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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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“Every Great and Small Thing”: Emerson and the Divine Particular



In “Fate,” the first essay of The Conduct of Life (1860), Ralph Waldo Emerson writes that “when a god wishes to ride, any chip or pebble will bud and shoot out winged feet, and serve him for a horse” (26). Most explicitly, he means that the artist has “a habitual respect to the whole by an eye loving beauty in its details,” and employs this appreciation of the small and seemingly insignificant in acts of creation.1 Implicit, however, is Emerson’s assertion that such a relation to the whole is available to all. The “preference of the genius to the parts” reveals the human subject’s secure and unchangeable position in the realm of the real, and the illimitable capacity and divine potential of every individual.2 Emerson’s insistence on the potency of the particular is the focal point of this essay, which argues for an adjustment in how we read the philosophical and theological progression of Emerson’s career. His conception of the individual unit of Being—be it human, animate, or inanimate—unwaveringly and continually rejects limitation and negates readings of Emerson’s later work as deterministic or pessimistic.

Riding, and writing about, the most mundane articles of existence and the most magnificent, Emerson consistently and continually affirms the infinite ability of man to understand the world and rise above the forces that “pul[l] down.”3 He avers that the human subject’s understanding of the world cannot be lost in universals or merged with...

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