EMERSON AND THE DREAM OF AMERICA
Finding Our Way to a New and Exceptional Age
Richard G. Geldard
Larson Publications 2010
America is a country in transition, with vital issues confronting us. In such times as these, we need voices that rise above ideology and give us wisdom grounded in experience. Emerson's is such a voice. He is one of our founding thinkers and he had a vision for America that can still inspire us.
FROM THE BACK OF THE BOOK
"As readers have discovered in the classic book, The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Geldard is unmatched as a companion and guide to the works of America’s Founding Thinker. And now, as he plumbs and comments on Emerson’s far-ranging wisdom once again, he broadens his field of interpretation to make Emerson as contemporary as a health care debate. This book demonstrates convincingly that the poet/philosopher was as prescient as he was relevant in his own times, and that, as the "keeper of America’s best thoughts," we can gain from Emerson (with Geldard’s insight) a new perspective on our current struggles and profound guidance through our difficult future." – Richard Grossman, author of A Year With Emerson and The Tao of Emerson
"Spend an hour with Richard Geldard and he will lead you to the inner sanctum and hand you over to the Master. Emersonianism is the American religion. It is not a church or a cult; it is a spiritual discipline, a Way. It teaches the infinitude of the private person, of each private person, of you yourself with your laptop and cellphone. Emerson was a great teacher in his day, but Richard Geldard can get him to you now. " – Robert Richardson, author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire
This timely work associates Barack Obama's election with a reemergence of Emerson's great Dream of this new yet unapproachable America. It's the first book to connect Emerson's rousing teachings for individuals with ideas behind America's founding and our promise as a nation. Geldard shows how -- in contrast to the American Dream -- Emerson's Dream of America evokes something deeper, more fundamental, and infinitely more adequate to our immediate challenges as a nation.
New York Journal of Books
Emerson and the Dream of America: Finding Our Way to a New and Exceptional Age by Richard G. Geldard - (Larson Publications, June 16, 2010)
Richard Geldard is either wonderfully prescient or tragically late with his message in this thought-provoking book. The message is that Emerson, who challenged a young and Euro-centric America to seek its own national identify, its own soul, its own manifest destiny, is just the man we need to help us find our way again.
Geldard’s premise is that the American Dream and the Dream of America are two very different things, and that the former, with its emphasis on materialism, has made us forget the idealism of the latter. If he is right, he has put his finger on the failing pulse of a nation in decline, a nation already being written off by self-appointed soothsayers proclaiming that China for one, India for another, will eclipse America in the new millennium—and thus a big dose of Emerson is just what the doctor ordered. If Geldard is wrong, then a refresher course in Emerson, that quintessential American, is long overdue anyhow.
Though an ordained minister, Emerson was less a preacher than a philosopher. In fact, his address to the Harvard Divinity School in 1838 was deemed by his orthodox audience as so irreligious that he wasn’t invited back for 30 years. But in that 30 years, Emerson’s reputation as an orator and Thinker with a capital T soared to Olympian heights. And it’s still there today, 172 years after his death at age 79. There must be good reason for that rarefied esteem, and Geldard spells it out in the best exposition of Emerson’s thought that this reviewer has seen, and Emerson is not the easiest of Thinkers to understand, let alone explain.
Simply put: Emerson understood America better than anybody before him—and, so Geldard believes, understood it far better than we as a people do today. Emerson saw America not as some Darwinian scramble for the Main Chance, which is exactly the way many Americans do see it, but as something wholly new: the only country on earth with freedom as its raison d’être and individualism as the natural expression of that freedom.
But that was then and this is now. How, one might ask, could a nineteenth century concept of man’s place in the scheme of things help us today? Emerson lived in an agrarian society of about 23 million people; today we’re an urban society of more than 300 million. In truth, we now live in a world that even the genius of an Emerson could not have imagined.
But Geldard believes that Emerson remains not only relevant but vital to the future of America, especially now that Barack Obama is President. To Geldard, Obama’s election signaled an end to the long winter of our national distemper and a rebirth of the idealism that made both Emerson and America great. We now have a chance, Geldard believes, to regain our credibility among nations and to retake the moral high ground.
No doubt, such a notion would curdle the cream of, say, a modern Tea Partier, and might even bring wistful smiles to those who would if they could wish it true tomorrow. But every good idea has its detractors. Indeed, if the idea is good enough, opposition merely gives it traction, and we as a nation could not help but benefit from revisiting Emerson.
