Literary Critique

The Tragedy of a Life of Abandonment

Emerson believed in the happenings of our lives to take place in the metaphorical character of a circle, to which there is always an inevitable tie of sorts to which connects the ends and the beginnings of our experiences. We leave home to grow into new surroundings and out of old friends, we go to universities to grow into new understandings and out of old trivalent thought, we grow into new lovers and out of old comforts, we grow out of the places and the people that make them and we inevitably begin to grow into ourselves. Our lives are inherently made up of the collection of things in which we do while living it. Therefore, life, in its principle and in its practice is never stagnant, but rather a continuation of practice in which molds our beings. Through the ideas of the transcendentalists, who believed in the inexhaustible communion of humanity and nature through seemingly didactic and interwoven webs of continuation, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s intricate mind crafted the grand allegorical metaphor of the circle to represent the complex nature of existence. In his academically astute essay, “Circles,” Emerson uses the principle of the circle to explain nature, man, society, God, and most importantly the divine truth that lies somewhere within the various husks of our existence.

According to Andrea Punzi, author of the article, “The Practice of the Circle. Individual, World, Performance in Ralph Waldo Emerson,” Emerson’s circle is not “[a] mere geometrical figure, but a condition of motion, an occasion of processuality… a route which unravels itself before the subject’s eyes and, all the same, from the subject himself, from his status as a thinking individual up to the projection of his own identity into an historical and cultural inter-subjective dimension” (Punzi). Emerson suggests that the endless and ever changing void of “circles” that he proposes, imminently starts within ourselves and tend to lead outward as a path or route in which we travel as we grow into our own being. “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end,” Emerson writes (Emerson 225). According to Emerson, circles are everywhere in nature, everything is in and of itself a form of a continuation in the shape of a circle. Inside our very own nature then, we possess the smallest circle and kernel of the divine in our souls which will then act as the point of stability in which will guide us on our journey in growth. According to Paul Christle, the author of the article “The Centrality of the Center in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Circles”, “[t]he center is one because it admits of no differentiation… this is so because the nature of time and space is difference,” of which this center is God (Christle). God, Emerson says, is reflected in a didactic sense of duality in which we, as humans, hold an inherent piece of the divine deep inside of our nature, but also live amongst the copious representations of the divine, in the shadow of the heavens, that reflects upon everything that exists in our world. Emerson explains this didactic nature of the divine by stating, “The nature of God [is] a circle whose center is everywhere and its circumference nowhere” (225), as if to reiterate the over sweeping presence of the divine in this world that permeates the souls of those who allow themselves to get in touch with their own divine center of their own gravity.

Emerson writes, “The life of a man is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end. The extent to which this generation of circles, wheel without wheel, will go, depends on the force or truth of the individual soul” (227). Throughout this section, Emerson gives us hope in the circles outside of our current orbit of what constitutes our lives. “Every action admits being outdone…[A]round every circle another can be drawn,” he praises, as if to make known the vast and permeable walls of our ability for growth (225). Emerson seems to believe that nothing can stop us from our own spiritual growth if we set our minds to it. The pain, longing, and fear that exists in this “husk”, only make up a well-informed past that leads with us to engage our future with more awareness and understanding. In Barnes, summarization of this aspect of Emerson’s essay, he writes, “[L]ife is moving outward. We are to experience more, see more, and do more. In doing so, we become more” (Barnes). Emerson tells the man that is struggling to do so, to henceforth, “draw a circle outside of his antagonist” in order to move on from it, seemingly adopting the theory of facing fears to conquer them and own them (Emerson 228). According to Andrea Punzi, author of “The Practice of the Circle,” “[t]he power of the circle displays itself in the human capacity to accomplish one’s own story, to give things an aspect that is always new…to draw the circle means to build up, step by step, one’s own future” (Punzi). Therefore, when we draw new circles around our present fears and lifestyles, we are in turn, laying the foundation for the next step towards our futures.
As all of Emerson’s works include, the idea of sporadic moments of divinity is the vehicle in which Emerson believes our souls are able to surge outward to the cusp of every husk of our lives into new growth and understanding. In “Circles,” Emerson writes, “[W]hen these waves of God flow into me I no longer reckon lost time…for these moments confer a sort of omnipresence and omnipotence which asking nothing of duration, but sees that the energy of the mind is commensurate with the work to be done, without time” (235). In this quotation, Emerson implies that the movement and progression of our growth is not consistent, but rather, sporadic in nature, as these divine moments of enlightenment suddenly come over us and inform our being. He also follows this point by stating the relation in which we become aware of our own progression or movement, which Emerson says is the soul. The stability of the soul, that contains a part of its creator, and the divine, is the “eye” of which the hurricane of our existence, flows outward from. In reflecting from the point of stability, Emerson believes, we are mortally able to see our own growth towards truth and introspectively assess our own presence and the omnipresence of greater divinity working within us and around us. “That central life,” Emerson writes, “is somewhat superior to its creation, superior to knowledge and thought, and contains all its circles” (236). Through this stability within we therefore transcend.

