"Not Altogether Human"

"Not Altogether Human": Pantheism and the Dark Nature of the American Renaissance

Richard Hardack
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    "Not Altogether Human"
    Book Description:

    Many leading American thinkers in the nineteenth century, who accepted the premises of Emersonian transcendentalism, valued the basic concept of pantheism: that God inheres in nature and in all things, and that a person could achieve a sense of belonging she or he lacked in society by seeking a oneness with all of nature. As Richard Hardack shows, however, writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville conceived of nature as everything “Other” —other than the white male Protestant culture of which they were a part. This conception of nature, then, became racialized, and the divine became associated with African American and Native American identities, as well as with femininity. In “Not Altogether Human,” Hardack reevaluates transcendentalism in the context of nineteenthcentury concerns about individual and national racial identity. Elucidating the influence of pantheism, Hardack draws on an array of canonical and unfamiliar materials to remap the boundaries of what has long been viewed as white male transcendental discourse. This book significantly revises notions of what transcendentalism and pantheism mean and how they relate to each other. Hardack’s close analysis of pantheism and its influence on major works and lesser known writing of the nineteenth century opens up a new perspective on American culture during this key moment in the country’s history.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-197-7
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Writing to Nathaniel Hawthorne in June 1851, in a letter full of pantheistic images, allusions and self-representations, Herman Melville repeatedly invoked what he experienced as “theallfeeling,” a sense of intoxicating oneness with nature and everything outside himself. But Melville immediately qualified what he considered the addictive exhilaration of such moments by situating them as instances of unacknowledged cognitive dissonance: “But what plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion” (Correspondence, 193–94).

    In November, Melville elaborated on his never wholly ratified, but never wholly relinquished...

  5. 1 “The Seductive God”: Pan and the Emergence of a Transcendental America
    (pp. 15-60)

    An unofficial literary religion transmitted through a kind of Masonic male fraternity, pantheism enjoyed an unprecedented resurgence throughout the American Renaissance. The significance of that often studied cultural period is partly connected to the emergence and influence of pantheism. Practiced primarily in literary abstraction, pantheism became a surrogate, subterranean creed for many nineteenth-century writers in the United States, encompassing less a theology than a methodology of male self-representation. Predicated both in reaction to and extension of American antinomianism, in which each man constitutes his own incommensurate and isolated world, pantheism posits a universal and sacred nature. Because each isolated antinomian”...

  6. 2 The “not me”: The Black Nature of an Animated World
    (pp. 61-116)

    Pantheism represents the return of a repressed American animism. Transcendental pantheists believe that a racialized, primitive nature is animated and even sentient; that all matter is alive; and that a “vital” spirit or soul presides over even inorganic matter. For the pantheist, nature suffuses and “animates” all things with an impersonal principle of life and connects them to one another. Pantheistic animism is typically precipitated by the following steps: god is incarnated as the natural world and becomes indissociable from any aspect of creation; nature is then deified and in turn animates man. When nature animates people, it moves, inspires,...

  7. 3 “A Democracy of Devils”: The Limits of Individualism in Emerson and Melville
    (pp. 117-148)

    Far from being a formal figure orobjectof representation, Pan for transcendentalists embodies theprinciplesof representation. Pantheism offers a system of figural language that often achieves unity at the expense of particularity. In Emerson’s pantheism, all similarity and contiguity must remerge as equivalence and identity. Any object becomes universally representative, and itself “represents” the whole system of signification. Metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche in Emerson implicate actual exchange or transformation, providing the means to achieve a required transcendent unity. Language for Emerson is a tool of natural transformation, a form of universal conversion or translation that reveals the underlying...

  8. 4 The Melancholy of Anatomy: The Body Politics of American Pantheism
    (pp. 149-224)

    The discourse of transcendental pantheism reaches its final narrative in the register of merged, fragmented, and rebellious bodies found in Emerson’s and Melville’s work. The fragmented body reifies the social isolation of Jacksonian individualism, even as fantasies of union in nature are supposed to allow men to transcend that isolation, in a nation conceived as a union of parts. From Emerson’s transcendental, transparent eyeball to the dismemberments many of Melville’s characters experience, pantheistic discourse figures male bodies as parts of other wholes, or merged with collective bodies, but never sufficient or whole as themselves. I address Emerson’s self-representation as a...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 225-260)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 261-278)
  11. Index
    (pp. 279-291)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 292-295)