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Emerson's GhostsLiterature, Politics, and the Making of Americanists$
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Randall Fuller

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195313925

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195313925.001.0001

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F. O. Matthiessen and the Tragedy of the American Scholar

F. O. Matthiessen and the Tragedy of the American Scholar

(p.75) 4 F. O. Matthiessen and the Tragedy of the American Scholar
Emerson's Ghosts

Randall Fuller (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter describes a curious incident that occurred as F. O. Matthiessen completed the opening section on Emerson for his magisterial American Renaissance: he, too, suffered a nervous breakdown. Even more curious: as he writes in his journal about the causes for his suicidal depression, he uses Emerson's language to express himself. Matthiessen's vocalization of Emerson suggests not only an unsettling identification but also a profound uneasiness with the writer. While Matthiessen may have found in the American Scholar a vocational model that promised to unify culture and so rescue the intellectual from social isolation, he also discovered in Emerson's writing radical contradictions he believed were symptomatic of his own position as public intellectual — and private homosexual — in American society.

Keywords:   nervous breakdown, homosexuality, Popular Front, the Depression, American Renaissance, social isolation

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