May 23rd, 2010

Announcing the Oversoul: Spare and Strange

“The universe is a more amazing puzzle than ever, as you glance along this bewildering series of animated forms—the hazy butterflies, the carved shells, the birds, beasts, fishes, insects, snakes, and the upheaving principle of life everywhere so incipient, in the very rock aping organized forms. Not a form so grotesque, so savage, nor so beautiful but is an expression of some property inherent in man the observer—an occult relation between the very scorpions and man. I feel the centipede in me—cayman, carp, eagle, and fox. I am moved by strange sympathies; I say continually, “I will be a naturalist.”

–R.W. Emerson

Emerson looks upon the universe as a witness, not as a lover. He waits for things to display themselves before him so that he can “yield to the law of their being.” Without being in the least a scientist, he is often impressively disinterested and curious about phenomena. He complained that “Now many are thought not only unexplained but inexplicable; as language, sleep, madness, dreams, beasts, sex.”

Emerson is at his best not when he is announcing the Oversoul to the people or flattering his audience, but when he is idiosyncratic, spare and strange; in those moods of almost sleepy reflection and passive wonder one feels that he is entirely open to his unconscious, that he can get it to speak through him in the same way, to use his own image, as the tree puts itself forth through its leaves and branches. “The secret of the world is the tie between person and event . . . . The soul contains the event that shall befall it, for the event is only the actualization of its thoughts and what we pray to ourselves for is always granted.”

— Alfred Kazin The Atlantic

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