Class Notes

This page offers an outline and notes for what we will be doing in class, during lecture, discussions and workshops. You can refer to this outline should you miss a class (to see what we worked on); it also makes sense to refer back to it when doing your writing–since all the writing we do in the course relates back to what we read, talk about, and work on in class workshops and discussions. In the spirit of Emerson,  I like to keep the ideas in the course in process; we will rarely, if I have my way, completely finish a text or an idea at the end of one class. So, these class notes can be useful to track where I was planning to go–before the curve became a parabola.

For updates on assignments and due dates, refer to the Assignments page. You should also check in with my blog post for the week. 


All assignments are due in class unless otherwise indicated; the items listed under “Consider” are suggestions for your thinking and responding, but not required.

Emerson’s School: Introduction

M 8/31/15

  • Due: First Class. Read the short “Introduction” to Buell’s Emerson before the first class. Also, look through the syllabus and other course materials available on my Transcendentalism Course Blog:
  • Key Questions: Where do we find ourselves?
    1. Note course focus, objectives and medium (resources on blog):
      1. note card: What you are doing here (origin, areas of interest)? What do you want to learn and work on as a scholar? What are your interests in Transcendentalism, in Emerson, in developing your craft as a reader and writer? What ideas (and skills) related to a possible SCE project might you want to work on?
    2. What I’m doing here: my Emerson projects. Focused around Emerson, liberal education.
    3. Excerpt from Emerson’s journal: “systems”
      1. What do we begin to see about what Emerson is doing here? How he thinks? What can we expect from such a thinker, writer? Complications?
      2. Preview: take this into “American Scholar”

W 9/2

  • Due: Emerson, “The American Scholar”
  • Consider: Emerson’s perspective on learning and his definition of the scholar.
  • Key Questions: How does his view (and his criticism of schools) compare to your experience? What is your sense of what he means by “creative reading”? These questions are suggestions to spur some of your annotation and our discussion in class.
    1. Blogging Assignment–preview (due next Friday); model for a kind of Emersonian method of creative reading–moving from close reading of text to notebook to focus in shorter to longer essay.
      1. Think of it in three parts: hearing the text, keywords, some basic summary (if possible), indexing the text (notes, quotations); noticing something in a passage–moving toward connections with other passages in the text, in other texts (threads or tensions that emerge); wondering–moving forward, where you might go with this, what’s next, what questions do you have
      2. close reading warm up: go back and ‘index’ one or two keywords and a key passage from American Scholar–what do you hear, what gets your attention? what’s the langauge [world in drop of dew]
    2. American Scholar
      1. Summary: some basic context. The argument of the address: an argument for ‘creative reading’ as crucial to the work of the scholar (and needed for America). Why needed? 
      2. Close Reading: what do we notice in Emerson’s development of this argument for, and example of, creative reading?
        1. some focal points: which passages caught your attention, and why? Pay attention to Emerson’s verbs as well as nouns: an activity he is emphasizing, performing. [a key resource: OED]
        2. keywords/concept: analogy; creative reading 
        3. p. 67: the philosophy of the street–the common, the near, the low. 
      3. Further Reading: what are the implications for this vision of writing/reading (for a criticism and thinking that is as creative as creative writing) for how Emerson writes (primarily, critical nonfiction) and how we as critics/scholars read him?
        1. link to ‘no system’, the circle: circular power returning to itself (57)
        2. will require patience–one reason I use the blog for notes and to follow up thoughts, to help make sense after class, won’t always come during.
        3. Buell can also help us, extending and complicating with critical perspective

F 9/4

  • Due: Buell, chapter 1: “The Making of a Public Intellectual”
  • Critical Strategies–using Buell. Identify some key contexts and concepts (think keywords) that Buell introduces that we can focus on in studying Emerson, and can begin to connect to our initial discussion and reading this week. What does “public intellectual” mean—and in what ways does Emerson represent this? Begin to apply an idea, insight, or concept from Buell to extend your reading of Emerson from this week.
    1. Notebook: extending Buell
      1. identify a passage from Buell that offers some insight, an idea. Summarize/quote–then extend by applying it back to something from American Scholar
      2. put into conversation with another
      3. focal point: Emerson’s composing process/significance of the rhetorical context of his work (p. 24-25)
    2. Further reading: Divinity School–how does this extend/expand ideas from American Scholar? what’s new here?

