where do we find ourselves? thinking over Emerson's concept of the experience
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment” — said the American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, best remembered for his individualism aesthetic and prescient criticism of society.
By reading his series of essays, especially those from 1844, we feel more able to understand in details the deployment of this idea expressed on the quote above: we find ourselves in a series made of stairs in front of which we often seem to ascend. Or, in so contemporary terms, to descend.
That means almost all the time — not to say all the time properly — we oscillate, we move from here to there, ranging from up to down, from dusk till dawn, that we feel compelled to live together over a vast, conflicting question: where do we find ourselves? Encased in images of ourselves that do not correspond to the real? Or, analogously, into dreams delivering us to dream, in a space that no word has ever entered and where there is no end to illusion?
Is what we apprehend — about ourselves and about reality(ies) we live in, or just believe we live in — exactly what exists on in? What we feel, exactly what seems to be taking place within?
“We animate what we can, and we see only what we animate” — explains Emerson in the essay “Experience”. Each single view depends upon the mood to see; every single event or perspective of ourselves belong to the eyes that see them. That is to say, we are captured by ourselves, and feel able to define ourselves, when we experience. Especially when this very act of experiencing can be translated into sharing, which presupposes a double movement of taking part.
How could we figure out what we are if we fall asleep in our chairs? If we do not try out producing and being produced by realities, by fictionisms, or whatever seems to make us give to and receive from? Just apologizing for not taking part in this or that? Being affected with egotism at which point we consider ourselves so unready to be blown away by? Or thinking of our dollars?
Of what use are we, if we are too unavailable to stimulate us to experiment, and hold us up in it? Or if life stagnates from too much lifelessness, without due outlet?
As serious as being too cold to experience anything is, to my knowledge, being so secretly (or offhandedly) dependent on the seasons of the year, on other’s actions and thoughts, on nothing but outward life’s forward motion into which we are just willing to go with the flow without partaking in anything, or just without screaming no — why not?
And so I redo a preliminary question: where do we find ourselves? If not even in front of a mirror, in front a supposed closer image of ourselves, we are not able to find what we are indeed? How to find ourselves then? Into ready-made images the others want us to be indoctrinated in? Is it then an outward manufacturing, this one of that we are supposed to take for ourselves? “Of course — explains Emerson — it needs the whole society, to give this symmetry we all seek”. Because even when we contribute our own part, building or being built by the outside world, even when we feel to lose whatever, we are always of the gaining part.
Just in case we do not realize it, we need to know that the world we converse with, or receive from, or give to, is not the world we think, even if it is a personal conversation, from us to ourselves, and about ourselves. Ordinary actions — like cleaning the house, eating our dinners, discussing this or that with this or that person, have the ability to shape. But shape what? What we are in fact? Or what we can do in fact? The great deal relies on doing. On the experience. We exist to realize. To lose or win. To move back or forward. Not to stagnate. In a word: we exist to transform ourselves into a practical power. And maybe into this reasoning we could find where to find ourselves.