March 25, 2013

We recognize our own rejected thoughts

One of my favorite Dylan songs--and the list is long--is "Trust Yourself" from the underrated album Empire Burlesque. In it, Bob strikes the familiar American chord of self reliance.

That theme might have been most forcefully laid out in a much sunnier manner in  Ralph Waldo Emerson's 1841 essay of the same title. That essay and the vehemence with which it pushed its argument may have been in part a reaction to some of the hostile reviews and controversy that came in the wake of his controversial Harvard Divinity School Address (see previous posts).

It's easy to misunderstand what Emerson meant by self-reliance. The essay is not a paean to unregulated capitalism. Rather it is a call to intellectual and spiritual independence, as this selection from the opening power shows:

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.
I'm not sure I'd go that far, at least with the thoughts that flit like bats around my head, but he does have a point. I have on more than one occasion read, heard, or seen something in print or in some work of art that had previously occurred to me but that I did nothing to capture. He puts it like this:

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.
Ralph can be a bit out there sometimes, but passages like this make up for some of that. At the very least, they challenge the reader to not let some many ideas and inspirations get away.

PRISON REFORM is on the legislative agenda in WV, where a decent bill promoted by the governor sailed thorugh the state senate. I hope it succeeds in the house. These efforts got a boost in, of all places, the New York Times.

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY. Here are some snapshots from the growing divide.

THREE YEARS AND COUNTING. The Affordable Care Act had a birthday this weekend. The Spousal Unit and I actually attended a party in its honor (we didn't have to buy gifts anyhow). Here's a look at how it's working so far.


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