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The Metempsychotic Mind: Emerson and Consciousness

From: Journal of the History of Ideas
Volume 71, Number 3, July 2010
pp. 433-455 | 10.1353/jhi.0.0088



This article argues that Ralph Waldo Emerson employs metempsychosis (reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul into successive bodies) as a figurative template for human consciousness. Mapping various traditions from Hinduism, Pythagoreanism, Platonism, and Neoplatonism onto the vastness of the geological and biological records, Emerson translates metaphysics for modernity: he depicts the soul's journey through the chronological sequence of history as a poetic process that culminates in a tenuous form of self-knowledge.

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