Anti-Transcendentalism: A More Relatable Transcendentalism

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Anti-Transcendentalism: A More Relatable Transcendentalism

Post  Fermin Liu on Wed May 13, 2009 12:50 am

Like most Transcendentalists, Anti-Transcendentalists Melville and Hawthorne do have and reveal a hopeful side of themselves in their stories:

Moby Dick, a novel about Captain Ahab’s hunt for the whale Moby Dick, is in reality a tale of the infinite potential of human beings and everything else in the world. The vast sea which is the central setting of the book represents a pool of infinite possibilities in which anything and everything is possible. In other words, it is like the collective unconsciousness. Ahab’s attitude can also be said to be an allusion to Melville’s perspective toward the world he lived in—a world of reforms and changes for the better. In Melville’s Moby Dick, even though Ahab had his leg dismasted by the big white whale, he nevertheless kept his spirit and passion and wants to explore the meaning of existence (curiosity). After he had told the ship crew of his plan and they were ready to go after Moby Dick, Ahab’s personality completely transformed, returning to the old assertive, powerful captain that he used to be. With Ahab and his confident hunt for Moby Dick, Melville displays an impossibility that is made plausible with his plot—Melville’s optimistic opinion in the infinite power of even the most unlikely people rightly reflects his inner Transcendentalist.

Hawthorne’s Inner Transcendentalist as shown in The Scarlet Letter is found in Hester Prynne’s change and the forest (of freedom) where the true personalities of the Hawthorne’s characters are often uncovered. In the aspects of changing for the better, Hester does show signs of individuality and of change, especially toward the end, when she recovers her old passionate, young self and does not conform to society's law in her taking off the scarlet letter. This shows Hawthorne's belief in the individuality and uniqueness of human beings and how having the courage to defy a pointless punishment of society is a hopeful sign of power. Also, the forest which should be called "The Forest of No Restrictions" because of the way it makes Hester and Pearl feel, is also like the sea in Moby Dick—a place of infinite potential where people can be themselves and not have to conform to society which thus allows them access the collective unconsciousness instead of being tied down by the human-made, societal laws that just end up restricting everyone's unique personality to nothing.

Therefore, what I feel in Melville and Hawthorne that is so Transcendentalist is their belief that people can transcend their past, transcend physical abilities, and other limits--societal, individual (fear), etc. With their writings founded on these ideology, Melville and Hawthorne should not be labeled "Anti-Transcendentalists" which is a name that connotates a total opposition to the whole Transcendentalist concept. They too believe that people are capable of change, that allowing the free flow of individuality is allowing infinite potential and that any restriction is thereby, preventing growth and the natural way of things.

However, what then actually marks the line between "Trans-" and "Anti-Trans-" cendentalism? The only determining factor is the degree of hope and faith each author has in the infinite potential of the collective unconsciousness. For Emerson and Thoreau, their writing mostly only included the good of the world and the optimistic view of accessing Essence which is so infinitely omnipotent. As for Melville and Hawthorne on the other hand, they seem to believe that there is a limit to the potential or good fortune of everything. They come off as the people who think that good luck is one day going to run out.

In Moby Dick, Melville begins to show his Anti-Transcendentalist side when Ahab starts to panic and go into a desperate battle with the whale, thinking that he himself is hopeless. From this point on, Melville is no longer optimistic and because of such a limited hope, he becomes a classicist. Through Ahab's character, Melville has identified himself as a man who thinks that there are limits to everything and in doing so, he has lost touch with the common essence. Most of the ship's crew, Starbuck especially, did not believe that Ahab would be able to kill Moby Dick, and in the end, it seems that everyone just entered a state of frenzy panic and lost any hope they might have had before in the power of mankind. This can be said to parallel Melville's attitude because in the tragic climax of his book, Melville as an author shows his fear of the physical limits of death and mortality and doubt of the Supreme Being, and these feelings imply Melville's continual attachment to his ego-mind. With the death of Ahab and so many of his other characters, Melville proves himself an Anti-Transcendentalist in his pessimism, clearly illustrating the inability of Anti-Transcendentalism to create a completely satisfying, happy ending because of its tinge of disbelief in absolute infinite potential.

