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Title:Mystical anxiety: American philosophy between Emerson and pragmatism
Author(s):Williams, Zachary
Director of Research:Murison, Justine S.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Murison, Justine S.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hutner, Gordon; Rosenstock, Bruce; Barnard, John Levi
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):American literature
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891
Dickinson, Emily, 1830-1886
James, William, 1842-1910
Dewey, John, 1859-1952
Abstract:A genealogical continuity between Ralph Waldo Emerson and American pragmatism has been one of the most prominent narratives constructed by scholars of American intellectual history in recent decades. This dissertation unsettles this selective interpretation of American thought rooted in the optimistic spirit of Emerson in order to reveal a darker side of American philosophy better equipped to deal with the bleak reality of the contemporary United States. Amid the deep social and political crises of the present, it turns the story of modern American thought away from Emerson’s affirmative philosophy in favor of the relentless criticism of existence pioneered by Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson, a way of thinking that I claim, more than Emerson’s, nurtures the ameliorative impulse of pragmatism. To that end, I challenge the continuity of the Emerson-to-pragmatism story by showing how the critical pressure Melville and Dickinson applied to the Emersonian idea of an all-encompassing life to which human beings must conform marks a transition in American intellectual history from the mystical passivity of Emerson to the intelligent social control envisioned by pragmatism.
Issue Date:2020-07-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Zachary Williams
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-10-07
Date Deposited:2020-08

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