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Transcendentalism

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  • 1. American Transcendentalism “ It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, always do what you are afraid to do.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson 1
  • 2. What does “transcendentalism” mean? • There is an ideal spiritual state which “transcends” the physical and empirical. • A loose collection of eclectic ideas about literature, philosophy, religion, social reform, and the general state of American culture. • Transcendentalism had different meanings for each person involved in the movement.
  • 3. Transcendentalism • Relationship between man and nature. Heightened awareness of this relationship would cause a “reformation” of society away from materialism and corruption. 3 3
  • 4. Transcendentalism • A literary movement that established a clear “American voice”. • Emerson first expressed his philosophy in his essay “Nature”. • A belief in a higher reality than that achieved by human reasoning. • Suggests that every individual is capable of discovering this higher truth through intuition. 4
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  • 7. Where did it come from? • Ralph Waldo Emerson gave German philosopher Immanuel Kant credit for popularizing the term “transcendentalism.” • It began as a reform movement in the Unitarian church. • It is not a religion—more accurately, it is a philosophy or form of spirituality. • It centered around Boston and Concord, MA. in the mid-1800’s.
  • 8. What did Transcendentalists believe? The intuitive faculty, instead of the rational or sensical, became the means for a conscious union of the individual psyche (known in Sanskrit as Atman) with the world psyche also known as the Oversoul, life-force, prime mover and God (known in Sanskrit as Brahma).
  • 9. Basic Premise #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.
  • 10. Basic Premise #2 The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self—all knowledge, therefore, begins with selfknowledge. This is similar to Aristotle's dictum "know thyself."
  • 11. Basic Premise #3 Transcendentalists accepted the concept of nature as a living mystery, full of signs; nature is symbolic.
  • 12. Basic Premise #4 The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-realization —this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies: 1. The desire to embrace the whole world— to know and become one with the world. 2. The desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate—an egotistical existence.
  • 13. Transcendentalism • Believed in living close to nature/importance of nature. Nature is the source of truth and inspiration. • Taught the dignity of manual labor • Advocated self-trust/ confidence • Valued individuality/non-conformity/free thought • Advocated self-reliance/ simplicity 13
  • 14. Ralph Waldo Emerson • • • • 1803-1882 Unitarian minister Poet and essayist Founded the Transcendental Club • Popular lecturer • Banned from Harvard for 40 years following his Divinity School address • Supporter of abolitionism
  • 15. “Self-reliance” -Emerson • “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think…” • “…to be great is to be misunderstood” 15
  • 16. Henry David Thoreau • 1817-1862 • Schoolteacher, essayist, poet • Most famous for Walden and Civil Disobedience • Influenced environmental movement • Supporter of abolitionism
  • 17. “Nature” • Thoreau began “essential” living • Built a cabin on land owned to Emerson in Concord, Mass. near Walden Pond • Lived alone there • for two years studying • nature and seeking • truth within himself 17
  • 18. “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it has to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 18
  • 19. “Still we live meanly like ants.” “Our life is frittered away by detail.” “Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?” “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I say, let your affairs be as two or three and not a hundred or a thousand.” 19
  • 20. Walden Individuality • The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! 20
  • 21. • “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.” 21
  • 22. “Civil Disobedience” • Thoreau’s essay urging passive, nonviolent resistance to governmental policies to which an individual is morally opposed. • Influenced individuals such a Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez 22
  • 23. Amos Bronson Alcott • 1799-1888 • Teacher and writer • Founder of Temple School and Fruitlands • Introduced art, music, P.E., nature study, and field trips; banished corporal punishment • Father of novelist Louisa May Alcott
  • 24. Margaret Fuller • 1810-1850 • Journalist, critic, women’s rights activist • First editor of The Dial, a transcendental journal • First female journalist to work on a major newspaper—The New York Tribune • Taught at Alcott’s Temple School
  • 25. Ellery Channing • 1818-1901 • Poet and especially close friend of Thoreau • Published the first biography of Thoreau in 1873—Thoreau, The Poet-Naturalist
  • 26. Resources • American Transcendental Web: http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/index.html • American Transcendentalism: http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm • PAL: Chapter Four http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap4/4intro.html