As for Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, some of his characters too share the tragic storyline that is quite a trademark of Anti-Transcendentalism. For starters, Dimmesdale is plagued by his shame and guilt and the rest of Hawthorne's main characters are all either sinners or people afflicted with negative emotions. Hawthorne portrays a society that is so attached to the ego-mind with the fear and the paranoia that it kind of appears that Hawthorne does not believe in a completely essence-based, infinite potential world. He has Dimmesdale confess his sins and Chillingworth give up his hatred, but without these negative feelings of anger and shame consuming them, the two characters ultimate die because of the removal of these feelings that they have so long been living solely upon. Thus, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth's death reflects Hawthorne's incomplete belief of the power of now and people having the power to infinitely improve themselves without any regards to the wrongdoings of the past. And as for the end of the book, it leaves off with Hester returning to the cabin in the outskirt of the Puritan community, which is a happy event but at the same time, it has an air of melancholy and unfulfilled-ness.

In analyzing the Anti-Transcendentalism elements of Melville and Hawthorne that set them apart from Emerson and Thoreau, I have come to the conclusion that Anti-Transcendentalism is not all that different from Transcendentalism after all. Both philosophies incorporate the potential of human beings and the rest of the world. What differs between the two belief systems is the varying degree of potential that exists within everything: for Emerson and his Transcendentalist colleagues, the potential is infinite and eveywhere; for Melville and his party of Anti-Transcendentalists, the potential is somewhat limited, stopped by a glass ceiling that is more commonly known as their faith. Anti-Transcendentalists are the ones that classify seemingly impossible events as "miracles"; they are the ones that have a not-always-happy, cynical ending for their tales of life. This Anti-Transcendentalist belief of limitations is due to the physical domain and their over-reliance and dwelling in this tangible realm. And even though it may be easier to accept Anti-Transcendentalism concepts than Transcendentalism concepts, we know that our thoughts and ideas do create reality from the history of our inventions. Thus, if we truly believed like Emerson and Thoreau did, then anything is possible, infinite potential is possible. Very Happy
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Re: Anti-Transcendentalism: A More Relatable Transcendentalism

Post  proey on Wed May 13, 2009 1:29 am

So, when I first read your title, I knew I was going to disagree with you. Razz Then I read your thing, and now I'm still disagreeing--but in a different way that I thought I would. First of all, I do not see the sea as a place of unlimited potential--the last lines of the story read, "Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago." It seems as if the sea is a stale place that Ahab's chase of Moby Dick was barely even a tiny pebble thrown in the water. Doesn't seem very unlimited to me :/
I'm not saying that I disagree that the concepts of Transcendentalism were there--they definitely were there, and were very evident as well. However, I do not believe that the optimistic, unlimited Transcendentalist ideas were the intended messages. All the hints of Transcendentalism in the writings of Melville were later shrouded by anti-Transcendentalist hindrances. On the other hand, I daresay Hawthorne's writing did end up quite optimistic.

OKAY I READ THE REST OF YOUR ESSAY AND I AM SO KIDDING. I agree with you Razz. I like your idea that anti-Transcendentalism is Transcendentalism with a "glass ceiling known as their faith." That's a really interesting comment right there. BUT HOLD UP. Ahab pursued Moby Dick to the death. He obviously had faith. Maybe the glass ceiling is the physical bounds of the world? I don't know. But I am guessing that anti-Transcendentalist "unlimited potential" is unlimited until you reach a physical barrier, or an imagination crusher. So, yeah, I guess faith could work. Okay I really don't know ://

Anyways, that was a really interesting read Smile
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Re: Anti-Transcendentalism: A More Relatable Transcendentalism

Post  Ajk on Wed May 13, 2009 10:42 pm

Fermin Liu wrote:Like most Transcendentalists, Anti-Transcendentalists Melville and Hawthorne do have and reveal a hopeful side of themselves in their stories:

