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A brilliant essayist and a master of the aphorism (“Our moods do not believe in each other”; “Money often costs too much”), Emerson has inspired countless writers. He challenged Americans to shut their ears against Europe’s “courtly muses” and to forge a new, distinctly American cultural identity. But he remains one of America’s least understood writers. And, by his own admission, he spawned neither school nor follower (he valued independent thought too much). Now, in this annotated selection of Emerson’s writings, David Mikics instructs the reader in a larger appreciation of Emerson’s essential works and the remarkable thinker who produced them.
Full of color illustrations and rich in archival photographs, this volume offers much for the specialist and general reader. In his running commentaries on Emerson’s essays, addresses, and poems, Mikics illuminates contexts, allusions, and language likely to cause difficulty to modern readers. He quotes extensively from Emerson’s Journal to shed light on particular passages or lines and examines Emerson the essayist, poet, itinerant lecturer, and political activist. Finally, in his Foreword, Phillip Lopate makes the case for Emerson as a spectacular truth teller—a model of intellectual labor and anti-dogmatic sanity.
Anyone who values Emerson will want to own this edition. Those wishing to discover, or to reacquaint themselves with, Emerson’s writings but who have not known where or how to begin will not find a better starting place or more reliable guide than The Annotated Emerson.
In his writing, Emerson favored fire imagery, and his own fiery intellect brightens every page of The Annotated Emerson, a wonderful new collection, meticulously annotated by David Mikics...In the lush pages of The Annotated Emerson readers will find that fire still warm, able to illuminate and sear.
— Daniel Dyer
What a pleasure to have, in The Annotated Emerson, a lovely and helpful version of many of Emerson's bests, gathered and annotated by David Mikics and introduced by Phillip Lopate. This is in no way Emerson lite. These are not shortcuts but rather a welcome frame for Emerson's particular kind of difficulty. The book's introductions curate the voluminous career, and the wide margins of the pages, dappled with thoughtful notes, give the meditations space to unfurl. This is a book that gives us each hope to approach the "new yet unapproachable" Emerson. Any lay reader will find an open door here. Those who already love Emerson and know him well may find a few cherished things missing, but they may also find a few things they didn't know they wanted to find.
— Tess Gallagher
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote essays about Shakespeare, John Brown, Stonehenge, Montaigne, best friend Henry David Thoreau, circles, nature, and self-reliance. One of his most famous lines—"the shot heard round the world" from his poem "Concord Hymn"—is still used to describe singular events in sports and history. The Annotated Emerson, edited by David Mikics, an English professor at the University of Houston, explains language and allusions that may be foreign to today's readers. By doing this, Mikics makes a great American essayist, whom Phillip Lopate in his foreword calls a "hero of intellectual labor," readily accessible to a new generation.
— Jan Gardner
Copiously annotated, richly illustrated and handsomely bound, a volume all lovers not just of literature but of freedom will want on their shelves…[Emerson's] astute observations and generous vision of the world within and without still have much to teach.
— William Yeoman
Mikics has put together a handsome edition of Emerson's most popular and enduring work. First-time readers of Emerson will find the collection useful because the annotations reference the common occurrences of Emerson's attention and, along with the illustrations, place Emerson's work in the context of the 19th century. More-experienced readers of Emerson will value the many annotations that reference his journals, letters, and other essays not gathered here.
— R. T. Prus
Yes, yes — Ralph Waldo Emerson was a brilliant and seminal American thinker, and his writing is studded with fabulous sentences, gemlike insights, and a remarkable record of mutual dialogue between self and world. But let's be honest: for the uninitiated, it's a dialogue that can prove frustratingly difficult to enter. It's not that Emerson is opaque, exactly, but that he's faceted. He's digressive, sidewinding. ("Man is analogist," he claims, and then proceeds to demonstrate his humanity by analogizing for pages.)
One could go so far as to say that Emerson is just plain dense. Even though some of his phrases leap off the page and lodge in the mind, the jewels in his prose can be hard to string together. It's not just that, in his role as the mid-nineteenth century's foremost American public intellectual, the man was ambitious. It's more that his writing is all- encompassing, enfolding the self and its contradiction, looking for the reflection of the reflection, proposing the corollary and also its opposite. Emerson elevates the humble, finds lofty sentiment in compost, celebrates labor, all in the service of furthering thought, which, he hopes, will lead us full circle back to action, to vision, and then to reflection once more.
Sometimes, despite himself, his meditations are unintentionally comic, as in the essay "Nature," where he writes, "The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me and I to them." Moments like this are likely to cause the reader to do a double-take — is Emerson discussing a secret alliance with affirming turnips? Emerson's point, of course, is far from arcane: he's hoping to express the world's mutuality, its correspondence, its fragmented wholeness. For him, illumination points to illumination points to illumination — and each flare is a reflection of some unseen but present centrality. Life becomes a quest to see amid facets, to "magnify the small, micrify the great," and to record reciprocities between inner and outer worlds. These are all tall orders, to be sure, but Emerson binds small and large, inner and outer, with remarkable grace. He's agile as well as original. He has the genius not merely to recite the commonplace that thought should lead to action, but to affirm that action should lead back to thought.
Still, if there are rewards aplenty in Emerson, there is still the problem of the slow going, the circumlocution. The revelation resists sound bite. Emerson rewards us, but he only rewards our full attention. And, as we know, full attention can be hard to come by.
What a pleasure, then, to have, in The Annotated Emerson, a lovely and helpful version of many of Emerson's bests, gathered and annotated by David Mikics and introduced by Phillip Lopate. This is in no way Emerson lite. These are not shortcuts but rather a welcome frame for Emerson's particular kind of difficulty. The book's introductions curate the voluminous career, and the wide margins of the pages, dappled with thoughtful notes, give the meditations space to unfurl. This is a book that gives us each hope to approach the "new yet unapproachable" Emerson.
Any lay reader will find an open door here. Those who already love Emerson and know him well may find a few cherished things missing, but they may also find a few things they didn't know they wanted to find. Both introductions by Lopate and Mikics refer already devoted Emerson fans back to the looser, more exploratory journals, but they also do us the service of quoting liberally from the journals in this book itself, right in the margins of the essays. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is to see, as Mikics puts it, how much "traffic" there is between the journals and the final essays. We see the sentence in draft, the illumination plucked out of the scribble. There's also a chance to see that we're not alone in sometimes tossing our hands up at the famed American Scholar. In "Nature," Emerson — not merely content to converse with carrots — refers to himself as " a transparent eyeball." This was too much for Emerson's colleague Christopher Cranch, who took the occasion to sketch an enormous open eye walking on stilty pant-legs through the fields.
"Emerson is our Shakespeare," Mikics claims, and while some may argue for Whitman, or for Thoreau, or for Dickinson, or for all four, there's no question that Emerson is a founding father of our national literature, a bedrock of our oratory, an early capturer of our spirit. He does rise in our minds as one of the greatest American intellectuals, one of the early few to grasp and form and articulate the grain of our thought. Not, of course, that he was a narrow patriot — rather he was a quarreler, a re-maker, a rabble-rouser: "Please don't read American," he wrote, "thought is of no country."
Tess Taylor is the author of The Misremembered World, a collection of poems. Her nonfiction and poetry have appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, andThe New Yorker.
Reviewer: Tess Taylor
Posted January 21, 2012
Any true reader of emerson must have this on their shelves. No one has annotated this much before and it really informs the reader on the wide variety of influences he had. Ive waited for soemthing new on emerson and wallah .. Finally something
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