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!
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.