By Dr. Michelle Kohler Ph.D.
The strangeness of nineteenth-century poetic imaginative and prescient is exemplified so much famously through Emerson’s obvious eyeball. That disembodied, omniscient seer is ready to shed its physique and go beyond sight satirically with a purpose to seenot to createpoetic language manifest” at the American panorama. In Miles of Stare, Michelle Kohler explores the query of why, given American transcendentalism’s anti-empiricism, the movement’s valuable trope turns into a watch purged of mind's eye. And why, additionally, she asks, regardless of its insistent empiricism, is that this infamous eye additionally so decidedly no longer an eye fixed? What are the ethics of casting a boldly equivocal metaphor because the resource of a countrywide literature amidst a countrywide panorama fraught with slavery, genocide, poverty, and war?
Miles of Stare explores those questions first by way of tracing the historic emergence of the metaphor of poetic imaginative and prescient because the transcendentalists assimilated eu precedents and wrestled with America’s troubling rhetoric of show up future and nationwide identification. those questions are important to the paintings of many nineteenth-century authors writing within the wake of transcendentalism, and Kohler bargains examples from the writings of Douglass, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Howells, and Jewett that shape a cascade of latest visible metaphors that handle the irreconcilable contradictions in the transcendentalist metaphor and pursue their very own efforts to supply an American literature. Douglass’s doomed witness to slavery, Hawthorne’s reluctantly omniscient narrator, and Dickinson’s empty miles of Stare” variously skewer the authority of Emerson’s all-seeing poetic eyeball whereas attributing new authority to the constraints that mark their very own literary gazes.
Tracing this metaphorical clash throughout genres from the 1830s throughout the Eighties, Miles of Stare illuminates the divergent, contentious fates of yank literary imaginative and prescient as nineteenth-century writers combat with the commanding conflation of imaginative and prescient and language that lies on the middle of yank transcendentalismand on the center of yankee nationwide identity.
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Additional info for Miles of Stare: Transcendentalism and the Problem of Literary Vision in Nineteenth-Century America
I thus conclude by turning to subsequent eyeballs penned by Thoreau and Jacobs—visions that restage the transparent eye and point us toward the ethical and epistemological problems that animate the writers I examine in subsequent chapters. Emerson’s displacement of the imagination is an outgrowth of the particular way he interprets the Reason, or that faculty of pure consciousness Kant and his followers distinguished from sense-derived experience. . . Experience in this sense, as the fusion of consciousness and external world, can also be seen as containing thought, which is the element of consciousness.
Third, whereas the figure of the imagination suggests a synthesis that is the product of a willed activity, Emerson’s visual figure connotes a union that is passively, ineluctably perceived regardless of one’s will. One can choose how to exercise the imagination, but one cannot help but see what lies in one’s field of vision. The figure’s complexity, particularly its dual allegiance to empirical and nonempirical faculties, is most dramatically evident in his account of the transparent eyeball, which appears two years after the letter to Edward: “Stand ing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes.
474). The all-seeing eyeball is also invoked obliquely in another passage: “Two human beings are like globes, which can touch only in a point, and, whilst they remain in contact, all other points of each of the spheres are inert” (488). The 360-degree scope and the permeability of the transparent eyeball become severely circumscribed in the impermeable “globes” that can bring the indi vidual into only piecemeal contact with the other. The appearance of the moody, colored lens of “Experience” immediately following the confident, deeply perceptive sight of “The Poet” in Essays: Sec ond Series makes a startling juxtaposition.