Philosophy

Emersonian Perfectionism: A Passage From 'Self-Reliance'

In a past post, "Living The Well Discovered Life," I sought to go beyond Emerson, from living the well considered life, where Emerson urges us to cleave to our virtues and grow them, to a wider life where we discover our virtues in a world whose enabling opportunities we cannot prestate but that we co-create, where we often cannot know what can happen, yet must live our lives forward, as Kierkegaard said, and discover our virtues that will flower in the possibilities that become.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it first:

"Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it or can till that person has exhibited it. Where is the master who could have taught Shakspeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is a unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. Shakspeare will never be made by the study of Shakspeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all of these. Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again."

Not yet lost in modernity, Emerson saw. Yet the living world is more, beyond entailing law, a constant, creative unfolding. We partake and make this unfolding, we together. Then with and beyond Emerson, abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart and thou shalt produce the New World.

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