Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching
Edited By Carol M. Bensick
“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.
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