Exhausted but Content, after Day One
No more will I dismiss, with haste, the visions which flash and sparkle across my sky; but observe them, approach them, domesticate them, brood on them, and thus draw out of the past, genuine life for the present hour.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics”
Emerson delivered these bold words at Dartmouth College, two weeks after infuriating the Harvard Divinity School faculty with his infamous (and still unnamed) “Address” of 1838. Choosing not to grouse over the public rejection he endured, Emerson continued to play ball, pitching these encouraging words to young minds who dared to think independently. Emerson, immortalized by his “Self-Reliance” essay, pointed out how dismissive we are of our own independent ideas.
A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.
Tomorrow is the second day of school for me, and the first meeting of my Philosophy class. Every time I open a new semester with this class, I try to challenge the students to find their own voice and dare to speak their own mind. In 1784, when the European Enlightenment was at its peak, Immanuel Kant published his essay, What is Enlightenment (Was ist Aufklärung?). He described the experience as the individual emerging from his/her own tutelage, daring to think independently (Sapere aude). That’s what I wish to challenge my students to do: dare to know. We stand on the stratified centuries of intellectual tradition, yet too often pride ourselves only in mastering and reciting the material rather than believing that we can do it better, that we can push the envelope further than earlier visionaries saw or dared to push.
This day has been very satisfying. I’m hoping that tomorrow is as well.
Thanks for reading.