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On Leaving

On Leaving

A Reading in Emerson

Branka Arsić

ISBN 9780674050730

Publication date: 04/15/2010

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Branka Arsić

In his essay “Compensation,” Emerson makes a surprising claim: “Every soul is by this intrinsic necessity quitting its whole system of things, its friends, and home, and laws, and faith, as the shell-fish crawls out of its beautiful but stony case, because it no longer admits of its growth, and slowly forms a new house.”
unpacks Emerson’s repeated assertion that our reality and our minds are in constant flux. Arsić’s readings of a broad range of Emerson’s writings—the Early Lectures, Journals and Notebooks, and later lectures—are guided by a central question: what does it really mean to maintain that everything fluctuates, is relational, and so changes its identity?
Reading Emerson through this lens, Arsić asks: How is the leaving of one’s own consciousness actually to be performed? What kind of relationship is predicated on the necessity of leaving? What does it mean for our system of values, our ethics and our political allegiances, and even our personal identities to be on the move? The bold new understanding of Emerson that results redefines inherited concepts of the Emersonian individual as all-composed, willful, appropriative, and self-reliant. In its place, Arsić reveals an Emersonian individual whose ideal being is founded in mutability.

Praise

  • Branka Arsić’s On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson is an intellectual feast… Arsić calls herself an ‘archaeologist of Emerson’s thinking,’ no easy task considering not just the amount of Emerson’s writing (the journals alone run to sixteen volumes) but its relentless idiosyncrasy… Arsić makes Emerson into one of the great nineteenth-century moderns… It is no exaggeration to say that On Leaving will take its place among the benchmarks of Emerson scholarship of the past hundred years… One can’t help but be captivated by Arsić’s archaeology. And even if we remain (alertly, admiringly) skeptical about the idea of winding Emerson’s unruly intelligence around a single idea, that doesn’t make this book any less fun to read or any less essential.

    —Paul Grimstad, Bookforum

Author

  • Branka Arsić is Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 404 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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