College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

Volume 43, Numbers 1– 4 1997

Special Emerson/Nietzche Issue


Michael Lopez

"Emerson and Nietzsche: An Introduction"

Emerson's trans-Atlantic influence on the German thinker who has become, in Stanley Rosen's words, "the most influential philosopher in the Western, non-Marxist world" has long been acknowledged. We know that Nietzsche praised Emerson fulsomely in his journals and letters, in Schopenhauer as Educator, and in Twilight of the Idols, and that his earliest philosophical essays, "Fatum and Geschichte" and "Willensfreiheit und Fatum," were, as their titles suggest, syntheses of Emersonian topics and ideas. European scholarship in the first half of the twentieth century established the extent and depth of Emerson's influence throughout Nietzsche's career. Nevertheless, the Emerson-Nietzsche connection has continued to exist--in both Emerson and Nietzsche scholarship--as a kind of rumor or trade secret. It has rarely been accorded, particularly in Anglo-American scholarship, the significance it deserves. "The depth of the connection between [Emerson and Nietzsche]," as Stanley Cavell observes, "is unknown. Everyone has to discover that for themselves. No matter how many people tell you the connection exists you forget it, and you can't believe it."

The introduction to this special edition of ESQ examines the history of the continuing repression of the Emerson-Nietzsche connection. It focuses particularly on the way in which Emeron's "transcendentalist" image and "the Nietzsche legend" (that is, Nietzsche's alleged madness, fascism, incoherence, and so on) have long made their mutual consideration all but impossible. "The Nietzsche legend" has been discredited, of course, since Walter Kaufmann's critique of it in the 1950s. Recent work that reads Emerson in light of Nietzsche--or, as Cavell puts it, seeks to understand "what it is in Emerson that inspired Nietzsche's love, and allowed him to be Nietzsche"--has begun to suggest the limits of the still-predominant interpretation of Emerson as a transcendentalist, idealist, or "utopian" thinker.

"Nothing," as George Stack asserts, "made a deeper impression on Nietzsche's thought than the Emersonian stress on the power of fate"--and recent scholarship has begun to recapture the profoundly "fatalist" (fate-conscious, pain-conscious, limit-conscious) nature of Emerson's thought. Emerson's importance as a source for those pivotal Nietzschean ideas (the will to power, eternal recurrence, and amor fati, as well as his critique of Christianity) are becoming clearer. The portrait of Emerson that is emerging--an Emerson concerned with fate, power, history, the sublimation of primal drives, and the overcoming of Christian ethics--locates him not as he is usually depicted, looking backward toward Kant and German idealism. It places him, instead, in the intellectual world of his German contemporaries--Schopenhauer, Marx, and Nietzsche--looking forward toward Freud and Heidegger.

George J. Stack

>"Nietzsche and Emerson: The Return of the Repressed"

The "repression" of the profound impact that R. W. Emerson's thought, writings, and image had on Nietzsche is examined in terms of the volatile "political" forces that helped suppress and/or minimize this fruitful and illuminating psychointellectual affiliation between two seemingly dissimilar literary philosophers.

The presence of Emerson in Nietzsche's philosophy and psyche, this study argues, can be traced from Nietzsche's earliest essays (with particular reference to Emerson's "Fate")--through letters, thematic signs in various writings, and recurring similar images and concepts--and in signs of Nietzsche's psychic identification with his precursor as idealized imago.

Ralph Bauer

"Against the European Grain: The Emerson-Nietzsche Connection in Europe, 1920-1990"

This overview of the European reception history of Emerson's influence on Nietzsche focuses in particular on the scholarship of Charles Andler, Eduard Baumgarten, and Stanley Hubbard, placing their works in the context of their respective intellectual traditions as well as a historico-political and ideological climate that has perpetually occluded such a trans-Atlantic connection. By working "against the grain" of such biases, the work of these scholars exposes the myths perpetuated by the nationalistic cults surrounding both Emerson and Nietzsche and supports the claim, made more recently by some of their American colleagues, that a reading of Emerson in tandem with Nietzsche provides for a different understanding of both.

Gustaaf Van Cromphout

"Areteic Ethics: Emerson and Nietzsche on Pity, Friendship, and Love"

Van Cromphout argues that Nietzsche's redefiniton of other-regarding ethics owes much to Emerson's thought on the subject. Emerson anticipates both Nietzsche's critique of the agapistic, caritative ethics advocated by Christianity and his adherence to a Greek-inspired areteic ethic. Both thinkers regard the commitment to human excellence inherent in areteic ethics as a powerful antidote to Christian other-regarding ethics, which they consider demeaning and harmful.

