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Transcendentalist Aesthetics and Patterns of Consciousness INDER NATH KHER Lawrence Buell. Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Renaissance. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1973. 336pp. James McIntosh. Thoreau As Romantic Naturalist: His Shifting Stance toward Nature. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1974. 310pp. New England transcendentalism is largely a psychological phenomenon embodying epistemological, philosophical, religious, social, and aesthetic considerations . Epistemologically, it rebels against complete reliance on sense experience ,and defends intuition or imagination as a vital source of apprehension of truth or reality. Philosophically, it stands for creative idealism as fundamental to thediscovery of the meaning of the whole of creation. Religiously, it typifies the conceptof an organic universe in which Nature is ripe with an immanent God, in which man and woman partake of the divinity of their Creator, and in which miraclesseem possible. Socially, it insists on individualism, on individual moral insights and culture, on the potentialities of individual lives, and on the uniqueness of each person. It does not celebrate "the omnipotence of God but the limitless possibilities of the self," as Norman Foerster puts it. 1 Aesthetically, it encourages freedom and spontaneity in matters of expression and creativity. As a psychological or spiritual force, transcendentalism invigorates the inner life of the self; it generates that love or consciousness which helps us to come to terms withthe disturbing polarities of life; above all, it reminds men and women of the existential imperative to become their true and particular selves. Lawrence Buell recognizes most of these features of American transcendentalism in his fine study of the transcendentalist aesthetics. Buell's book is not a history of the transcendentalist movement in America, nor is it a study of the sources, native or foreign, which led to the flowering of transcendentalism, though he mentions some of them: the religious ferment of the first half of the nineteenth century, discontent with Unitarian epistemology and the Lockean psychology, and post-Kantian thought, as interpreted by Goethe, Carlyle, and Coleridge (p. 4). His main concern is with the transcendentalists ' style of aesthetics, and he takes "a literary approach toward what the transcendentalists had to say about the issues which preoccupied them" (p. 9). Buell states his intentions and describes his methods with perfect clarity: "through a combination of intellectual history, critical explication, and genre study, the book undertakes to outline the nature and evolution of the transcendentalists ' characteristic literary aims and approaches, and the ways in which THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 2, FALL 1975 these express the authors' underlying principles or vision" (p. 2). The result isa beautifully organized discussion of the style and vision of transcendentalists such as Bronson Alcott, Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller , Theodore Parker, Henry David Thoreau, Jones Very, and Walt Whitman. Integral to the study of transcendentalist rhetoric and vision is Buell's account of various generic traditions and their relevance and application to transcendentalist writing. The genres and subgenres which Buell examines rather comprehensively are: the conversation, the essay, the sermon, the literary travelogue or excursion, the catalogue, the diary, and the autobiography. Transcendentalist aesthetics is extremely self-oriented; it proposes an existentialist dialogue between man and spirit, man and nature, and man and society. In its religious aspect, it is deeply concerned with the problems of man's fulfillment and salvation in the now and here of time and space. Its mystical and creative strategies are this-worldly, and hence its contemporary significance. It does not recognize any distinction between art and life, style and vision, form and content , and it views a creative person, one who has gifts of intuition or imagination , with ultimate esteem. In its literary dimension, it inspires a non-linear or metaphoric use of language, what Buell calls "a rhetoric of inspiration" (p. 57). Transcendentalist aesthetics implies a god-like role for the man of letters insofar as he enacts the mystery of creation through his own artistic vision and verbal icons. The transcendentalists, particularly Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman , viewed their literary role as that of the poet-priest and their literary voiceas that of the prophet. The transcendentalist sayings or utterances are not to be taken as literal truths...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 205-209
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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