Part One: Philosophy


M 9/7

  • Due: Emerson, Nature: read closely, slowly, take note, re-read.
  • Consider: This essay is both philosophy and literature. Identify one or two key elements of its philosophy—ideas that it presents. Then identify one or two elements that make this essay also literary. Do the philosophical and literary features of the text conflict or correlate?
    1. Reading Circles–introduce (start Wednesday)
      1. practice for today: each share a passage that interests you but is difficult, maybe ‘wild’ or unfamiliar or ‘uncontained’ or ‘occult’ (without circumference)–seems new, in need of some further reading–in some way need some help with. Help each other–and make note of some of the words/images (the rhetoric and poetics) he uses in these passages that may and may not make sense.
      2. From each reading circle: sample of a ‘wild’ or hidden or difficult passage–and some of the words you noted in rereading it.
        1. why the difficulty?
    2. Emerson’s ‘theory of nature’: set up simply (as a good argument is)–but an argument about needing to read/view/see Nature as more complex than we typically view it: “superficial seeing” (29)
      1. focal point #1: the transparent eye-ball. Re-read together.
        1. emerging view of correspondence, of the vision of analogy that he discusses particularly in “Language”
      2. focal point #2: language–the link between the material and the metaphysical: natural and supernatural history (35)
        1. key lesson: piercing rotten diction.
        2. think OED, to track and delve into some of his key words: occult, nature

W 9/9

Due: Emerson, “The Method of Nature” (Group 1); “Compensation” (Group 2)

Consider: Further reading into how Emerson thinks of nature as a system, as relation.

  1. Reading Circles: 10 minute conversation. First, Second, Third Circles
  2. Report back.
  3. Intersections/Relations; Interference (differences)
  4. Further circles back to Nature and “American Scholar”

F 9/11

  • Due: Emerson, “Circles” + Blog
  • Consider: Your blog post should respond to the reading from this week: primarily Nature, but also making effective connections to the further reading from Wednesday and the critical reading due  last Friday (back to Buell’s first chapter). This is where we practice the rhetorical elements of coming to terms with Emerson and forwarding and countering other perspectives that we will develop in the writing projects.
  1. Check-in (note card):
    1. An idea/image/passage in Emerson thus far you are grasping [perhaps explored in blog];
    2. and one or two that is eluding your grasp still
    3. question, something for us to spend more time with–from any of the reading thus far
  2. Blog report: what are we grasping thus far, able to do some extended (if still initial) reading? For project 1 (Emersonian philosophy), what might you do with this, where go further?
  3. What is eluding our grasp (too much parabola)?
  4. Relations, insights from “Circles”: new and old keywords and concepts.
    1. If we think of this as a philosophy (and a rhetoric, and a poetics) for understanding the way Emerson thinks and writes, what can we learn from “Circles”?



M 9/14

  • Due: Emerson, “Self-Reliance”
  • Consider: What’s you initial sense of what “genius” means in Emerson? This essay is conventionally viewed/criticized as a founding document of egocentricity in American culture—the self at the center of the world. How do you read it?
  1. Conventional reading: Emerson and the American Ego
    1. what supports that reading in the essay?–identify a passage and the language/imagery that could support this.
      1. where in American culture have we seen this philosophy of self invoked?
  2. Complicated reading: Emerson’s interest in contra-diction
    1. identify a passage that complicates or challenges egoism. What are the complications?
      1. do we have evidence for this more complicated sense of self in American culture?
  3. Conversation.

W 9/16

  • Due: Emerson, “History” (Group 1) ; “Quotation and Originality” (Group 2)
  • Consider: How does this text relate to “Self-Reliance”—continue and/or complicate or even counter the idea of self-reliance for which Emerson is known?
    • How do these essays extend the philosophy from SR? How do they counter or contradict it?

F 9/18

  • Due: Buell, chapter 2: “Emersonian Self-Reliance in Theory and Practice” + Blog
  • Consider: once again in your blog post, respond to: “Self-Reliance” while also making effective connections to the reading from Wednesday and Friday
    • Key Insight from Buell, applied to SR: Self-reliant thinking is performed and provoked by Emerson’s essay.



M 9/21

  1. Due: Emerson, “Experience”
  2. Consider:
    1. The argument in the Essay, and the basis of argument in any essay.
      1. Given, Problem, Response/Resolution
      2. Counterargument: an argument always has its counter wrapped in it.
    2. Initial Close Reading: key passages where the problem is addressed.
    3. What’s the solution: the mid-world, the highway. What does this mean? 
      1. will see if Dillard can offer insight.

W 9/23

  • Due: Emerson, “Threnody” + begin Dillard, Holy the Firm
  • Consider:
    • The essay v. the poem: the same problem, same solution? same effect (poetics vs the philosophy and rhetoric of the essay?) 
    • Begin “Tree of Life”

F 9/25

  • Due: Dillard, finish Holy the Firm + Blog
  • Consider: As a way to respond to the reading this week (both “Experience” and Dillard’s text) and begin thinking toward the writing project, consider this question: What’s Emersonian in Dillard’s way of thinking and writing? Are there relations between her essay and Emerson’s that you would like to explore further—what are they and why?


