Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

Sincere thanks go to many people in the making of this book: My colleagues at Colorado State University: Ann Gill, dean (2005–2016) of the College of Liberal Arts; Pattie Cowell, Dan Beachy-­Quick, and Louann Reid in the Department of English; Greg Dickinson, chair of Colorado State’s Communication Studies Department; my graduate students in fall 2012’s e630 “American Transcendentalism”: Matt Bradley, Aaron Carlile, Neil Fitzpatrick, Maurice Irvin, Bryan Johnson, Robert Laurie, Neely O’Connor, Susan Ring de...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

This book emerged from reflection on three classic moments in the annals of American transcendentalism. The first is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s often-­quoted passage in “Self-­Reliance”: “On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested— ‘But these impulses may be from below, not from above.’ I replied, ‘They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil.’”1 The second is Henry Thoreau’s deathbed exchange with his Aunt Louisa:...

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ONE } Transcendentalism and the Secular Turn

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pp. 11-37

In 1950, Perry Miller observed that, at root, American transcendentalism was a “religious demonstration,” an expression of “religious radicalism in revolt against a rational conservatism” and “a protest of the human spirit against emotional starvation.” Transcendentalism, he wrote, is best understood as having an “inherently religious character,” rather than being seen as primarily a literary movement. What was being demonstrated was a protest against the Unitarian marriage of liberal Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism,...

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TWO } Transcendentalism in the Postwar Years

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pp. 38-60

From its very beginning, transcendentalism has been a contested site. What was it, and what to call it? “Transcendentalism,” after Kant’s transcendental philosophy? “The Newness,” or “the Party of Hope,” as the transcendentalists themselves suggested? A new system, or the restatement of old ideas and aspirations? Its opponent Andrews Norton called transcendentalism a “new school” populated by “silly women . . . and silly young men,” and Orestes Brownson saw it as the logical consequence of Protestantism in upholding the right of private judgment.1 Even in 1861, when red-­hot abolitionists and...

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THREE } Gender, Reform, and Ridicule

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pp. 61-82

The reporters exaggerated the seriocomic qualities of the Concord School to make their stories appealing to editors and readers, even when they weren’t mocking its philosophical pretensions: Elizabeth Peabody dozing during lectures, suddenly awakening as her papers and handbag went flying; Tom Davidson’s glass slides projected onto the white dresses of his young viewers, causing a little frisson of excitement among the young men. If they had known about it, they might also have observed Frank Sanborn seething as Harris muscled his way into the premier leadership role of the school, to say nothing of moving into the Alcott house itself....

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FOUR } Charles Ives: Sound

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pp. 83-114

Secularity in the Euro-­American transcendentalist version is not a process of subtraction, taking away the religious residue and embracing the worldly core; it is not an inevitable process of desacralizing that accompanies urban and industrial/postindustrial life; it is not universally hailed as liberation from clerical oppression. Rather, secularity involves a complicated dialectic between the claims of present material existence, especially the drive for human fulfillment in the here and now, and the competing sense that there are other authoritative claims than those deriving from human beings, other sources of...

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FIVE } Joseph Cornell: Things

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pp. 115-142

In April 1943, Joseph Cornell began an eight-­month stint working at Allied Control Company in Long Island City, Queens, testing radios for fifty-­five cents an hour. Just four months earlier, his artwork had been displayed in a three-­person show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, along with works by Marcel Duchamp and Laurence Vail, Guggenheim’s ex‑husband. The new works Cornell chose to exhibit—Medici Slot Machine, Setting for a Fairy Tale, and Untitled (Pharmacy)—are now considered outstanding examples of his assemblage art, but contemporary critics were mixed in their reviews. One called...

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SIX } Truman Nelson: Rage

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pp. 143-172

From the mid-­1830s to the start of the Civil War, transcendentalist writers and reformers were regularly lambasted as atheists, cranks, free‑ thinkers, and radicals. Often maligned in their own time, theirs is precisely the tradition that mid-­twentieth-­century working-­class novelist and polemicist Truman Nelson would vigorously embrace. Nelson, champion of John Brown’s activism and the social critiques of Henry Thoreau, saw in nineteenth-­century transcendentalism an American tradition of radical cultural criticism reborn in the mid-­twentieth century. Nelson’s work illustrates the way many Americans...

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SEVEN } Beston, Oliver, Dillard, and Fluid Transcendentalism

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pp. 173-196

When we think of the effects of the transcendentalist movement in the decades since the mid-­nineteenth century, perhaps the most obvious one has to do with encouraging a less alienated and more immersive relationship with the more-­than-­human natural world. This is not because all the individuals associated with transcendentalism wrote about or experimented with living close to natural environments, nor did they foreswear the tools of the modern age. In fact, transcendentalists depended on printing presses, newspapers,...

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Epilogue

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pp. 197-202

In 1999, historian and biographer Charles Capper offered a survey of the historiography of transcendentalism and a thoughtful set of suggestions for scholars and students of the movement. Capper’s essay is marked by the claim that transcendentalism, “once a mainstay of surveys of American thought, has virtually vanished from the historical radar screen” and “entered into a long eclipse.” A series of historians and literary critics once saw in the nineteenth-century movement a kind of refinement and condensation of “American” values and traits, which “Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in the decade of the movement’s...

Notes

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pp. 203-222

Bibliography

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pp. 223-240

Index

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pp. 241-247