English 203

Graduate Readings: Transcendentalists and Pragmatists

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2022 Tamarkin, Elisa
Th 11-2 Wheeler 301


The course will trace genealogies of American thought from transcendentalism through pragmatism. In the first half, we will focus on the life in letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson and on Emerson’s relationship to the intellectual and social history of the movement he defined. Reading Emerson alongside Henry David Thoreau and others, we’ll look at transcendentalism as a program for abolition, for labor reform, for public intellectualism, for education, for environmentalism, and for new experiments in reading, writing, and living. We will keep in mind efforts to define and detract from transcendentalism on religious grounds and also efforts to see the movement as engaged with Kant, Coleridge, and Carlyle (and as engaging Nietzsche) on ideas of perception, consciousness, and experience, and as an American answer to philosophical thinking. In the second half of the seminar, we will try to understand what pragmatism takes from transcendentalism—to see where the histories of these ideas converge and depart—while also putting transcendentalists into conversation with process philosophers and phenomenologists a century later. Our discussions will focus on William James primarily, but also works by John Dewey, Alain Locke, and Alfred North Whitehead.

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