College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

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).

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