Emerson and Nietzsche condemn pity as traditionally understood because it masks egoism, encourages weakness, and increases suffering. The vogue of pity evidences that the weak and parasitic have succeeded in imposing their values upon the world, to the detriment of the strong, noble, and heroic. Pity is an expression of contempt, not just for others but also for oneself, tempting one to evade one's most arduous task--to advance human excellence in oneself and, by this example, in others. Emerson and Nietzsche further insist that friendship and love stand in urgent need of reconceptualization along areteic lines. These relationships should not serve as refuges for weakness or as escapes from individual incompleteness but should be agonistic, informed by a dialectic of opposites, by distance and reverence for difference; they should bring together the strongest possible selves and enable each to rise above itself. Both Emerson and Nietzsche rank friendship higher than love: the highest interpersonal relationship is a noble and mutually ever more ennobling friendship.

James M. Albrecht

"'The Sun Were Insipid, If the Universe Were Not Opaque': The Ethics of Action, Power, and Belief in Emerson, Nietzsche, and James"

This article traces some of the broad and fundamental similiarities between Nietzsche and the pragmatic tradition of American thought running from Emerson to William James. Without denying the important differences between the three writers, and without claiming that Nietzsche is a pragmatist, it is still important to recognize that their philosophical projects share many essential concerns, attitudes, and conclusions. These similarities revolve around their common desire to establish a new standard of moral or ethical valuation, to reject the absolutisms of traditional religion and science in favor of an ethics that measures human values (or truths) in terms of their effects on the vitality of human life. For all three, such an ethics must locate our primary value in the struggles through which people develop, exercise, and express their active natures--in what Emerson and James often call "work" or "action," and what Nietzsche (also like Emerson) calls "power." This insistence that moral value is not an absolute entity (divine "goodness" or "truth"), but rather a mode of existence we achieve in struggle with the resistances and limits of our material environment, is in effect a tragic ethics. Emerson, Nietzsche, and James each renounce traditional religion's promise of certain meaning behind (and compensating for) the sufferings of our world, in favor of a view that accepts the limits and failures of material life as real and unrecoverable losses--losses that are meaningful, however, indeed necessary and beneficial, as occasions for human performance and power.

Russell B. Goodman

"Moral Perfectionism and Democracy: Emerson, Nietzsche, Cavell"

This essay introduces Emerson, Nietzsche, and their relationship through textual comparisons between Zarathustra and "Self-Reliance"--an essay Nietzsche was rereading in the summer of 1881, when he first had the thoughts that led to Zarathustra. It then moves to the question of whether such virtues as Emersonian "self-reliance" or Nietzschean "self-overcoming" are compatible with, opposed to, or required for democracy.

James Conant

"Emerson as Educator" (from "Nietzsche's Perfectionism: A Reading of Schopenhauer as Educator")

Nietzsche and Emerson may both be considered "moral perfectionists": both celebrate the "exemplar," the exemplary individual, and the aesthetic and moral necessity of "attaching one's heart to some great human being." Traditionally, this common, fundamental aspect of their thought has led to elitist interpretations. Thus John Rawls criticizes Nietzschean perfectionism as incompatible with democratic society--or Judith Shklar argues that Emerson's valorization of great men contradicts his fondness for democracy. This essay offers a close reading of Nietzsche's Schopenhauer as Educator--a work that directly and indirectly echoes Emerson's essays in countless instances (the concepts of genius, exemplariness, culture, animality, timidity, shame, custom, humanity, trusting oneself, conformity, longing, a circle of duties, and a higher self)--to suggest that Emersonian/Nietzschean perfectionism is not the anti-democratic philosophy it is usually taken to be. Conant argues that Emerson and Nietzsche are, in fact, profoundly critical of the elitist notion of the "great human being" that is usually ascribed to them. He also considers the ways in which Schopenhauer as Educator, in its pervasive quotation of Emerson, enacts the Nietzschean (Emersonian) conception of "education"--the process of attaching oneself to an "educator" or "exemplar."

Graham Parkes

"'Floods of Life' around 'Granite of Fate': Emerson and Nietzsche as Thinkers of Nature"

Emerson's impact on Nietzsche was in general powerful, and the influence of his ideas about nature especially decisive. Nietzsche was already well prepared in this area by his prior acquaintance with the nature writings of Goethe, as well as with the poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Hoelderlin. We find in both Emerson and Nietzsche a vacillation between a quasi-romantic feeling of oneness with nature and a feeling of alienation from it, although in Emerson's case the sense of being "not at Home" is more pronounced, thanks to his allegiance to the Neoplatonic tradition. Nietzsche is more explicit than Emerson concerning the role of human projections onto the natural world and the idea of nature as a historical construct.

