Friday, February 12, 2010

Self Reliance

I have a personal narrative I'd like to share:

During my sophomore year of high school we tested for the AP English program, which I was eager to join, because of my life long passion for literature and English. This was the natural progression of classes that I would take on my pursuit towards English-ness as a professional writer and educator. As it stands, due to what I was later told as a matter of politics (some b***h's parent's bought her MY seat in the class) I did not make the AP English track at PSHS. Oh well.

So here I was, jaded to be in the general English class, which was a series of half year courses: drama, Am Lit, Brit Lit and Comp. It was the first week of junior year when I would start these unexclusive, non-elite courses. I was so removed from the program, I even forgot to register the class. So to say, I didn't even enter American Lit with Mr Daley until the second week of school.

Let's fast forward two years: I am getting ready to leave for Otterbein one warm September afternoon when I find a package in the mail, a parting gift from Mr Daley. I tear open the box to find a journal, plenty of letters of well wishes and a novel, I am reminded of the most striking educator I came across during my four years in High School. One of the most perfect moments in his teaching I will never forget, is on the Transcendental movement, which was, strangely enough, was on my first day of class.

I told you that story to tell you this, the Transcendental authors are important to me.

"What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what other people think," is such a fantastic quote to begin my discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, 'Self Reliance." I think this is the spirit he embodies in the very writing of this text. After all, what today isn't all about 'believing in yourself?' Look at things like High School Musical, almost cramming a very Emerson-ish theme down the throats of young viewers; this might lead readers today to thinking, whatever Ralph, I'm the only thing I need, and I know it. But Emerson wrote this over a century ago. Hot damn.

If we take a look at the course as a whole and consider that until now, the American spirit has been one of repression behind the forces of a mighty god, you can see how revolutionary and romantic Emerson's ideas really were.

Pit this text against something Cotton Mather might preach from his pulpit: You need god for salvation, you need god for forgiveness and happiness and protection, whereas Emerson reminds us to "Trust thyself, every heart reverberates to that iron string." This is such an optimistic and empowering idea. The idea that our very introspective person holds the "oversoul," or whatever otherworldly supernatural power you chose to believe in, is incredible!

The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency. Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions.

I like this quote to, and its good for both the point of Self Reliance, and my conversation. I mean, you can only say it in so many ways, trust in yourself. This quote you will often find in support of students going off to college, its sort of the Oh the Places You Will Go in essay form.

This is sort of your punk rock interlude. Why? Because Ralph Waldo Emerson was a bloody punk rocker, and didn't even know it.

"Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist."
"I am an anti-Christ, I am an anarchist."

One could easily say that Emerson's message of nonconformity, like his not so subtle heavy handed rhetorical lines: "Society everywhere is in conspiracy with the manhood of every one of its members," or "Travel is fool's paradise." Emerson is so totally over society. Just maybe not in a Johnny Rotten kind of way.

See: "Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not."

To sort of wrap up, Emerson was a really spiritual man. His writing reflected both his spirituality of religion and faith, as well as his intimacy with nature; albeit much less then writing to come like Waldon. His connection and ability to tap into this spirituality is what makes him such a fantastic and remarkable writer. The final passage I will leave you with, is what I believe to be some of the most beautiful writing to come out of Early American Literature.

"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."

It is this passage, I believe, that helped me elevate to a level of self satisfaction, where I could just enjoy learning, wether it was general American Lit, or AP English. Moreover, this passage was sort of a confirmation block that no matter would, I would end up doing what I had always wanted to and loved doing:


1 comment:

  1. I loved your personal story, Tony. And looks to me like you didn't need AP English after are a great writer!

    You must know tons of bands, because you always have the perfect song to sum up the week. I think you hit the nail on the head with what Emerson is trying to get across...just don't conform. bingo. great quotes, too!