Trans- v.s. Anti-transcendentalism

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Trans- v.s. Anti-transcendentalism

Post  Annie Fu on Wed May 13, 2009 8:02 am

It seems as if in the works of the anti-transcendentalists, the writers started out exploring the theory of transcendentalism but then got to a point where they decided that it was unreal, and something else had to be added into the equation. That something else would be human limitations and the dark side of human nature – the anti-transcendentalist addition to their definition of the word “reality.” “Anti-transcendentalist” is really rather a counter-intuitive title to give Hawthorne and Melville because they were not antagonizing transcendentalism. From their fictional works, since fiction is always subjective to a certain degree and thus ultimately reflects the author in some way, there are actually numerous suggestions of transcendentalist beliefs. The main difference between these “transcendentalists” and “anti-transcendentalists,” I would say, would be their tones. Strictly speaking, transcendentalism is the belief of an interconnectedness of all life and the unlimited human potential. Therefore, Hawthorne and Melville would still be considered somewhat transcendentalists because they both explored these two aspects of life. I don’t believe that transcendentalism specifically stated that evil is nonexistent. Anti-transcendentalists put more of an emphasis on limitations, trying to remain realistic, while transcendentalism emphasizes more on the theoretical limitlessness of human potential.

In Melville’s Moby-Dick, he first explored the mystery and power of nature as well as unlimited human potential. Nature (the sea, Moby-Dick), was presented as vast and unpredictable, which is consistent with the transcendentalist ideas. The great adventure story started out as hopeful, and Ahab was very passionate and hopeful about this expedition. As they sailed farther and farther form land, from home, and into nature (the sea), he seemed to become happier. It seems as if this proximity to nature, this closeness to natural forces, was improving his condition. He had hope; he started out optimistic and believing in human potential. However, his intentions were not exactly “moral.” He was passionate but vengeful; evil and sin tinted his hopefulness and his “transcendentalist” attitudes. Ahab is essentially going against the oneness of everything and choosing to prey upon another living entity that is really part of the same collective unconscious as him. By doing this, he is really preying upon himself, since everything is one and related, and he pays for it with his life.

It is a dual world we live in. There is fate to a certain degree, but one may transcend fate if one chooses to; if one thinks. We learn that Fedallah made a prophecy, which would usually be associated with tapping into the collective unconscious to bring forth this mystical information. That part is fate, and had Ahab responded to the prophecy differently, his fate may have been different. Had he tried instead to be self-reliant, to improve his own condition instead of seeking to bring down Moby-Dick (competing and seeking the destruction of others), he may have transcended that fate. However, in his decision to pursue this dark, ego-based desire of his (letting his ego-mind control him), he has essentially thrust himself in fate’s hands. At his final battle, the odds started piling up against him as he remembered the prophecy and became restrained and limited by it. In Melville’s decision to let Ahab sink to these depths reflects the author’s belief that although it is possible to transcend, a darker side of human nature still prevents most humans from doing so. This is a contrast to the transcendentalists, who portrayed the possibilities and the brighter side of things and whose tone was more hopeful and optimistic. In both transcendentalism and anti-transcendentalism, there is a choice to transcend fate, and it is the decision that each author makes that categorizes them into these two groups.

In Hawthorne’s novel, he explores the inner world of human nature, much as transcendentalists do. However, he focused more on the dark side while transcendentalists seemed to have focused more on the brighter side. There is undoubted human potential expressed in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter – the potential to sink into the depths of the darker parts of the mind. It is indeed human potential – in a darker and more pessimistic sense. There is also Hester’s potential in transcending her fate of being branded “A” for “adultery” and instead, becoming known as “A” for “able.” Here, she has made the choice of thinking and using her Power to stretch beyond the limits of fate. The interrelatedness of all things is also somewhat implied – Chillingworth’s presence was enough to instill a chill in Dimmesdale’s spirit, suggesting that Chillingworth was either emitting poisonous fumes or that it was the interconnectedness between them and everyone else was how Dimmesdale felt the evilness. There is also Pearl’s instinctual knowledge of her birth father – intuition, which is another transcendentalist focus. In fact, transcendentalists believed that “it is through intuition that we ‘know’ the existence of our own souls and their relation to a reality beyond the physical world.”

However, Hawthorne purposely used the Puritan era as his setting, as a limiting factor to this human potential. Hester and Pearl, although are outcasts from the society, continue to suffer under societal pressure. This is evident, as eventually Hester could only relax when she is in the woods – when she is completely surrounded by nature. It is difficult to rise above a group of people that strives for conformity, and thus hard for Hester to ignore the judgments that the society places upon her. Hawthorne seems to imply that although, theoretically, one may transcend beyond the limits the society places on everyone, in reality this is a very difficult and unrealistic thing to accomplish.

