Emerson’s memory loss: Originality, communality, and the late style

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Abstract

Emerson’s Memory Loss is about an archive of texts documenting Emerson’s intellectual state during the final phase of his life, as he underwent dementia. It is also about the way these texts provoke a rereading of the more familiar canon of Emerson’s thinking. Emerson’s memory loss, Hanlon argues, contributed to the shaping of a line of thought in America that emphasizes the social over the solipsistic, the affective over the distant, the many over the one. Emerson regarded his output during the time when his patterns of cognition transformed profoundly as a regathering of focus on the nature of memory and of thinking itself. His late texts theorize Emerson’s experience of senescence even as they disrupt his prior valorizations of the independent mind teeming with self-sufficient conviction. But still, these late writings have succumbed to a process of critical forgetting–either ignored by scholars or denied inclusion in Emerson’s oeuvre. Attending to a manuscript archive that reveals the extent to which Emerson collaborated with others–especially his daughter, Ellen Tucker Emerson–to articulate what he considered his most important work even as his ability to do so independently waned, Hanlon measures the resonance of these late texts across the stretch of Emerson’s thinking, including his writing about Margaret Fuller and his meditations on streams of thought that verge unto those of his godson, William James. Such ventures bring us toward a self defined less by its anxiety of overinfluence than by its communality, its very connectedness with myriad others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages170
ISBN (Electronic)9780190842529
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

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Keywords

  • American literature
  • Cognition and literature
  • Disability studies
  • Ellen Tucker Emerson
  • Emerson biography
  • Margaret Fuller
  • Memory and literature
  • Memory loss
  • Nineteenth-century literature
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Transcendentalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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