True, some of us in these cynical times might need breathing apparatuses to make the labored climb to Emersonian heights, but, wow, what a view when you get there! In fact, Geldard, who obviously has made the climb often, put it perfectly: "We need a point of observation, that higher platform above the floods of experience." And with Emerson as your guide, higher is just where you go. What reader could forget the awe with which he first read the great man? And if you still haven’t gotten around to it, begin before sundown today with one of his seminal works, for instance that great essay "Self-Reliance." You’ll be glad you did.
It’s not Geldard’s intention, perish the thought, to depict Emerson as some flag-waving patriot. What Geldard wants the reader to see is that Emerson’s exceptional high-mindedness is synonymous with the spirit found in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and is identical to that intuitive presumptuousness with which the Founding Fathers could declare "truths" that they held to be "self-evident."
That’s Emerson up and down, and his was indeed a transcendent wisdom, for to the idea of freedom and individualism he urged us to see a one-ness in the universe, a connectivity in all things. Say to yourself "I am my neighbor and he is I—literally, not metaphorically—and we’re all in this thing together," and you’ll be on the right track with Emerson. And if you still need help on this mystical idea, open up Leaves of Grass, by that most American of poets Walt Whitman, who was Emerson’s soul mate. Indeed, the two men together form the beating heart of a latter-day Platonic idealism that Geldard sees as reborn in the election of Barack Obama.
It’s possible, of course, that to modern readers Emerson is (gasp!) passé. If so, more’s the pity, for Geldard, IMHO, is right: Emersonian idealism could refill the sails of our drifting Ship of State and it is tailor-made to rekindle the passions of the socially conscious generation of the 1960s and 70s (provided they can remember where they dropped their banners and are not too arthritic to pick them up).
But even if none of this comes to pass, if it’s all pie-in-the-sky idealism, Geldard’s book is well worth the reading, for it’s virtually impossible to come away from a visit with Emerson without feeling spiritually enriched. In his more mystical reaches, Emerson can be difficult to understand, so take along this book. Geldard’s knowledge—and understanding—of Emerson is second to none, including the inimitable Harold Bloom.
Go also with these sobering words of Emerson as your mantra: "I am here to be worked upon." You’ll feel better in no time.
Reviewer Robert Lamb is the author of two award-winning published novels and short stories. He is also a freelance writer for the New York Times and Dow Jones.
Emerson and the Dream of America - Interview with Karl Erb a student of Yoga and Vedanta Click here
Review of Emerson and the Dream of America from Larry Smith at RedRoom.com
"America is a poetry in our eyes" is one of my favorite quotes from this most quoted American author and thinker. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) is the founder of the American Transcendental Movement which includes such wise and rebellious thinkers as Bronson and Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Ripley, and William Ellery Channing, among others, and such contemporary writers as Annie Dillard, Scott Russell Sanders, Wendell Berry, Gretel Ehrlich, Gary Snyder and more. I revisit them often for a grounding and to hear truth and fairness spoken openly, to taste youthful optimism and faith again, and to find my way in the world today. Richard Geldard serves us here as a guide through the words of this intuitive genius, Emerson. What's more, he places Emerson's thought in the context of today, linking his sense of conscience and consciousness in Nature to our movement for sustainability and the recent movement for hope and change which ushered in Barack Obama's election.
Our teacher is Nature itself, and its lessons are out in the open though our blindness and stubbornness often make them hard earned. As Geldard paraphrases, Emerson warns against our habits and comfortable conformity, our accepting the too easy norms about us. "Self culture begins in earnest when we consciously choose to question ‘the way things are' in favor of what is better, stronger, and more life-enhancing."
At the base of Emerson's thought is his admonition to "Trust your genius. Follow your noble heart." Like Eastern thought, the answers lie within and about us, in Nature and not in dogma. Geldard states, "Other geniuses reveal the secrets of nature or the heights and depths of human feeling or the mysteries of the universe, but Emerson's genius was drawn early on to the infinitude of the mind as it applied itself to ordinary life." Time and again Emerson is "taking us out of ourselves while leaving us whole." For Emerson our right and our obligation is to find and be our true selves in this world.
Geldard correctly places Emerson in the Perennial Philosophy movement which author Aldous Huxley describes as: "the metaphysics that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being; the thing is immemorial and universal."
For Emerson, we must listen closely to the answers that lie within and right about us, not in the structures of man's world.