In a way, Melville and Hawthorne are very much transcendentalists. Their writings seem inconsistent in the sense that there are both transcendentalist and anti-transcendentalist elements in it. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” as Emerson states. Perhaps Melville and Hawthorne’s works are their “freewrites” to help them sort through the commotion in their minds to reach a general conclusion about life.
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Re: Trans- v.s. Anti-transcendentalism

Post  Ajk on Wed May 13, 2009 9:18 pm

Annie Fu wrote:It seems as if in the works of the anti-transcendentalists, the writers started out exploring the theory of transcendentalism but then got to a point where they decided that it was unreal, and something else had to be added into the equation. That something else would be human limitations and the dark side of human nature – the anti-transcendentalist addition to their definition of the word “reality.” “Anti-transcendentalist” is really rather a counter-intuitive title to give Hawthorne and Melville because they were not antagonizing transcendentalism. Weren't they, though? From their fictional works, since fiction is always subjective to a certain degree and thus ultimately reflects the author in some way, good Annie, reflecting the limits to authors' objectivity, ultimately; good incorporation of other lessons and application to the matter here. This one trait alone, again and again, you have proven to be so strong in, so that your learning has been able to go som much further and deeper. Excellent work, Annie. there are actually numerous suggestions of transcendentalist beliefs. The main difference between these “transcendentalists” and “anti-transcendentalists,” I would say, would be their tones. Hmm interesting. good use of another unit of ours from the past, and applying it to the interpretation of Moby Dick, and then the debate we're engaged in within this discussion. Totally necessary and relevant. Strictly speaking, transcendentalism is the belief of an interconnectedness of all life and the unlimited human potential. Therefore, Hawthorne and Melville would still be considered somewhat transcendentalists because they both explored these two aspects of life. I don’t believe that transcendentalism specifically stated that evil is nonexistent. No, it's never directly stated as such; and when Emerson relfected later on Hawthorne and Melville, Emerson admitted not having dealt with this question of evil, not that he didn't believe in it. So yes, you're right. Anti-transcendentalists put more of an emphasis on limitations, trying to remain realistic, So then this is your belief? Anti- Transcendentalism is "realistic"? while transcendentalism emphasizes more on the theoretical limitlessness of human potential. Ok, transcendentalism is theoretical. Interesting. Does this not reflect on your own set of beliefs? And if our thoughts create our reality, what then does this say about the possible realities you can create for yourself? Are you limiting yourself with this belief?.

In Melville’s Moby-Dick, he first explored the mystery and power of nature as well as unlimited human potential. Nature (the sea, Moby-Dick), was presented as vast and unpredictable, which is consistent with the transcendentalist ideas. Yes. The great adventure story started out as hopeful, and Ahab was very passionate and hopeful about this expedition. As they sailed farther and farther form land, from home, and into nature (the sea), he seemed to become happier. It seems as if this proximity to nature, this closeness to natural forces, was improving his condition. He had hope; he started out optimistic and believing in human potential. Right. However, his intentions were not exactly “moral.” He was passionate but vengeful; evil and sin tinted his hopefulness and his “transcendentalist” attitudes. Precisely. Ahab is essentially going against the oneness of everything and choosing to prey upon another living entity that is really part of the same collective unconscious as him. By doing this, he is really preying upon himself, since everything is one and related, and he pays for it with his life.

It is a dual world we live in. There is fate to a certain degree, but one may transcend fate if one chooses to; if one thinks. We learn that Fedallah made a prophecy, which would usually be associated with tapping into the collective unconscious to bring forth this mystical information. Right. That part is fate, and had Ahab responded to the prophecy differently, his fate may have been different. Had he tried instead to be self-reliant, to improve his own condition instead of seeking to bring down Moby-Dick (competing and seeking the destruction of others), he may have transcended that fate. So then this is the key point, Annie, why did Melville have Ahab make this choice as his character he created? What is Melville's commentary, then therefore, on humans and unlimited potential? However, in his decision to pursue this dark, ego-based desire of his (letting his ego-mind control him), yes he has essentially thrust himself in fate’s hands. There you go, girl. Making a really high level conceptual synthesis. This contains insight, using mastery of Emerson's ideas on fate and our discussions about the power of belief and thought. "So long as a man thinketh, he is free." At his final battle, the odds started piling up against him as he remembered the prophecy and became restrained and limited by it. In Melville’s decision to let Ahab sink to these depths reflects the author’s belief that although it is possible to transcend, a darker side of human nature still prevents most humans from doing so. ok. This is a contrast to the transcendentalists, who portrayed the possibilities and the brighter side of things and whose tone was more hopeful and optimistic. In both transcendentalism and anti-transcendentalism, there is a choice to transcend fate, and it is the decision that each author makes that categorizes them into these two groups. Choice. The key. Free will vs. fate, one of the planets' most ancient questions/debates, and you've nailed it here. Really well done, Annie.

In a way, Melville and Hawthorne are very much transcendentalists. Their writings seem inconsistent in the sense that there are both transcendentalist and anti-transcendentalist elements in it. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” as Emerson states. Perhaps Melville and Hawthorne’s works are their “freewrites” to help them sort through the commotion in their minds to reach a general conclusion about life.
And yet again, another quality insight delivered by Ms. Annie Fu. Keep them flowing, Annie.
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