In Response to Emerson’s, the American Scholar
When I was a child I was taught to enjoy reading. Reading, I was told, free’d the mind. It opened not only doors to the imagination, but doors to the soul, to ideas and thought and discovery of oneself. However, as a child, I did not believe this. Or rather, I did not understand how printed words on paper could speak to ones soul; could encourage, enlighten or uplift. This is not to say that i did not enjoy reading, I enjoyed it very much. But rather, I skimmed the surface of many books that were brought to my attention rather than drinking a deep glass of cool crisp water.
This persisted. I spent my time engaged in creativity, through reading and other artistic avenues, but never understanding what it is I should be getting out of the stories. Lord of the Rings, gave me adventure, but was only a “neat” and “exciting” story. Books read at school brought words and knowledge, but nothing as notable as to stir my soul.
To be honest, I found my truth in the forests of central North Carolina. I would spend my days beneath the glinting sun which shone through the tall trees. I experienced pain when falling from a tree and landing on my back, glee when swinging on vines that nature provided, and fear when coming across abandoned clothes of a homeless man. I watched in wonder when a hurricane went on land and tore down many of the trees I had once climbed, forever changing the landscape into something new--proving the universal law of complexities through change.
As Emerson has said, “Life is our dictionary.” (Emerson) I gained, through my experiences through nature, definitions of life. A greater understanding of what it is to live.
And now, having long since past my adolescent stages of ignorance I find myself often looking back at these experiences. They, now, give definition to my books. It is a foundation of truth that has brought meaning to many of the books that I have read. But more so, they have encouraged a way of thinking. Of interacting with the authors and drawing out more that I had when a child. Through experience, it is evident that we gain truth, but is it not also truth that we gain through our understanding of a text, or work of literature that resonates with our soul, because of our own personal experiences? “There is some awe mixed with the joy of our surprise, when this poet . . . says that which lies close to my own soul.” (Emerson)
However, through lethargy, it would seem that many move from the child-like innocence of discovery; of this truth that can be found, not only when one is a child, but when one looks at truth in a lens of creativity and replaces it with gained and memorized knowledge with nothing of intrinsic value to compare it to. “Instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm.” (Emerson) There must be a gaining of knowledge, which can be beautifully gained through books, but truth comes through an idea that life becomes this very truth. That not all of our time should be spent on reading books, but that thinking, and writing, even encourage a relationship to truth that will bring about a form of understanding of nature and the human condition.
When we are pressed in our mind of thoughts that bring us our own truth we discover our most true form--ourselves at our root. Descartes says this beautifully, “I am, however, a real thing and really exist; but what thing? I have answered: a thing which thinks.” (Descartes 28)
I am thoroughly convinced that truth can only come through these criteria: knowledge, (through our study of books), experience, (through aesthetic wonderment. Art. Science. Nature. Etc.), and our ability to think, (this mystery of consciousness defines us). Our souls, our essence--consciousness, awareness--breath through us in waves of truth when we exploit these things to generate creativity.
The true scholar, the Man Thinking, it would seem must come through the ability to create, using their facilities to learn creativity and to build on such a thing. We tie together our gained knowledge of books with childish adventure and wonderment to bring ourselves a deeper understanding of those experiences.
But what of current experiences? It would seem that we must build continually on our selves in order to better understand what truth is, for truth does not seem to be static. What was once true of oneself, may not be true to another, or to oneself at another given point in time. Does this discount experience or book-knowledge? Or do these truths build off one another to find a higher form of understanding, a creative process in which we find ourselves more becoming the Man Thinking than being the Man Thinking? “Is there no fact, no event, in our private history, which shall not, sooner of later, lose its adhesive, inert form, and astonish us by soaring from our body into the empyrean.” (Emerson) Current experience then would not discount what were once truths, but reinforce this process of building upon truth, or creating a better truth. Because what is truth but what is of inner importance and significance to us. Truth must be subjective to our experiences, be built by our knowledge through books, and be made progressive through a building of creativity.
My books were adventures, but nothing more. I, without knowing was made to “accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries, when they wrote [their] books.” (Emerson) However, through writing, through thinking, I grow on what I learned and read from the authors of my youth, and the authors of today, becoming, not the Man Thinking, as Emerson incorporates with the scholar, but rather progressing towards the unobtainable Man Thinking. Rather, I write and am the Man Progressing. I am the embodiment of my own truth through experience, and the prophet of such a truth through my written action.
What truth that is to be can lead to many different roads, but what roads are there to take when all that is laid in front of us are fields of tall grass begging the Man Progressing to enter into the prairie, and carve the path that his own.
1. Emerson, Ralph Waldo, The Amersican Scholar, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, pp. 43-62, (2000).
2. Descartes, Rene, Meditations on First Philosophy, Simon and Brown, (2011).