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By David Marr

Strains the enormous effect of Emerson on American literary and political concept

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Such are the social riches residing in "the poverty of our nomenclature" that through the act of namingas though Americans were a race of scholastic realistswe create the legal fiction of ownership and make the fiction come true. " Thoreau exclaims, indignantly. " (Thoreau 1966, 131). Walden provides the answer to this rather misconceived question: it is not a matter of rights at all but an affair of the human imagination. For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infirmity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out.

A piece of work is finished in a way that is satisfactory; a problem receives its solution; a game is played through; a situation, whether that of eating a meal, playing a game of chess, carrying on a conversation, writing a book, or taking part in a political campaign, is so rounded out that its close is a consummation and not a cessation. Such an experience is a whole and carries with it its own individualizing quality and self-sufficiency. It is an experience. (Dewey 1958, 35) The force of Blackmur's remark about getting "a mastery of our subject" derives, not from an invocation of a socially empty aestheticism, Page 15 but from an awareness, born of long experience, of the arduousness entailed in mastery.

The "cult of experience in American writing," diagnosed almost a half-century ago by Philip Rahv, has been only partly a matter of American writing historically alternating between plunges into, and withdrawals from, experience (Rahv 1969, 2137). Equally significant has been an irrepressible urge toward affirmation. In this respect, American literary-philosophical history may be seen as an expression of what Herbert Marcuse labeled affirmative culture: By affirmative culture is meant that culture of the bourgeois epoch which led in the course of its development to the segregation from civilization of the mental and spiritual world as an independent realm of value that is also considered superior to civilization.

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