Transcendentalists versus Anti-Transcendentalist

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Transcendentalists versus Anti-Transcendentalist

Post  Vincent_Lee on Wed May 13, 2009 3:05 am

Although Transcendentalists and Anti-Transcendentalists, despite appearing to be diametrically opposed, do indeed share some common ground.

The main difference between Transcendentalist authors like Emerson and Thoreau and their counterparts, the Anti-Transcendentalists Melville and Hawthorne is that the former observes the world through an unfailingly optimistic perspective while the latter approaches everything – even seemingly positive things, such as unlimited human potential – with a negative bent.

Take for instance, Hawthorne’s main character in the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne. Put into any other context, Hester’s character is the ultimate symbol of human potential. Despite being faced with adversity at every crooked path or corner, she still manages to triumph in soul and spirit. Looking at Melville’s Moby Dick, we see the protagonist Captain Ahab as an icon of individualism, an avatar of tenacity, drive, and seemingly undefeatable mental and physical strength. His quote “Truth hath no confines” resonates that same message as that so ardently believed in. Man is boundless in his potential essentially. Taken on their own, these two characters are very much the personifications of unlimited human potential that authors like Emerson and Thoreau spoke of.

Unfortunately when we factor in context and additional content, the picture changes a lot. Despite Hester’s own triumph in the Scarlet Letter, two of the other main characters, cowardly Dimmesdale and vengeful Chillingworth suffer less pleasant fates. Dimmesdale, despite his courage in finally displaying his mark of guilt, sin, and adultery for the whole world to see and his daring in risking everything he had, including his life, still succumbed to the maladies induced by poor physical and mental conditions. Chillingworth, in his blind lust for vengeance, became warped in mind and form to the point where upon being unable to reach his goal – to have his revenge on DImmesdale because he died – he himself dies.

Ahab’s undoing came very much as a result of his dogged persistence, a grim irony. His relentless pursuit of the elusive whale, Moby Dick, eventually leads into a dramatic and violent confrontation between man and beast. Despite the seemingly equal ferocity of the clashes between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, the creature triumphs in the end and Captain Ahab sinks to a watery grave.

The underlying idea of the harsh defeats these characters suffer is a message that isn't purely bleak. Rather, Anti-Transcendentalists, with their dark works, are reminding us that even in places of light, darkness still exists, even if it only lurks within the deepest of cracks and crevices. When the cracks in our supposedly impenetrable armor are exposed, the ugly side of human nature, the dark, vengeful, obsessive, aggressive, and hostile urges that exist within all of us can take over and crush us into lifeless pieces of nothing. In the presence of Transcendentalist ideology’s optimism, Anti-Transcendentalism looms above like a dark cloud, serving as an ominous reminder that we are not invincible, that we are not unlimited in potential, that we are all in fact extremely vulnerable, and that sometimes we discover all of that in the worst ways possible.
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Re: Transcendentalists versus Anti-Transcendentalist

Post  Ajk on Wed May 13, 2009 9:42 pm

Vincent_Lee wrote:Although Transcendentalists and Anti-Transcendentalists, despite appearing to be diametrically opposed, do indeed share some common ground.

The main difference between Transcendentalist authors like Emerson and Thoreau and their counterparts, the Anti-Transcendentalists Melville and Hawthorne is that the former observes the world through an unfailingly optimistic perspective while the latter approaches everything – even seemingly positive things, such as unlimited human potential – with a negative bent. Ok, let's see where you take this rather obvious generalization Vincent in your analysis below...

Take for instance, Hawthorne’s main character in the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne. Put into any other context, Hester’s character is the ultimate symbol of human potential. Despite being faced with adversity at every crooked path or corner, she still manages to triumph in soul and spirit. Ok, yes. Could've used an example of societal conformity having been overcome, but your point is accurate and relevant to this discussion. good. Looking at Melville’s Moby Dick, we see the protagonist Captain Ahab as an icon of individualism, an avatar of tenacity, drive, and seemingly undefeatable mental and physical strength. His quote “Truth hath no confines” resonates that same message as the Transcendentalists so ardently believed in. Man is boundless in his potential essentially. This is a key distinction of Melville's Transcendentalism as reflected in his characterization of Ahab, yes. good. Taken on their own, these two characters are very much the personifications of unlimited human potential that authors like Emerson and Thoreau spoke of.

