding Meaning in a “Nihilistic” Ocean: A Brief Reflection on Thoreau’s “Cape Cod”

There is something about Thoreau that always pushes me to reflect deeply on my own set of experiences and memories. Reading Walden last semester was one of the highlights of my year, not only because his thoughts and opinions greatly resonate within my being, but also because this encounter with his work greatly highlighted the exciting and noteworthy results of combining empirical observations, philosophy, and the act of creative writing. Thoreau’s Cape Cod, a series of articles published posthumously (which in unison give it a novel-like quality), achieved a very similar effect to Walden despite of its so-called darker tone and seriousness. Although slightly somber and less “optimistic” (I’m not sure if this word is appropriate, but it’s the closest one I could come up with) than Walden, Cape Cod follows a similar format to the former, in which the exploration of a natural space leads to wonderful insights of the world and the human condition.

However, Cape Cod seems to delve deeper into the implications of the relationship between the human and the natural world, depicting it at times as a hybrid association, and other times as a hierarchical, power-driven liaison: humans are indeed powerless when compared to the scope and the sheer force of the natural world. This is perhaps exemplified best with the very opening of the novel, which discusses Thoreau’s encounter with the St. John shipwreck. The man-made vehicle was unable to withstand the power and impartiality of nature, and the humans who gathered around the scene in Cape Cod were helpless witnesses to this frigidity. It is in moments such as these that you truly understand the fragility and the complexities of living and thinking.

Jacinto's Well (Pozo de Jacinto) in Isabela, Puerto Rico

The chapters in Cape Cod that most stood out for me due to their discussion of the relationship between humanity and the natural world were the ones that discussed Thoreau’s experience at the beach. This, of course, is very subjective on my behalf, seeing as I grew up in an island. Beaches were consequently an integral part of my upbringing, and to be quite frank, being away from them for large periods of time while living in Indiana has affected me immensely. Above is a picture that I took of what is arguably my favorite place in the world: Jacinto’s Well, located in the town of Isabela in the island of Puerto Rico. The picture clearly doesn’t do justice to the sheer majesty and enchantment of the area: cliffs meet dunes of warm sand. Brutal waves roar and desperately try to climb the crevices within the mounds of rock. And yes, every once in a while, you may even see a sea turtle leaping from the waves into the vast blue aura of white and cerulean.

I would frequently visit this place during the night, where the majesty and grandeur of this place would increase tenfold… an open sea, an open sky, an open mind. Thoreau’s depictions of the beach vividly awakened my memories of the beach. I could smell the salt in the air. I felt the chill of encountering the blackness of the sea during a stormy night. I could feel the immense loneliness that manifests when confronting the sea one-on-one. And once again, as I recalled this set of experiences, I felt as if Thoreau were sitting right next to me, contemplating the exact same scenario, for his experiences of the beach were amazingly similar to my own. I guess that is indeed what makes good literature, is it not? Is not writing good literature the practice of aesthetically condensing experience and concatenating it with future generations?

I think I instantly connected with Thoreau when he described the opulence of the sea, especially when in contrast to the human body. The experience is almost paradoxical: as you stand in front of a stormy beach, or in front of a sea that is rough and poses the threat of danger, it is quite easy for you to feel lonely, terrified, insignificant, and impotent. Yet strangely, the combination of all of these ultimately makes you feel alive. Indeed, it is quite easy for you to delve into nihilistic thoughts and emotions during this experience, but there is an inevitable sense of connection with nature being fostered.

Indeed, we are nothing when compared to the scope of the sea, as Thoreau very well posits when he illustrates his first encounter with the Cape Cod beaches during stormy and unsettling weather: “A thousand men could not have seriously interrupted it, but would have been lost in the vastness of the scenery, as their footsteps in the sand” (28). How can this notion be comforting? How can we, as humans find comfort by feeling small and powerless? To make matters even more complicated, how about when we think of nature in an even greater scale? Are we nothing but an evanescent force within the grand scale of the universe, and have we all not sat down to contemplate that realistically speaking, we are nothing but a germ in the universal scale?

