Ralph Waldo Emerson and the “Universal Impulse to Believe”
Chapter 3 examines the ways that Emerson aestheticizes the conversion process through the literary style of his essays and Nature, thereby inviting his readers to experience the effects of “transparency” in their search for meaning between the words, sentences, and paragraphs of his work. It looks at the ways that the currents of transcendentalism and natural philosophy, the idea of reason, and his visit to the Jardin des Plantes in 1833 informed his conceptualization of the workings of consciousness and argues that Emerson fosters a method of thinking, or habit of mind, through a style that compels readers to “minister” to themselves, to become natural philosophers of the soul in their search for meaning and stability in the universe. This chapter builds on the previous two by placing Emerson in line with Shepard and Edwards who saw the work of personal and cultural renewal as a matter of converting semantics and argues that in Emerson’s work we see (or experience) this connection most overtly in his troping of language because it provokes disorientation and the need to attach new meaning to particular words and ideas, the ministerial imperative taken on by Shepard after the Puritan migration to New England.
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