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Reviews193 Despite the fact that this is a very flawed book, one has to bear in mind diat Barratt is an independent clinician trying to apply French philosophy to his own practice. He would like for us to understand that the Freudian unconscious is relevant to an understanding ofeven postmodern discourse where the question of agency cannot be entirely depsychologized into a rhetoric of subject positions, constructed subjectivities, and sexual masquerade. That the unconscious is notjust a myth, as Foucault would have liked us to believe, is a cause still worth fighting for. University of IowaHerman Rapaport Emerson's Pragmatic Vision: The Dance ofthe Eye, by David Jacobson; 208 pp. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993, $35.00. DavidJacobson's Emerson's Pragmatic Vision reflects a growing willingness on the part of literary scholars, if not philosophers, to take Emerson seriously as a philosopher. Engaging issues usually associated with poststructuralism and other related "post-Philosophical" investigations, Jacobson reads Emerson along a developmental trajectory: the early "humanist synthesis" of the period between Nature (1836) and Essays: First Series (1841) gives way to the "transitional " antihumanism (as reflected in "The Method of Nature" [1841] and Essays: Second Series [1844]) that in turn opens to the late understanding of "fatal conduct" and power articulated in Conduct ofLife (1860). The exposition of the early humanist period is strong if familiar, and Jacobson is to be admired for always seeking to underscore the richness, or "eloquence," of Emerson's synthesis rather than merely expose it from the point ofview of the later, more radically pragmatic vision, which he appears to endorse. He describes the development in Emerson's career as a movement beyond a metaphysics of presence and into a pragmatic vision predicated on the contingency of all experience, including the experience of selfhood. If the "transitional," antihumanist phase is marked both by a pessimism that stopsjust this side of despair and by a lingering nostalgia for the spiritual coherence that characterized the earlier phase, the late phase is distinguished by a concern for the basis of conduct in a radically decentered, dehumanized universe. For many not versed in the best recent Emerson scholarship—in, for example, the work of Richard Poirier and Stanley Cavell—this could well come as a surprise, given the persistent image of Emerson as the American Prophet of Individualism , an image at odds with everything that is most challenging in Emerson's prose. Jacobson answers that challenge, managing to do justice to Emerson's 194Philosophy and Literature initially liberating sense of self-reliance as a form of "radical humanism" while also tracing the course of his disillusion widi any such "spirited" solution. Emerson's status as a pragmatist is presendy in dispute: scholars cannot even seem to agree ifhe was one. By linking Emerson with two philosophers who will strike many readers as unlikely pragmatists, Nietzsche and Heidegger,Jacobson will expand that debate in productive ways. Unfortunately, this may not be immediately apparent to many readers, primarily because Jacobson uses the word "pragmatism" without accounting for it, as ifwe all know what that means. Neither William James nor C. S. Peirce is even once mentioned, and Dewey is reduced to a single cameo citation, leaving the sense of "the tradition of American pragmatism" (p. 169) thatJacobson invokes somewhat diminished. More relevant to whatJacobson does accomplish here is my sense that too much is being pinned on the single essay "Fate" in the construction of Emerson's late philosophical posture, a problem exacerbated by the sheer cleverness of the distinction, attributed to that essay, between "fate" and "nature." The descriptions of the "transitional" (I would just call it "middle") and late phases are the most provocative sections of this book, but the treatment of the late phase has the air of the merely technical solution about it, quite unlike the wonderfully detailed reading of "Experience" that culminates the treatment of the middle phase. I also remain unconvinced that Emerson's three phases can be so neatly separated: during his early peak, Emerson often displays a keen skepticism regarding the very terms of his humanist synthesis (this is often apparent in "Self-Reliance"), and he remains susceptible to the same mutually...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 193-194
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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