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“We already have a perfectly inadequate language for talking about ourselves.”

June 21, 2017

Wendell Piez, a founding editor of Digital Humanities Quarterly, has prepared for publication, via the internet, a book by the poet Mark ScottEpigram Microphone. I commend it to anyone this weblog may reach. Read it on the web, or download a copy in ePub format to keep on your iPad (or cognate device). Publication of this book is part of a larger project Piez has undertaken: Pause Press. There you’ll find also a new, electronic edition of Charles Woodbury’s Talks With Emerson, a book published first in 1890. I mention that book for its own sake, but also because several of the essays gathered in Mark Scott’s Epigram Microphone concern Emerson. You’ll also find, in Epigram Microphone, an essay singularly faithful to the teaching life, “The Normal Load,” and more than one gathering of aphorisms: here, here, and here, for example (the observation that heads this page is among those aphorisms).

Following is a paragraph from Epigram Microphone. It appears in the essay “On Desultory Questions“:

There are two functions of style—or, of form: the second is to teach new dogs old tricks, and in this Emerson excelled. He put his books together by breaking up his journals; he put his journals together by breaking up his life, his friends’ lives, and the books he read. He was not independent of creeds, institutions, and tradition—who is?—but relied on them, to his great annoyance. What else can individual consciousness and energy rely on? If one is part of all, everything is built-in, factory-equipped, and no serious after-market options exist but More and Less. To which Emerson says: “It is in the nature of the soul to appropriate all things.” If you don’t believe in the soul, this statement is bland at best; if you do, you should know what Emerson means. If you think you know what it means both to believe and not to believe in the soul, as most literary persons think they do, you’ll find that the sentence sharply sums up everything that’s wrong with Emerson—or with your friend the writer, who uses you for material. Some write out of scorn for anything having to do with the soul; Emerson wrote out of scorn for everything but the soul. Henry James assumed that Emerson’s life in Concord lacked “passions, alternations, affairs, adventures”—but it wasn’t so. (Substitute you for Emerson and your address for Concord, and see if it isn’t so.) How would Henry James have known, anyway?

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