It's been a bit over a week since I posted anything, but it's been a busy week full of activity, not the least of which has been reading. I finished a few books this week, so that means it's time for another Sitzbook review! Today we'll quickly look at Emerson's Self-Reliance.
I got this book from Brad when we visited him in Iowa-- Thanks again for all the cool gifts, Brad! It's a short 75 pages, but it's not necessarily a quick read. It's best absorbed bit by bit, taking time to think about each part. In fact, the way the book is physically printed loans itself to doing just that. On every right page you have the actual text, and on the left page are two selected quotes, the first one from Emerson's book, and the second an interpretive or related quote from another person. It's actually quite nice but as I said, with so many "quotables" to deal with, it is indeed best left for a slower, more deliberate reading. In this case, I read the book mainly while eating breakfast over a few months, one or two pages at a time. That seemed pretty ideal.
Emerson's book is more of an essay, but it's got some good ideas, most of which I agree with, with a few qualifications. I do believe that we must be self-reliant, although generally speaking I also think that we are social beings, and that there's nothing wrong with "teaming up" now and then with other people. But I don't think that's something Emerson would have criticized; he seems more focused on not putting up with crap from mooches and other people who bring you down, and that's fine with me.
I selected two quotes that I liked. The first, from page 59, is about travel. It caught my attention because so many people (myself included) almost unconditionally praise traveling as a positive and mind-opening experience. Emerson does mention a few asterisks, if you will:
"I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. […] Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from."
The second quote, on page 64, addresses so-called "progress" in society, and when coupled with Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I also recently finished (review coming soon), it gave me a lot to think about:
"Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is Christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts. […] The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun."
Has anyone else read this book? Have you got any comments (not spam!) to share? If so, feel free to chime in.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!