Saturday, February 25, 2012

Part or Particle of God

Emerson's phrase "part or particle of God" has always struck me. It is found in Chapter 1: Nature. Emerson describes how he lets go of his human tendencies, or "mean egotism," and takes in nature. He says he lets "the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God." He is allowing nature to become a part of him, but he is also letting in the "currents of the Universal Being." Emerson seems to be implying that God, the "Universal Being" is being absorbed into him through nature. At first I thought this meant that nature and God are the same. After all, he becomes part or particle of God through nature. However, two paragraphs later Emerson says "the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both." I took this to mean that one cannot become godly without nature, but also one must be human to become godly. So to be part of God one must be human and accept and understand nature. Only then can one be godly. I'm not sure if this is a correct interpretation, but this is how I read it.


  1. I struggled with this, too! He does seem to say that, as you said, "one cannot become godly without nature," but I also felt he was saying "one must be human to become godly." I would think that even the spirit of humanity is an equal "part or particle of God," on par with every other aspect of nature. But then he says, "The instincts of the ant are very unimportant, considered as the ant's; but the moment a ray of relation is seen to extend from it to man, and the little drudge is seen to be a monitor, a little body with a mighty heart, then all its habits... become sublime." Does the ant need this link with the human spirit to become significant? I don't think Emerson is saying this, but I don't see where he says otherwise... Let me know if you have any thoughts on this!

    1. This is really the key question to ask about this text, I think. What exactly is the relationship that Emerson suggests between "man" and nature? Sometimes he seems to suggest that the human mind (or "spirit") gives nature its significance, while other times he seems to insist that nature teaches man the true meanings of things. Part of the reason it's difficult is, as Marie's post points out, Emerson seems to contradict himself on this question. I think the ambivalence in the phrase "the power to produce this delight, does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both" is hugely important. We'll talk more about this tomorrow.