Thursday, May 3, 2012

Emerson and Joyce

During our discussion with Dan Gunn and Ian last week, I briefly noted that I had made a connection between Emerson and Joyce.

Out of all the things we've read this semester, I think I latched onto and related the most to Emerson's "The American Scholar". In this essay, Emerson espouses the view that there really should be a balance between scholarly study and practical life action, but does seem to believe that "real" life is more important. "Character is higher than intellect. Thinking is the function. Living is the functionary... Thinking is a partial act" (9).

Now, while Joyce spends an entire collection of short stories writing in lush detail about common people, it is not in the best light. As he says in a letter to his editor, "I have written [Dubliners] for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness"(134). In truth, there is very little that is flattering about his characters in Dubliners, characters who Emerson would probably consider to be like the "practical" men he writes about.

Therein lies the contrast between Joyce and Emerson that I love. While Emerson praises the practical man and writing that "is blood-warm" (14), Joyce writes about the practical man in a fairly unflattering way. Still, for me, both pieces of writing are both beautiful and affecting.

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