MKMMA Week 5 – A Would-Be Nostalgic
I was looking forward to our assignment to read Emerson’s essay, “Compensation”. I grew up and lived much of my life literally up the street from the Concord, Massachusetts home of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I still go back to visit frequently, and always enjoy Concord, and the beautifully maintained colonial architecture, including Emerson’s house and the Unitarian Church where he was minister for some years.
Close to Emerson’s home is the home of the Bronson Alcott family, Emerson’s close friends and fellow Transcendentalist thinkers. Louisa May Alcott, Bronson’s daughter, was a favorite author of mine. When I was 10 or 12 I eventually checked all her novels out of the Lexington Library and enjoyed reading them. They certainly aren’t fluff, but they are engaging reading for thoughtful a young person. Louisa May was well acquainted with Emerson.
I read “Compensation” for the first time over the last few days. I’m an avid reader, and usually choose to read thoughtful, even technical nonfiction. I was amazed that I had to use a pointer just to keep my eyes moving through “Compensation”. I found it extremely dense. Reflecting on Alcott’s novels, I realized that other writers of the exact same time and place were writing lucid, accessible literature.
I think part of the difficulty for me is Emerson’s “expensive” vocabulary, with words like “surplusage”, “cicatrizes” and “indurated heterogeneous fabric”. I think partly it is his style of writing in general, and I think he basically took many, many pages, and lots of intellectualizing to describe ideas virtually all grounded in his own beliefs. After my first read through, I might summarize the essay, in rough language, as “payback’s a bitch, so share and don’t lust after stuff”.
I think perhaps it’s that his writing is very mental, very conceptual. Emerson does not use sensory images or emotions. Note to self: when I want to engage people in understanding me, use plenty of feelings – imagery, sensory examples, and emotions. They help us connect very deeply to an idea or experience.
I’m glad that reading this essay is an assignment that continues for three weeks. The next time I read it, I will look beyond his very mental style and search for more than ungrounded didacticism. I really want to appreciate his writing, if only out of a sense of nostalgia for my birthplace and the cultural heritage I was steeped in!