In Defense of Emerson

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24 January 2010

A backlash against Emerson?  Say it isn’t so.  I reserve a great fondness for Ralph Waldo, great bard of Self-Trust.  I’ve always found his philosophy of how to read — widely, freely, somewhat predatorily, taking what you can, discarding the rest, not getting bogged down by reverence for a static canon but approaching the canon with an “active soul” — particularly helpful and relevant in this Age of Information.

Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm.  Hence the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the world and the soul…

Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.  What is the right use?  What is the one end which all means go to effect?  They are for nothing but to inspire.  I had better never see a book than to be warped by its attraction clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.

-from “The American Scholar”

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