Emerson’s Relevance Today



It is now a commonplace to question the relevance of much of what we have called American ideals and values. A vocal if not representative segment of the younger generation has had enough impact upon social and political theorists to stir them to a reevaluation of policies which affect the welfare of us all. American literature has not been immune to the charge of irrelevance.

In this article Williams says “I have attempted to show solely on the grounds of his ideas that Emerson is relevant today. Emerson may also be defended on artistic and aesthetic grounds, as Miller admits. Thus while I disagree with those who would radically revise the curriculum of American Literature, I believe there is merit in asking ourselves, as critics of the curriculum have asked, whether our emphasis is where it should be. Surely there is much to be gained by asking ourselves what accounts for Emerson’s optimism, for amid the wail of so much negativism his strong, positive voice is needed to remind us despair is only one mood man is capable of and need not be final. To quote him once more, ‘I count no man much because he cows or silences me. Any fool can do that. But if his conversation enriches or rejoices me, I must reckon him wise.’ (J. IV, 268.)”


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