Moby Dick, a novel about Captain Ahab’s hunt for the whale Moby Dick, is in reality a tale of the infinite potential of human beings and everything else in the world. The vast sea which is the central setting of the book represents a pool of infinite possibilities in which anything and everything is possible. In other words, it is like the collective unconsciousness. Ok. Ahab’s attitude can also be said to be an allusion to Melville’s perspective toward the world he lived in—a world of reforms and changes for the better. Hmm. So there is optimism present, then? In Melville’s Moby Dick, even though Ahab had his leg dismasted by the big white whale, he nevertheless kept his spirit and passion and wants to explore the meaning of existence (curiosity). Key distinction, here, Fermin, yes. After he had told the ship crew of his plan and they were ready to go after Moby Dick, Ahab’s personality completely transformed, returning to the old assertive, powerful captain that he used to be. With Ahab and his confident hunt for Moby Dick, Melville displays an impossibility that is made plausible with his plot—Melville’s optimistic opinion in the infinite power of even the most unlikely people rightly reflects his inner Transcendentalist. Precisely captured, Fermin, reflecting your mastery of the Transcendentalist concepts, as Melville presented them within his story.

Hawthorne’s Inner Transcendentalist as shown in The Scarlet Letter is found in Hester Prynne’s change and the forest (of freedom) where the true personalities of the Hawthorne’s characters are often uncovered. In the aspects of changing for the better, Hester does show signs of individuality and of change, especially toward the end, when she recovers her old passionate, young self and does not conform to society's law in her taking off the scarlet letter. This shows Hawthorne's belief in the individuality and uniqueness of human beings and how having the courage to defy a pointless punishment of society is a hopeful sign of power. Also, the forest which should be called "The Forest of No Restrictions" because of the way it makes Hester and Pearl feel, is also like the sea in Moby Dick—a place of infinite potential where people can be themselves and not have to conform to society which thus allows them access the collective unconsciousness instead of being tied down by the human-made, societal laws that just end up restricting everyone's unique personality to nothing.

Therefore, what I feel in Melville and Hawthorne that is so Transcendentalist is their belief that people can transcend their past, transcend physical abilities, and other limits--societal, individual (fear), etc. With their writings founded on these ideology, Melville and Hawthorne should not be labeled "Anti-Transcendentalists" which is a name that connotates a total opposition to the whole Transcendentalist concept. They too believe that people are capable of change, that allowing the free flow of individuality is allowing infinite potential and that any restriction is thereby, preventing growth and the natural way of things. Well said Fermin. So then it would seem that the definition of transcending could be to change? Not just achieve huge leaps of magical abilities, save as Sri Chinmoy did?

However, what then actually marks the line between "Trans-" and "Anti-Trans-" cendentalism? The only determining factor is the degree of hope and faith each author has in the infinite potential of the collective unconsciousness. Nicely put. For Emerson and Thoreau, their writing mostly only included the good of the world and the optimistic view of accessing Essence which is so infinitely omnipotent. As for Melville and Hawthorne on the other hand, they seem to believe that there is a limit to the potential or good fortune of everything. They come off as the people who think that good luck is one day going to run out. If luck is even believed in, then this leads to a focus on the external power over a person, as opposed to choice and thought, using internal power. Do you see this?