I am no psychoanalyst, but perhaps this joy, this contemplation, this awe, and this desire arises from a deep sense of wanting to belong to something bigger, to something grand. Confronting the ocean one-on-one, in this case, is no different to a religious experience or doctrine: we want to know that there is something bigger than us out there, and we want to believe that we ultimately can be part of it in one way or another. And notice that in order to achieve this union in most religious systems of belief, humans are required to die, or in more philosophical terms, the human must cease to exist. It is uncanny that in Cape Cod, Thoreau himself seems to indirectly discuss this aspect of transcendence through death via the encounter of a mangled pile of bones and flesh at the beach:

Close at hand they were simply some bones with a little flesh adhering to them […]. But as I stood there they grew more and more imposing. They were alone with the beach and the sea, whose hollow roar seemed addressed to them, and I was impressed as if there was an understanding between them and the ocean which necessarily left me out, with my sniveling sympathies. That dead body had taken possession of the shore, and reigned over it as no living one could, in the name of a certain majesty which belonged to it. (47)

There are two brief comments I want to make of this passage. Note that Thoreau states that the dead body-parts have taken possession of the shore, meaning that these dead remnants were finally able to master or take control over the power of the ocean. However, this body is no longer a living agent, so rather than assuming control over nature through traditional means, the body took an almost Emersonian route of control in which power is obtained through submission. Thus, it is almost as if Thoreau were implying that power is obtained through yielding, a very different idea to what he posited in his discussion on civil disobedience (keep in mind, however, that in “Civil Disobedience” he deals with socio-political forces whereas in Cape Cod, he deals with natural ones). Secondly, note that this encounter with the dead body alludes to an argument that Thoreau posited in the first chapter of Cape Cod titled “The Shipwreck,” in which he posits that “It is the individual and private that demands our sympathy” (8).

Unsurprisingly, Thoreau’s encounter with a single body (or arguably, a bone) affected him more than his encounter with an entire group of people who passed away on the shipwreck. Although I am not entirely clear as to why the individual and the private invokes more sympathy, it can be argued that this sympathy alludes to the value of individualistic experience as a form of transcendence. Seeing as death is perhaps the loneliest of processes, and seeing as the ocean invokes individualistic musings, perhaps Thoreau is intentionally trying to bridge the similarities between a humanistic and a natural experience, therefore continuing to challenge and complicate the circulation of power and control between the human and the natural world.

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Source:

Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod (Digireads edition)

Earth

I Want to Believe: The Perpetual Circularity of Truth and Power

We are told that everything has a beginning and an end. This, of course, is due to the fact that the human mind is constructed to perceive the world through temporality and linearity. However, as Emerson posits, perhaps the reason why the human mind is unable to pinpoint the beginning and the end of the cosmos, or nature, is precisely because these entities refuse to fit within the conceptual framework of human time: “This knot of nature is so well tied, that nobody was ever cunning enough to find the two ends. Nature is intricate, overlapped, interweaved, and endless” (“Fate” 273). Within the concept of nature, everything and nothing is knotted into this “object.”

Everything is connected. Everything is infinite. What a beautifully tantalizing thought. Humans are nothing but a twisted node amassed within the universal rhizome (a la Deleuze and Guattari), which has no beginning and no end. The notion of the cosmos having no end may seem extremely questionable, especially since it is surprisingly easy for humans to envision the end of our contemporary world. Hurricanes, earthquakes, disease, doomsday predictions for December 2012—needless to say, we are obsessed with identifying the conclusion to anything that is introduced. But even if a doomsday were to arrive, and most of or all living creatures were wiped out from the face of the earth, “time” would continue to move on, and the factory of the world will continue its production: “Our Copernican globe is a great factory or shop of power, with its rotating constellations, times, and tides, bringing now the day of planting, then of reaping, then of curing and storing; bringing now water-force, then wind, then caloric, and such magazine of chemicals in its laboratory” (Emerson, “Perpetual Forces” 289).

Earth is a flawless machine and generator, capable of efficiently and effectively maintaining order, balance, and regeneration in the cosmos. And humans, although nothing but a node within this rhizome, have the power and the will to shift and readjust the roots within this metaphorical entanglement. Think about it. Every day, there is something threatening us. The world, although self-sufficient, is definitely not our friend—the elements of nature our constantly against us, and as seen with recent events such as hurricane Sandy, even the greatest of human powers, such as the social nexus of New York city, are impotent against the will of the world. But as Emerson posits, the will of humanity can be considered even stronger than the cold-hearted power of nature:

Now it is curious to see how a creature so feeble and vulnerable as a man, who unarmed, is no match for the wild beasts, crocodile or tiger—none for the frost, none for the sea, none for the fire, none for a fog, or a damp air, or the feeble fork of a poor worm […]—and yet this delicate frame is able to subdue to his will these terrific forces, and more than these. (“Perpetual Forces” 293)

Despite adversity, despite heartache, despite disaster, humanity continues to find a way to thrive in a universe that is designed to clash against us. The will of humanity is as infinite as the perpetual forces that shape and provide balance to this world.

