Sunday, September 23, 2007

Worrying about Emerson

At a lecture on Jack Kerouac earlier this month, I remembered how important the Transcendentalists were to me when we learned about them in high school and how this work I'm doing now emerged around that time.

So, I've been looking forward to reading their work again and said as much to a friend's roommate the other night at their Williamsburg apartment. She surprised me by asking why I liked them so much. When I told her because they tapped into the sublime, transcendent, life-affirming moments available to us, she pursed her lips and shook her head and held forth for a while on the limited relevance of their work due to their privilege of time, leisure, solitude and intellect.

Her question was: What good is this work? What good is wonder? What good beauty, awe, transcendence and all the rest if it can only be pondered by the privileged?
My question is: Is it even true these concepts are only pondered by the financially and socially privileged, or is it that they are the only ones whose intellectual work is documented and disseminated?

The biggest question is: Why let class guilt deter us from contemplating the human condition - ever? We ought to accept privilege, use privilege, do the work and be sure to take on the challenge of communicating and applying what we discover as broadly as we can. If the Transcendentalists were conceptually incestuous and insularly self-reflective in their privileged, intellectual pursuits, then it is the work of the rest of us - privileged and not - to get at what they discovered and unlock its worth.

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