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Essays on Modern American Literature

Modern American literature began with a statement of enthusiasm from Emerson's writing in Nature. 'Enthusiasm', in Emerson, is a knowing word. Sometimes its use is as description, invariably approving, of a historic form of religious experience. Socrates' meaning of enthusiasm, and the image of the enthusiast it throws up, is crucial to this book. The book is a portrait of the writer as an enthusiast, where the portrait, as will become clear, carries more than a hint of polemic. It is about the transmission of literature, showing various writers taking responsibility for that transmission, whether within in their writing or in their cultural activism. Henry David Thoreau's Walden is an enthusiastic book. It is where enthusiasm works both in Immanuel Kant's sense of the unbridled self, and in William Penn's sense of the 'nearer' testament, and in Thoreau's own sense of supernatural serenity. Establishing Ezra Pound's enthusiasm is a fraught and complicated business. Marianne Moore composed poems patiently, sometimes over several years. She is a poet of things, as isolated things - jewels, curios, familiar and exotic animals, common and rare species of plant - are often the ostensible subjects of her poems. Homage to Frank O'Hara is a necessary book, because the sum of his aesthetic was to be found not just in his writing, but also in his actions to which only friends and contemporaries could testify. An enthusiastic reading of James Schuyler brings to the fore pleasure, the sheer pleasure that can come of combining, or mouthing, or transcribing.

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Henry David Thoreau

it aims to do is to make sense of the world: the words, their etymologies, their derivations and ultimately their constitutive phonemes are understood here to sound the objects they refer to in the way that the onomatopoeically rendered birdsong sounds birds. This, I think, this passage in particular, is an example of Thoreau’s enthusiastic use of words, where enthusiasm works both in Kant’s sense of the unbridled self, and in William Penn’s sense of the ‘nearer’ testament, and in Thoreau’s own sense of supernatural serenity. Thus, that words are ungoverned here is

in Enthusiast!