Geldard applies these principles to sustainability and transition culture, chapters on Self-Reliance, Emerson and modern physics, wealth and economy, and the call to sanity and optimism in our nation and world. Selections from Emerson's essays and journals are presented in the double appendixes: "Spiritual Laws" and "Passages on the Examined Life." Perhaps in Emerson's declaration of individuality we find our own strength to work for balance and change. His path lies behind and before us: "I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints."
Geldard has given us a timely and extremely useful book.
Larry Smith is a poet and fiction writer and professor emeritus of Humanities and English at Bowling Green State University's Firelands College.
The stock of Ralph Waldo Emerson stands high, as it has for the last 50-plus years. Geldard's brief book champions Emerson not only as an exponent of the Perennial Philosophy but as a genuine voice for continuing reform, social justice, and economic equality in America. Both an exposition of Emerson's thought and a call to change and action, this is a stirring introduction to the thought of the great transcendentalist. VERDICT Geldard here will not bring news to the student of Emerson, but his accessible approach makes Emerson palatable and relevant to a new generation of inquisitive readers across denominational lines.
Article in the Shawangunk Journal
"Daring to Be Audacious": A Review of Richard G. Geldard’s Emerson and the Dream of America by Joey Madia (newmystics.com)
As I write this review, the Republican party has just unveiled its new "Pledge to America," similar to their 1994 Contract With America, which is an interesting and thought-provoking parallel to the title of this book, which, to me, is really two books in one, a notion I would like to explore up front and then move away from.
Richard Geldard, an internationally known expert on the writings of R.W. Emerson, shares his subject’s passion for the state of America, including what is wrong, ideas on how to fix it, and who is to blame. While I agree in theory with much of what Geldard says in chapters such as "A Call to a Nation," "A New Great Awakening," "America as Opportunity," and "Wealth and Economy" I feel compelled to warn the reader that Geldard puts the blame squarely on the Right-Wingers and Republicans and paints what I feel is an overly optimistic portrait of what Barack Obama and his message of hope will do to change the trajectory of our country.
Just to be clear—I am in no way fond of or inclined to make excuses for the past policies of the Bush administration and their cronies, nor can I disagree with Geldard’s recent blogs on the Huffington Post about Glenn Beck and the Tea Party; by the same token, I have many reservations and questions about our current president (none of which have to do with his place of birth…) and I find the author’s level of faith in him and his policies to somewhat taint an otherwise thought-provoking and important book for our times.
Having warned the reader who might share my political concerns, I can move on to the real focus of this review—Geldard’s expert exploration of the most applicable of Emerson’s essays to these Modern Times.
Throughout the preface and the book’s 12 chapters and 2 appendices, I learned a great deal about Emerson and the era in which he was writing that helped put his essays in perspective. For instance, I did not know that, following his daughter’s marriage into the Forbes family of Boston, that Emerson was to become one of the ten wealthiest men in Massachusetts. As one of America’s most quoted and influential philosophers, Emerson is vital to our understanding of ourselves as individuals and as the collective known as "America."
Whether he is explicating New England Transcendentalism or the Dream of America (as opposed to the American Dream), Geldard does a master’s job of selecting crucial passages from Emerson’s works and setting them in the context of currently pressing issues. He interprets and elaborates on the multi-layered threads in a way that will open these at times difficult to read essays to a much broader audience (hence the irony of his distinct political leanings).
The main essays from which Geldard draws are "Experience," "Fate," Nature, and "Self-Reliance."
As Geldard states, "Emerson himself has been reduced to a purveyor of slogans and aphorisms empty of meaning outside their context" (50). Chapters that best remedy this and reconnect the man with his context are "Emerson and American Religion" and "Idealism and the Perennial Philosophy." These chapters not only situate Emerson in his own time, but track his intellectual and spiritual connection to those who also went on to influence modern thought, such as Aldous Huxley and Ananda Comaraswamy. It was a surprise to me just how much Emerson was in tune with the nexus of Spirituality and Science—what is now called Quantum Mechanics (explored with increasing emphasis through chapters 5–7).
The two appendices contain passages from Emerson’s works with no commentary. These sections will hopefully serve as a bridge for readers who want to return to Emerson’s writings with a new perspective having read Geldard’s book or perhaps those who follow the recommendation of this reviewer and read Emerson and the Dream of America as their introduction to one of the most important philosopher-writers our country has ever known.