Saturday, August 05, 2006

Drawing Circles

Emerson's essay Circles is pretty good even though I made a few marginal comments like "hogswollop!" (if two people are in perfect harmony there is no need to talk to one another) and "pshaw!" (precaution against evil puts you in the power of evil). Oh and when Emerson's true ideas of friendship come out (as opposed to his defensive essay on the subject), I've written in "this is sick" and "harsh." I also have more complete comments, an exclamation point and an asterisk. And lots of underlining. If I had a scanner I'd scan a page so you can see how gleefully I deface Emerson, something I would not dream of doing to the vast majority of my books. But enough about marginalia, to "Circles." The essay could have almost been written for school because the very last sentence of the first paragraph contains what I can only describe as a thesis statement:

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on midnoon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.
Emerson latches on to the idea of change being circular, each ending is a beginning and all that. But it's not a serpent eating its tail thing. And I wondered why a circle since I personally prefer the spiral as metaphor in this situation. He chose the circle because it is a perfect shape and to him symbolizes the unattainable. St. Augustine also describes the nature of God as a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. That doesn't sound circular to me, but Emerson runs with it. Nothing is permanent. The idea we have today, represented by a circle, will be changed tomorrow. Tomorrow's circle will contain today's. Think of ripples on a pond when you toss in a rock. Now think of your soul as being that rock. The ripples you make will be bigger and go out farther if you have a large rock. That's the gist of Emerson's essay. He says other stuff too. Some of it very provocative like,
Every man is not so much a workman in the world as he is a suggestion of that he should be. Men walk as prophecies of the next age.
Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk.
People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
And my favorite,
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
Emerson is certainly enthusiastic, especially in this essay. He even chides people for being afraid of change. And while I am a person who is all for change, Emerson's assumption that all change is good rankles. His assumption is based on change being instituted from ideas that are formed through contact with the over-soul. If that were always the case, then I would have no hesitation. But as anyone who has lived in this world for long has figured out, change is not always for the better. This is the flaw in Emerson's experiment. He even reminds us that he is "only an experimenter." His purpose is not to "settle any thing as true or false." He "unsettle[s] things." While I question whether he actually sees himself as an experimenter or only said it because he knows he gets people riled up, I like the idea. I think it is something that can also be embraced on a personal level too; we are all experimenters in one way or another. Now, to work on the enthusiasm. Next week's Emerson: Intellect