Representing Grief: Emerson's “Experience”

Sharon Cameron

in Impersonality

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780226091310
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226091334 | DOI:
Representing Grief: Emerson's “Experience”

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In his essay “Experience,” Ralph Waldo Emerson asks: “Where do we find ourselves?” The place Emerson finds himself is one where no light is (“night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree”). And it is more oppressive than that because he can't see where he is and he can't see his way out. What he attests to is stupor. In the essay's most frequently cited passage, Emerson states: “I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition.” True to the double pattern of assertion thus far, the grammatical reference for “this evanescence” is not only the life of the child but also the evasiveness of the grief occasioned by the child's death. This chapter argues that what is at stake in “Experience” is not a question of logic but rather a question of the elegiac, and that Emerson is creating a powerful and systematic representation of grief.

Keywords: Experience; Ralph Waldo Emerson; grief; evanescence; death

Chapter.  11993 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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