These were the ideas that resonated within my mind when delving into Emerson’s essay titled “Fate” (from The Conduct of Life), his 1862 lecture “Perpetual Forces,” and a brief snippet of Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s discussion of “The Sympathy of Religions.” And to be honest, these discussions not only resonated within my own belief system, but they ultimately shifted my original views towards Emerson; better said, they absolutely saved Emerson. Within these two Emerson readings, we are able to appreciate the transformation of a man who believed in God and traditional religion as the center of the moral universe, into a being capable of practicing his own “true” religion based on the triumvirate of a self-sufficient cosmos (i.e. nature), the transformative power of human beings (i.e. will), and perpetual forces (i.e. God, or a supreme overseeing force). But even more so, we see the emergence of a man who bases his beliefs and morality on the virtues of optimism, righteousness, evidence, and circularity.

Emerson’s view of power as a circulatory force is what made his own transformation so impressionable. No longer is humanity portrayed as a powerless and indefensible entity that is completely subdued to higher forces, but rather, the collective human will is viewed as a perpetual force of its own, equal, if not superior, to the forces of nature itself: “No power, no persuasion, no bribe shall make him give up his point. A man ought to compare advantageously with a river, an oak, or a mountain. He shall have not less the flow, the expansion, and the resistance of these” (Emerson, “Fate” 269). However, we must keep in mind that Emerson is not naïve when approaching the power of will, for although it possesses the ability to perpetuate the survival of mankind, it also has the power to ultimately destroy us if contained. As he points out with his discussion of the human genius, true intellect “must not only receive all, but it must render all. And the health of man is an equality of inlet and outlet, gathering and giving. Any hoarding is tumor and disease” (“Perpetual Forces” 295).

Human will and virtue may be considered perpetual forces as long as they engage with the circuitous flow that nature itself follows. If knowledge and will is self-contained within the individual, then this knowledge will fade from the face of the earth with death. Indeed, water is “infinite,” but that’s because it aims at self-purification and it follows a cyclical process. If water refused to evaporate or precipitate, the world would in no way be as perpetual as we deem it to be. Circularity is necessary for survival and existence. An avoidance of circularity is simply an imposition of the linear ideologies that haunt the human mind.

When it comes down to it, the notion of earth, the cosmos, and humanity being endless is indeed ideological, and it may be a completely misconstrued set of ideas. Our ideas are based on what we feel and experience. David Hume once posited that just because the sun rises every day, it does not imply that it will rise tomorrow. However, based on Emerson’s musings, I would like to posit the following: is there any harm in believing that the sun will always rise? Is there any harm in believing in the infinite power of human will or the perpetual forces of the cosmos, even if one day they may fail?

As idealistic as it may sound, we need these beliefs. We need something to rely on, even if it may not be true. I need to believe in the circularity of human knowledge, and the naïve notion that human power has no end. I need to believe that there will be a tomorrow, even when I am not around, and even if there is no life left on earth. I need to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. Yes, these notions are quite idealistic and almost Utopian, which gives reason enough to doubt them and ultimately discredit them. Despite their idealistic appeal, however, there is something completely comforting about the idea of a self-sustaining cosmos with meaning and purpose that can be transformed and metamorphosed with the enduring will of humanity.

True, this alludes to the false illusion that humans are in complete control of their destiny or their fate, while in turn eliminating the possibility for total predetermination. And although I can’t fully substantiate the reasons why these seemingly unsettling ideas provide comfort, and although I can’t offer evidence to back up these claims, I feel it to be true. Is this faith? Yes. It is belief without concrete evidence. Is this religion? Arguably so… it is a set of abstract principles based on my intuition of powers beyond my control. Perhaps, I am finding religion… a true religion, as Higginson would posit, unhinged from tradition or fact.

I want to believe. I need to believe.

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Sources:

Emerson’s Prose and Poetry

The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson – Volume 2

The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings

Image courtesy of xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net