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Above Time: Emerson's and Thoreau's Temporal Revolutions

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Overview

In Above Time, James R. Guthrie explores the origins of the two preeminent transcendentalists' revolutionary approaches to time, as well as to the related concepts of history, memory, and change. Most critical discussions of this period neglect the important truth that the entire American transcendentalist project involved a transcendence of temporality as well as of materiality. Correspondingly, both writers call in their major works for temporal reform, to be achieved primarily by rejecting the past and future in order to live in an amplified present moment.

Emerson and Thoreau were compelled to see time in a new light by concurrent developments in the sciences and the professions. Geologists were just then hotly debating the age of the earth, while zoologists were beginning to unravel the mysteries of speciation, and archaeologists were deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. These discoveries worked collectively to enlarge the scope of time, thereby helping pave the way for the appearance of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859.

Well aware of these wider cultural developments, Emerson and Thoreau both tried (although with varying degrees of success) to integrate contemporary scientific thought with their preexisting late-romantic idealism. As transcendentalists, they already believed in the existence of "correspondences"—affinities between man and nature, formalized as symbols. These symbols could then be decoded to discover the animating presence in the world of eternal laws as pervasive as the laws of science. Yet unlike scientists, Emerson and Thoreau hoped to go beyond merely understanding nature to achieving a kind of passionate identity with it, and they believed that such a union might be achieved only if time was first recognized as being a purely human construct with little or no validity in the rest of the natural world. Consequently, both authors employ a series of philosophical, rhetorical, and psychological strategies designed to jolt their readers out of time, often by attacking received cultural notions about temporality.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Guthrie presents a perceptive and well-informed study of an enigma that increasingly haunted the nineteenth-century mind: the nature of time. His relating Emerson's and Thoreau's thinking to an intellectual problem so crucial to the age makes his topic ipso facto important."—Gustaaf Van Cromphout

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826213730
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2001
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

James R. Guthrie is Associate Professor of English at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of Emily Dickinson's Vision: Illness and Identity in Her Poetry.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction 1
1 A History of Time: Emerson and Lyell, Agassiz, and Darwin 6
2 "My Carnac" and Memnon's Head: Temporal Reform and Timely Memorials in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers 46
3 Circles and Lines: Emerson's Parade of Days 92
4 The Walking Stick, the Surveyor's Staff, and the Corn in the Night: Thoreau's Alternative Temporal Indices 131
5 Answering the Sphinx: The Evolution of the Emersonian Metamorphosis 173
6 Inches' Wood: Thoreau's Re-membered Cultural Landscape 201
7 Extemporaneous Man, Representative Man 235
Works Cited 253
Index 259
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