This morning I started my reading by dipping into Harold Bloom on Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Anatomy of Influence Bloom comments that Emerson thought in isolated sentences, and it was in the shimmering of those sentences within the wild growth of his paragraphs and the loose forms of his essays that the best of Emerson was to be found.
Here I found a model for myself; for my writing and my thought prefers the fragmentary, and the glints of prophecy I see in the long transformation of the self. The long haul novel or well structured book, comfortable in its genre, is not for me, increasingly in both reading and writing. But if this path of sure success in a masterpiece is blocked, the other road of curiosity, intuition and the curation of the fragmentary is open to me.
From Bloom I also learned of Emerson’s Journals. Here Bloom writes Emerson was most himself. They are vast miscellanies of a self-reliant spirit in search of wisdom, and a mind as conflicted as my own about the cultural heritage. The Journals are full of snippets of quotation and commentary on the literary heritage, like a cultural polymath’s field notes. Yet, Emerson dreamed of a transcendent remaking of the poet, which Bloom calls Orphism and that at times called on the self-reliant thinker not to destroy the written past, but leave behind its ruins. So Emerson wrote: “When we have new perception, we will gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish.”
So I began to read fragments of the Journals, which are now available in a complete edition online. Emerson seemed almost a precursor of the blogger, with his weekly lectures or sermons, and the vast random curiosity of his Journals. Almost a precusor of my own dream.
In one of the Journals I found transcribed the following from Goethe’s Maxims and reflections (# 404):
Literature is a fragment of fragments: the least of what happened and was spoken, has been written; and of the things that have been written, very few have been preserved.
In maxim #80, Goethe writes: “History writing is a way of getting rid of the past.”
And in the first maxim of this collection, he wrote “There is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before; we must only try to think it again.”
Was this thought the foundation for the sentence that Bloom describes as the most Emersonian of all: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
So, in one morning, I found two writers to add to my list of writers of fragments, and an affirmation of the curious path I have taken.