Transcendental Afterlives

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

We have already seen some ways Whitman and Emerson live on in commercials.

Consider the recent film “Tree of Life” by the director/writer Terence Malick. It strikes me as filled with a transcendentalism that echoes with Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson–right down to an interest (as far as I can tell) in Emerson’s idea of the radical correspondences between spirit and matter, mind and world. This makes it alternately beautiful  to watch and difficult to grasp. It is out on DVD, and at least worth a look over the winter break. Here is a review of the film in The New Yorker that compares watching the movie to reading Emerson’s “Over-Soul.” Another review that directly links the director and this film to Emerson and transcendentalism, and yet another; another that links specifically to Emerson’s vision of “History.; another. As you can see, Emerson seems to live on through the lens of this screen writer and director–one who studied philosophy at Harvard (with the Emersonian Stanley Cavell, in Emerson Hall, no less) before giving it up to go into film.

Consider also a project by a poet, translating Emily Dickinson’s poems (apparently all of them) from English into English. The project is described in this recent article in the Chronicle.


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