Abstract

Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1870-71 lecture series Natural History of Intellect revisits subjects that were crucial to Emerson throughout his career: the relationship between the body and the mind, the resulting nature of consciousness, the capacity of texts to transmit an inviolate intentionality. And yet, the lecture series formed as Emerson's experience of memory loss became profound, and so registers its author's changing patterns of cognition: his shifting protocols for producing and delivering text, for instance, and his increasing reliance upon his daughter, Ellen Tucker Emerson (who attended lectures in order to prompt Emerson as he faltered, and who eventually re-shaped Emerson's manuscript materials themselves). Entering into conversation with other readers who challenge an account of Emerson's thought that enshrines individualism to the exclusion of more communal dimensions of transcendentalism, I contend that Natural History of Intellect theorizes the terms of Emerson's collaboration with Ellen in ways that break with his earlier tendency to lionize insular consciousness and to isolate the body from the mind, offering instead an account of first-person thought that is always interpenetrated with the thinking of other people.

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-7438
Print ISSN
2166-742X
Pages
pp. 267-292
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-28
Open Access
No
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