In Moby Dick, Melville begins to show his Anti-Transcendentalist side when Ahab starts to panic and go into a desperate battle with the whale, thinking that he himself is hopeless. From this point on, Melville is no longer optimistic and because of such a limited hope, he becomes a classicist. Careful here, [color=red]Fermin, on two accounts: first, that Ahab's motive to go at Moby Dick, while his belief in his ability is Transcendentalist, his motive reflects a less pure intent - revenge, so that Ahab was attributing negative traits to the whale; second, that classicists are Anti-Transcendentalists or pessimists. They're not, that's too easy, and black and white. They may believe in order and structure and the societal over the individual just because they like this comfortable structure and feel the need for it, but this does not necessarily make them pessimistic. Perhaps weak in the face of change, but not automatically negative. I can see how/why you'd make this leap - afraid of change, due to fear of negative outcomes, but it isn't really the case here. People are afraid of change for many reasons, and it is the nature of fear to stifle and cause stagnation. The exact opposite of continual expansion. So that this seems like pessimism, but maybe it's just fear. Which could be argued as pessimism, but there's a lot more distinctions that need to be made, and to put it the way you did is an oversimplification of a series of a chain of beliefs, it would seem. Do you see this?I could be wrong, though. Your oversimplification, at the core could be right, just that you needed to work through your logic more so that it didn't come accross as such a leaping generalization.[/color]

Through Ahab's character, Melville has identified himself as a man who thinks that there are limits to everything and in doing so, he has lost touch with the common essence. Right. Most of the ship's crew, Starbuck especially, did not believe that Ahab would be able to kill Moby Dick, and in the end, it seems that everyone just entered a state of frenzy panic and lost any hope they might have had before in the power of mankind. This can be said to parallel Melville's attitude because in the tragic climax of his book, Melville as an author shows his fear of the physical limits of death and mortality and doubt of the Supreme Being, and these feelings imply Melville's continual attachment to his ego-mind. Yes, good application of this concept. With the death of Ahab and so many of his other characters, Melville proves himself an Anti-Transcendentalist in his pessimism, clearly illustrating the inability of Anti-Transcendentalism to create a completely satisfying, happy ending because of its tinge of disbelief in absolute infinite potential. Good interpreting with these concepts, Fermin.

As for Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, some of his characters too share the tragic storyline that is quite a trademark of Anti-Transcendentalism. For starters, Dimmesdale is plagued by his shame and guilt and the rest of Hawthorne's main characters are all either sinners or people afflicted with negative emotions. Hawthorne portrays a society that is so attached to the ego-mind with the fear and the paranoia that it kind of appears that Hawthorne does not believe in a completely essence-based, infinite potential world. He has Dimmesdale confess his sins and Chillingworth give up his hatred, but without these negative feelings of anger and shame consuming them, the two characters ultimate die because of the removal of these feelings that they have so long been living solely upon. Thus, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth's death reflects Hawthorne's incomplete belief of the power of now and people having the power to infinitely improve themselves without any regards to the wrongdoings of the past. And as for the end of the book, it leaves off with Hester returning to the cabin in the outskirt of the Puritan community, which is a happy event but at the same time, it has an air of melancholy and unfulfilled-ness.

In analyzing the Anti-Transcendentalism elements of Melville and Hawthorne that set them apart from Emerson and Thoreau, I have come to the conclusion that Anti-Transcendentalism is not all that different from Transcendentalism after all. Both philosophies incorporate the potential of human beings right and the rest of the world. What differs between the two belief systems is the varying degree of potential that exists within everything: for Emerson and his Transcendentalist colleagues, the potential is infinite and eveywhere; for Melville and his party of Anti-Transcendentalists, the potential is somewhat limited, stopped by a glass ceiling that is more commonly known as their faith. OOF. Really well said. Insight, here, Fermin. Great critical thinking. Anti-Transcendentalists are the ones that classify seemingly impossible events as "miracles" good application here of our discussion on miracles; they are the ones that have a not-always-happy, cynical ending for their tales of life. This Anti-Transcendentalist belief of limitations is due to the physical domain and their over-reliance and dwelling in this tangible realm. Excellent critical thinking; perhaps this is true, it's certainly part of the rhetoric around materialism. And even though it may be easier to accept Anti-Transcendentalism concepts than Transcendentalism concepts, which is interesting in and of itself as a statement of us as a society and as a collection of individuals being cynical towards something fully positive we know that our thoughts and ideas do create reality from the history of our inventions. Thus, if we truly believed like Emerson and Thoreau did, then anything is possible, infinite potential is possible. Very Happy
Hmm.
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