Over the course of both thinkers' careers, their understandings of the natural world develop considerably. Although one can see in Emerson's thinking a movement away from anthropocentrism, Nietzsche ultimately goes farther in this direction. Perhaps because he came later, and so was able to survey a broader range of scientific discoveries than his mentor, Nietzsche was able to overcome Platonic and Christian views of nature by conceiving of "the world as will to power" (an idea that was itself derived in part from Emerson's ideas about power).

Joseph G. Kronick

"Repetition and Mimesis from Nietzsche to Emerson; or, How the World Became a Fable"

In declaring how the true world became a fable, Nietzsche concludes, "with the real world we have also abolished the apparent world!" When all extra-mundane truth disappears, we are left with the aesthetic world of becoming. Nietzsche's challenge to modernity is to affirm what cannot but must be endured, this world of becoming, which he does in his doctrine of eternal recurrence. Emerson finds his own way to affirm becoming in his doctrine of the God within: God "puts [nature] forth through us," he proposes, thereby conceiving nature, not as the product of either divine action or physis, but as a double, a repetition, of the human. In the injunction "Build therefore your own world," he asserts that the one true world is the mimetic world and, like Nietzsche, denies any a priori value to life. For Nietzsche, this denial means embracing the totality of what is, transforming "every 'It was' into 'I wanted it thus!'" To think being as becoming is to accept the eternal recurrence of the same. This essay argues that mimesis is at the center of Emerson's drama of redemption in the world of becoming. Rejecting all external authority, Emerson is led in the conclusion of Nature to think the world as fable, as the poetic world of repetition. When Nietzsche praises Emerson's cheerfulness he seems to acknowledge the paradox that makes Emerson's optimism the acceptance of fate.

Herwig Friedl

"Fate, Power, and History in Emerson and Nietzsche"

This essay attempts to show that Emerson and Nietzsche initiated one of the most far-reaching changes in the history of thinking by responding in similar and intimately related ways to a new dispensation of Being (in Heidegger's sense). Their new and post-metaphysical mode of answering the address of Being is based on a vision of the circular structure of Being as becoming, with an awareness of the close relationship between (the will to) power and the persistent or eternal return as the ontological gesture of self-grounding. The possibility of this new interpretation of essentia (power) and existentia (eternal return) was first intuited by Emerson (in "The American Scholar," "History," "Self-Reliance," and "Fate") and then explained as constitutive of human and nonhuman beings alike by both Emerson and Nietzsche throughout their careers.

Eric Wilson

"From Metaphysical Poverty to Practical Power: Emerson's Embrace of the Physical World"

The cluster of recent books reviewed here shatters the traditional image of Emerson as an overly optimistic transcendentalist and replaces it with a pragmatic, skeptical Emerson who embraces a difficult world. Accordingly, several books under review explicitly take relationships between Nietzsche and Emerson as their subject while the others, though exploring Emerson's pragmatism or his scientific thought, are Nietzschean in spirit. Indeed, of the three primary currents in this recent scholarship--the Nietzschean, the pragmatist, the scientific--the Nietzschean is the strongest; the other two merge with it, strengthening and enriching its course. The direction of all three tendencies is power: will to power, practical power, physical force.

The essay is divided along the lines of these three tendencies. The first section considers studies of connections between Emerson and Nietzsche. They are George J. Stack's Nietzsche and Emerson: An Elective Affinity; Irena S. M. Makarushka's Religious Imagination and Language in Emerson and Nietzsche; George Kateb's Emerson and Self-Reliance; Stanley Cavell's Philosophical Passages: Wittgenstein, Emerson, Austin, Derrida; and Michael Lopez's Emerson and Power: Creative Antagonism in the Nineteenth Century. The next section discusses treatments of Emerson and pragmatism: Richard Poirier's Poetry and Pragmatism; David Jacobson's Emerson's Pragmatic Vision: The Dance of the Eye; and David M. Robinson's Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work. The final part of the essay reviews two books that address Emerson's relationship to nineteenth-century science: Robert D. Richardson Jr.'s Emerson: The Mind on Fire and Lee Rust Brown's The Emerson Museum: Practical Romanticism and the

Department of English, PO Box 645020, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-5020, 509-335-2581. Contact ESQ