But through the process of expansion, we also must accept that our rate of outward motion may not be in pitch with the people in which we love and surround ourselves with. Emerson points out, “The continual effort to raise himself above himself, to work a pitch above his last height, betrays itself in a man’s relations,” (233). Through one of the most heart wrenching realities that is woven into this philosophical text, Emerson makes us all realize the variability in growth in our relationships with people. He paints a picture in the mind, of people constantly moving in and out of circles, or “husks,” in order to illustrate how lucky two people may be to find themselves evolving in the realm of the same husk of existence at any particular point in time. “Men cease to interest us when we find their limitations…Infinitely alluring and attractive was he to you yesterday, a great hope, a sea to swim in; now, you have found his shores, found it a pond, and you care not if you never see it again,” he writes (229). Because of this sad phenomenon of existence, many try to hold themselves back from their own growth in order to remain in the comfort of the same husk with that person, but Emerson says, we should never do this, because it cannot be “meant to be” if you have to restrain your own growth in order to be with someone else. “The way of life is wonderful; it is by abandonment,” Emerson writes, in one of the most beautifully crafted lines of the piece (238). So, perhaps, Emerson is preaching that we should just enjoy people while we get the chance to, and learn to let go when we need to. According to Barnes, “[G]rowth for Emerson, requires this kind of struggle to overcome- we need a harsh environment to challenge us. But is also requires a sort of forgetfulness, for we cannot dwell on these occurrences; rather, we must move on, always expanding our newly found powers” (Barnes). According to Emerson, our lives, like nature, should always be in a state of transition and growth. Therefore, Stephen Barnes, the author of the article “Emerson: Death and Growth,” reiterates this point by stating, “life is very much about moving on, casting off, and in many cases, forgetting” (Barnes). According to Punzi, “[i]t is the art of recognizing the ends of things and their new beginnings” (Punzi). It is the art of letting go.

Through poignant views on the coherency of existence, in which cause also means effect, self also implies other, and life inevitably implies death, Emerson masterfully created the allegorical metaphor of the circle that acts as the tie that relates every end to its beginning and every beginning to its end, in his theory of interconnectedness in which we, at our innermost point, are simultaneously a representation of the entire universe in that instant. With this responsibility, Emerson affords us a new perspective on life and the humanity of existence, “[f]or it is in “circles” that Emerson most praised the power of change and new beginnings” (Barnes). Through the beautifully crafted essay that attempts to explain the universe in fourteen pages, Emerson gives us far more than an explanation or perspective. Rather, through the understanding of possession and abandonment, death and rebirth, “dreams and drunkenness,” he gives us a philosophy of principle, a roadmap to truth, and the key to conquering our present moment in pursuit of a life worth living for.

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