Posts Tagged ‘ Emerson ’

Envy is Ignorance

This is more of Emerson. He has his romantic excesses, but it is hard to quarrel with this:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power that resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

James Hans explains:

Emerson assumes here that the great obstacles in the way of the individual are envy and a consequent desire to imitate the one who is envied. We find our own position in the world to be lacking, so we seek to imitate another person who seems to be much more in control of the flows of his life. In so doing, we think, we will be able to achieve the kind of autonomy we desire and perceive in another. For Emerson, this is a view based on ignorance because it lacks an understanding of the nature of human individuality in its strengths and weaknesses. It fails to see that the good life is predicated on accepting precisely that which most of us are loath to embrace: ourselves.

My grandmother, for example, was a struggling writer, determined to write a great novel – without the talent to do so. She would study writers who were successful and try to imitate them. All she got for her efforts were a large collection of rejection slips.

But she was a success at a different kind of writing: homilies for offering envelopes, and supported her family throughout the Depression by writing them. Unfortunately, none of them have survived.

Emerson on the Essential Self

As I said before, I am reading The Site of Our Lives, by James S Hans. He quotes Emerson on page 45:

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the member agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realilties and creators, but names and customs.