Emerson Redux


Nothing says the 4th of July like Ralph Waldo Emerson, that’s what we maintain at Open Source. So while you enjoy your barbecues and fireworks — or watch Confederate re-enactors get ready for the Civil War (Civil War?), as I found myself doing in the Adirondacks yesterday — you can also listen to our special hour about the Sage of Concord.

We’re back live, with Death, tomorrow.

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  • mynocturama

    I know there are length concerns with postings, but I just thought I’d repost something I wrote for a previous Emerson show, with slight alterations, under the login “johne”, before I forgot my password and decided to just make another account. I posted it a week or so after the first airing, so I doubt it got much of a look at all. Anywa, here it is. Please excuse the length this once.

    Myself an Emerson fan to a fault, I’m happy to go on and on about him. He proves himself perpetually relevant. Here’s an example. At the beginning of his essay Compensation, he portrays a man at the pulpit preaching rote orthodoxy about the Last Judgment to his congregation. Emerson thinks it’s all patent nonsense, as any aware and reasoning person ought to, yet he notes, “No offence appeared to be taken by the congregation at this doctrine. As far as I could observe, when the meeting broke up, they separated without remark on the sermon.� But he goes onto say, “Men are wiser than they know. That which they hear in schools and pulpits without afterthought, if said in conversation, would probably be questioned in silence.�

    This has significant practical import. Emerson is saying that if the preacher, rather than speaking from the privileged position of the pulpit on high, is placed on equal footing, on the level plane of one on one, face to face contact, that is, submitted to the test of direct personal experience, the listener, instead of accepting what’s said without question, would naturally converse with him and challenge him, treating the preacher not as a superior but as simply another person, nothing more, nothing less, subject to the same basic considerations of common courtesy, intelligence and intelligibility, just like everyone else.

    I can’t help but see the application to the banshees and browbeaters that currently populate our televisions. A nation of TV viewers, we’re content to sit back and allow these pseudo-experts and pundits to yell and scream at us, bully and intimidate us, for apparently no other reason that they happen to reside behind the glowing screen. If we were to actively imagine them sitting face to face beside us, thereby removing any implied differential of power, we would see them as they really are, people with no special claims beyond our own. And I think we’d be much more likely to tell these rude, loud, horrible guests to get the hell out, and expel them from our living rooms. For we are, after all, by tuning in, inviting these people into our homes. And, leaving it to Emerson again, “Let us sit at home with the cause. Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within.�

    Whether from the pulpit or the pundits, we must continually take back the right and dignity of our own primary experience. This is Emerson’s emphatic message. Emerson called this country “this our talking America.� He saw that there would be those who would seek to intimidate and manipulate through rhetoric. He felt it imperative therefore that each person lay claim to his or her own voice. A show and site like this encourages exactly that. Just wanted to say thanks for the work, and keep it up.

  • “Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editorsâ€?.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I thought this quote by Emerson a timely comment on this 4th of July. I believe we need more editors willing to temper our reigning bullies.

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  • Nancy ELLIE

    I heard the last 5 minutes and was totally intrigued. Agree that Emerson sounds very relevant to today’s world.

    Has the show been achived or when will it be? I found earlier “podcasts” from June 26 and earlier. I would like to hear the show’s full hour.

    I also enjoyed the one on Potatoes….that aired June 26.

  • Naida S. Wharton

    RARELY in my car at this hour, ‘though WHEN in my car, always on WNYC – 820 AM – loved the program this evening w/ Robert Richardson re: Emerson Mind on Fire which brought me back to many decades ago (1970s) – a course on Emily Dickenson which began w/ reading Jonathan Edwards and then Emerson before we got to Emily (who was only beginning to be reconsidered as a possibly good poet)

    Anyway, sat in my car for half an hour (engine off) listening to the program, until I absolutely had to leave…. but desperately want to find out how I might hear the entire program. Have several friend I’d also like to have hear this particular program…

    How can I do that?

  • reader

    This was a terrific celebration of Emerson–his spirit, sensitivity, conscience, activism, and glorious command of language–and a breath of fresh air on July Fourth 2006, at a very grim time for this country (somehow I don’t think mass barbecues and fireworks are in order but still they’re on track; surely there’s an alternative).

  • babu

    What a gloomy piece of music by Ives on Emerson…..

  • Potter

    Emerson is always modern. Thank you again for this appreciation of Emerson with wonderful guests and beautiful sounds in the background.This was the third time hearing the show and I could listen again and will.

    This time I was reminded of our recent discussion about the wisdom of crowds and it’s nexus to the wisdom of the individual.

    I don’t know what Emerson would be thinking or feeling or saying about the internet. He might have mixed feellings. He might feel the need to withdraw because so many voices are so overwhelming that one needs time and space to hear one’s own.

    I agree with Babu about Ives piece, the Piano Sonata #2, part “Emerson”. The dissonance does not work for me thinking about Emerson. It was more about ives than Emerson, but Emerson might have felt that as such, it was fine.

  • Naida: The link is up now. You should be able to listen to it by clicking above.

  • nonbeliever

    Well-done. A seminal program about a seminal American on a day semianlly American

  • andropod

    I enjoyed the program, but wanted to follow up on something the biographer (Robertson?) said in passing. He linked Emerson to the characteristic American optimism, citing the figure that 19% of Americans think they are in the top 1% of income earners, and 20% expect to be there someday. Although I concur that Americans are relatively optimistic about a lot of things, this particular figure is flat-out wrong and needs to stop circulating. The actual survey on which these numbers were based was conducted in the midst of the 2000 presidential election, and basically asked, “Do you think you will benefit from Bush’s tax cut, which Gore claims affects only the top 1%?” The 19% who said “Yes” were thus not only those who thought they were in the top 1%, but also people who disagreed with Gore’s claim that it only applied to the top 1% and people who had lower incomes but believed in the power of trickle-down economics. The 20% figure is similarly muddled — it was people who thought the tax cut would benefit them someday, which again combines a bunch of people, very few of whom really intended to say that they would be in the top 1%. Other surveys show that Americans have quite a realistic sense of their own place in the income distribution. I wrote more about this in my newborn blog, http://andropod.blogspot.com/.

  • hurley

    That was wonderful, thanks. To Chris and everyone else I recommend William Bronk’s The Brother In Elysium; Ideas of Friendship and Society in the United States, essays about Thoreau, Whitman, Melville, with Emerson in and between the lines.

  • phyzzy

    Is looking to Nature as the source of personal understanding becoming more difficult as we pave it over? What kind of natural experience is spiritually informative? What happens as we pave over natural envrionments and reduce natural diversity? Wilderness areas and national parks inspire us. Can I get that experience in the suburban back yard? My experience in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge was overwhelming when I realized the openness of it and that much of the North America continent was also open. To be that exposed and on one’s own and in risk is intimidating and liberating at the same time.