Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"What is a farm but a mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects, sun it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of spring to the last stack which the snow of winter overtakes in the fields."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

"In the world I see, you're stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."

-Tyler Durden

Ralph Waldo Emerson's reverence for the environment is an age old philosophy that predates even Emerson himself. What I really admire about Emerson however is that this very deep awe of the natural is coming from a white man at the forefront of the industrial revolution. In a weird way, I can sense that Ralph understands the needs of the changing world, but refuses to let that stop him from deconstructing it. He shouts at us, amidst the cacophony to remind us all to not forget what and where we come from. This is a sentiment that has been echoed all throughout American pop culture, be it in literature, cinema or even music. Sadly, I'm more familiar with the echoes than I am with the source. I think in high school I may have read "Self Reliance" with faded interest, but it took a read through of "Nature" to open my eyes to this philosophy that some of my favourite fictional characters have been parroting for years.
The most prominent Emerson-esque pop icon I can think of is Tyler Durden, of Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel "Fight Club." In it, Tyler is a nihilistic/neo-luddite/anarchist/primitivist character who envisions a world where our modern trappings and comforts are rendered obsolete. While it's never specifically addressed within the character, it is heavily implied that his philosophy revolves around a return to nature for all of mankind, in a very Emerson-esque style. Unlike Emerson however, Tyler is willing to resort to extreme acts of violence in order to get mankind to that point.
Both Emerson and Durden try to make very clear that the modern world's conventions do more harm to our spirituality than they help improve our lives. Their words take us by the shoulders shaking us violently, trying to shudder us loose from the snares of our new and comfortable lifestyles. They warn us that we are in danger of losing touch with our very souls, if we let the awe and splendor of nature slip through our ever softening fingers.

1 comment:

  1. 30/30 Durden makes an interesting counterpoint--but he might fit Thoreau even better!