Emerson and Nietzsche: The Children of The Fire


Emerson – Never have I felt so much at home in a book, and in my home, as – I may not praise it… it is too close to me... The author who has been richest in ideas in this century so far, has been an American..." (Nietzsche)

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most influential minds in America, as a leading figure in the Transcendentalist movement that emerged during the mid-1800s, a personal friend and strong influence on Thoreau, and a preacher outside of any church or dogma. Emerson believed that what he called "Historical Christianity" had rendered the Christian religion a dead faith. Rather than educating men's spirits as to the meaning of their individual strivings and sufferings, or relating the wisdom of the Bible to their actual lives, preachers merely uttered moral sentiments and taught their flocks by rote. After departing the Harvard Divinity School, Emerson lectured all around America for 25 years. He was part of the Lyceum movement, which aimed to bring such philosophical lectures to general audiences - transmitting philosophy to the people, rather than just those within academia. While Emerson has sometimes been portrayed as an 'easy optimist' with a positive message, he was a man of intense feeling whose life was marred by tragedy. His answer to the suffering of his life was to transmute it into a sincerely personal and individual spirituality, and an understanding of all life as expressions of one divinity: The Over-Soul.

The link between Emerson and Nietzsche is one that is oft-overlooked, even now. Some have called this a kind of perennial oversight, an absurdly repeating blind spot in approaching Nietzsche. Perhaps this is because the two men have as many differences as they do similarities. And yet, when we look within Nietzsche's journals and letters, and even within his published works, the influence of Emerson is made stunningly clear. Throughout the episode, we examine how concepts such as the personal v/s the impersonal, the use and abuse of history, the celebration and acceptance of all life's circumstances, the use of a monistic principle to explain all life - were all part of Emerson's philosophy as much as Nietzsche's. Both men were, in Emerson's coinage, "children of the fire": the souls who perceive the beauty of the divine fire underlying all life and existence, and give it voice in poetry, philosophy, and song.

Interview with Robert D. Richardson: https://youtu.be/ebDLjy3ARQ4

Mind Like Fire Unbound by Thanissaro Bhikku: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/likefire/1.html

Richardson's Emerson, The Mind on Fire: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EMWJKY8/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1&asin=B01EMWJKY8&revisionId=40826a6b&format=1&depth=1

Episode art: Joseph Wright of Derby, Vesuvius from Portici, 1774 (composited with a portrait of Emerson)

#emerson #nietzsche #philosophy #transcendental #life #christianity

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