Monday, October 15, 2007

Visual Emerson

I wondered earlier if Emerson's reliance on visual metaphors was idiosyncratic, or if he got it from his intellectual sources. From his journals:

"Musical Eyes. I think sometimes that my lack of Musical ear, is made good to me through my eyes. That which others hear, I see. All the soothing plaintive brisk or romantic moods which corresponding melodies waken in them, I find in the carpet of the wood, in the margin of the pond, in the shade of the hemlock grove, or in the infinite variety & rapid dance of the treetops as I hurry along."

Signet Classics Selected Writings of RWE, p. 83


  1. I was all excited about this until I got into the meat of the quotation -- I thought for a second that it was going to turn out that Emerson was a synesthete. But it seems that he's just saying he feels the visual more deeply than...well, for sure, Bronson Alcott or Margaret Fuller, but you can tell he just thinks he's more perceptive than pretty much anyone. You know, I kind of think that maybe Lidian Jackson Emerson had it rough. She wrote in her letters someplace once that she felt, upon giving orders to the kitchen staff, "like a child who throws a bomb and runs." This is of course a paraphrase -- I can't remember where I saw this. But anyway, you get the distinct sense that she herself was sort of a pleasant, clever woman, and that there was probably a lot of eye-rolling going on behind Waldo's back when he got on the kind of roll he's on with this quotation.

    I have a kind of synesthesia. I don't talk about it much because as a child no one ever believed me -- it was just one other odd thing about me that other people found alienating and peculiar. I cannot begin to tell you the relief I felt when I read -- I think it was Nabokov -- describing the same thing. His is all about sounds/colors. Mine is sounds/colors, numbers/colors, and occasionally scents/colors. Thank heaven, I thought: I'm not making this up, and it's something that happens to a lot of people. Okay, it turns out not a lot, but some. And, apparently, not RWE. But still, lest we forget, he's more sensitive that way than the rest of us untranscendent souls.

  2. "I gave you enough to eat & I never beat you: what more can the woman ask? said the Good Husband."

    RWE, Journals, May 28, 1841

    This was written just after Thoreau had moved in with the Emersons. Lidian must have been a patient woman.

    In fairness,Emerson used his journals to think aloud, and is unafraid to contradict himself or say peculiar things. My role model.