Project 1: Philosophical Relations

M 9/28

  • Due: William James, “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” (originally a lecture to students published in 1899)
  • Consider: Relations between Emerson’s philosophy and James’s thought. What do you recognize as “Emersonian” in James?

W 9/30

  • Due: Initial drafting Writing Project 1 due (posted to Canvas; peer response due in Canvas by Thursday afternoon) + Buell, “Emerson as a Philosopher?”
  • Consider:

F 10/2

  • Due: Writing Project 1: Philosophical Relations due by 10 pm
  • Consider:


Part Two: Poetics

The Poet

M 10/5

  1. Due: Emerson, “The Poet”
  2. Consider:
    1. Keys to Emerson’s Poet:
      1. representative–what does this connote? Who are representative poets we have?
      2. argument
      3. convertible: four characteristics (see blog post)
        1. links to contemporary (note current New Yorker)
        2. how does this develop upon Emerson’s philosophy (note Birkerts’s focus on soul)?

W 10/7

  • Due: read through Selected Poetry
  • Consider:
    • Circles: Share responses to the poems. Develop a closer reading of one–that helps us understand better what’s working (and not).

F 10/9

  • Due: Buell, chapter 3, “Emersonian Poetics”
  • Consider:
    • Critical application–focus on using Buell to do some close reading.



M 10/12

W 10/14

F 10/16

  • Due:  Fall Break/no class
  • Consider:


Whitman and Dickinson

M 10/19

W 10/21

  • Due: Emily Dickinson, Fascicle 16 +Blog (discussing Whitman and Dickinson)
  • Consider: How does Dickinson compare to Whitman? In what ways is Dickinson informed by Emerson’s poetics?

F 10/23

  • Due: Folsom, “Transcendental Poetics” + blog
  • Consider:


Project 2: Poetic Relations

M 10/26

  • Due: Frost
  • Consider:

W 10/28

  • Due: Project 2: Initial Drafting
  • Consider:

F 10/30

  • Due: Writing Project #2 due: Poetic Relations
  • Consider:


Part Three: Rhetoric


M 11/2

  • Due: Emerson, “Emancipation in the British West Indies”
  • Consider:
    • Initial Views of Emerson’s Rhetoric of Race
      • Context: antislavery/abolitionism
      • What is new here, what is familiar?

W 11/4

  • Due: Emerson, “The Transcendentalist” (Group 1); “New England Reformers” (Group 2)
    • Reading Circles: Discuss Emerson’s vision of reform and social action–what are its characteristics and concerns? How might we connect this address to the Emancipation address? What are the problems and issues with social action that Emerson engages? Prepare to report back to the class.

F 11/6

  • Due: Buell, chapter 6: “Social Thought and Reform” + Blog
  • Consider:
    • Extending Buell’s insights to the reading
    • The problem of socially significant intellectual work: extend to contemporary context. Agree or disagree: what you are studying as scholars is or can be socially significant.
    • Where do we or don’t we see this type of reform work that is also intellectual? What about your studies, liberal education: is it also socially significant? What should we do differently, if it is not?
    • What can we learn from Emerson?



M 11/9

Due: Emerson, “Fate”


W 11/11

  • Due: Advising Day [No Class]
  • Consider:

F 11/13

Due: Ellison, “Hidden Name and Complex Fate” + Prologue  + Du Bois first chapter of Souls

  • Du Bois: how is Emerson forwarded/extended into this project and argument about race in America. Noting the link to “double consciousness,” how might Emerson help us read Du Bois?
  • Ellison: What does Emerson mean for Ellison? How might we read Emersonian ideas or implications in Invisible Man?


Eloquence/Art and Criticism

M 11/16

  • Due: Emerson, “Art and Criticism”
  • Consider:

W 11/18

  • Due: Carver, “Cathedral”

F 11/20

  • Due: Rankine, Citizen
  • Consider:


M 11/23

  • Due: Buell, final chapter, “Emerson as Anti-Mentor”
  • Consider: [Hugh visit]

W 11/25

  • Due: [Thanksgiving Break]

F 11/27

  • Due: [Thanksgiving Break]


Final Project: Proposal, Bibliography

M 11/30

  • Due: Emerson, “Celebration of Intellect” (or The Scholar) + Final Project: Initial Proposal [library research orientation?]

W 12/2

  • Due: Final Project: Conferences
  • Consider:

F 12/4

  • Due: Final Project: Annotated Bibliography, Revised Proposal
  • Consider:


Final Project

M 12/7

  • Due: Final Project: Initial Drafting
  • Consider:

W 12/9 [Last Class]

  • Due: Final project: Conferences
  • Consider:

Final Project: Publication due date

Final Project: Presentations



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