Unfortunately when we factor in context and additional content, the picture changes a lot. Despite Hester’s own triumph in the Scarlet Letter, two of the other main characters, cowardly Dimmesdale and vengeful Chillingworth suffer less pleasant fates. Dimmesdale, despite his courage in finally displaying his mark of guilt, sin, and adultery for the whole world to see and his daring in risking everything he had, including his life, still succumbed to the maladies induced by poor physical and mental conditions. Chillingworth, in his blind lust for vengeance, became warped in mind and form to the point where upon being unable to reach his goal – to have his revenge on DImmesdale because he died – he himself dies.

Ahab’s undoing came very much as a result of his dogged persistence, a grim irony. Was it a grim irony, or was it an example of what we've been discussing about how Transcendentaism is about a person's thoughts, and hence, beliefs? And the ego-mind going into overdrive, so that when it does this, there is potential for destruction? You can make a finer distinction with that strong analytical mind, yeah? His relentless pursuit of the elusive whale, Moby Dick, eventually leads into a dramatic and violent confrontation between man and beast. Despite the seemingly equal ferocity of the clashes between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, the creature triumphs in the end and Captain Ahab sinks to a watery grave. Perhaps because of his mind having gone into a more destructive path with the obsessiveness over revenge?

The underlying idea of the harsh defeats these characters suffer is a message that isn't purely bleak. Rather, Anti-Transcendentalists, with their dark works, are reminding us that even in places of light, darkness still exists, even if it only lurks within the deepest of cracks and crevices. When the cracks in our supposedly impenetrable armor are exposed, the ugly side of human nature, the dark, vengeful, obsessive, aggressive, and hostile urges that exist within all of us can take over and crush us into lifeless pieces of nothing. But Vincent, that is the question here, is it that these forces exist within all of us? You discuss it as if it is a given, not a question. So that by doing so, it seems as if you're speaking to your perspective, yes? But is this what the Transcendentalists actually said? That these darker sides exist within us? What did Emerson actually want to communicate with the statement, "All mean egotism vanishes and I become the Transparent Eyeball?" In the presence of Transcendentalist ideology’s optimism, Anti-Transcendentalism looms above like a dark cloud, serving as an ominous reminder that we are not invincible, that we are not unlimited in potential, that we are all in fact extremely vulnerable, and that sometimes we discover all of that in the worst ways possible.
You sound so sure, which is good for persuasive writing. Are you so sure of this answer, though? So that your belief is what's contained in this last sentence? Can you be so sure?

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Re: Transcendentalists versus Anti-Transcendentalist

Post  Vincent_Lee on Thu May 14, 2009 12:35 am

In retrospect, this did get a bit extreme. I believed Ahab's death was ironic because of the fact that his persistence, which had gotten him so far lead him to his doom. However, it as you say, the egomind was Ahab's undoing. I believe Ahab's tenacity and intense drive was probably part of his being, although it was tainted by his desire for revenge, the egomind's doing. Those qualities that might have helped him otherwise though, led to his downfall. Tenacity become stubborness and his intense drive became an obsession.

To respond to that question of whether we have inherent evil within us, I think what we do have for certain is aggression, which I think probably served as a survival mechanism. Events in life can turn that aggression from something meant as a tool to ensure self-preservation into something much worse though. Negative feelings such as jealousy or hatred are aggresion put into overdrive, like how the seven deadly sins are all our basic survival functions cranked up a couple notches too many.

I think Emerson meant that when those excess behaviors, resultant of the egomind, are overcome along with the egomind's control over us, we reach an elevated state of being.

I think Anti-Transcendentalism is meant to serve as the reality check or perhaps a not-so-silent reminder that we can still stumble and fall. It might not be as intense as I put it, but I think the same idea remains. Hawthorne did show optimism with Hester and I did conclude in the debate on the Scarlet Letter that Hawthorne is still somewhat optimistic and not completely negative, so I would think at least in his case, Anti-Transcendentalists believe it is wholly possible to transcend. However, it just doesn't seem to occur often because people fall victim to circumstances and the egomind. It isn't an inherent inability to transcend, I think they're saying, it's just that sometimes some people lack awareness of the egomind's destructive abilities and fall victim to it. I think if people were put into a different position, they just might be able to transcend.
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