Emerson Interesting Quote

“All the facts in natural history taken by themselves, have no value, but are barren, like a single sex. But marry it to human history, and it is full of life […] The instincts of the ant are very unimportant, considered as the ant’s; but the moment a ray of relation is seen to extend from it to man, and the little drudge is seen to be a monitor, a little body with a mighty heart, then all its habits, even that said to be recently observed, that it never sleeps, become sublime” (28).

This quote was particularly interesting to me, not only because it speaks to Emerson’s ideas on human relations and nature/human relations, but also because it hit on something we widely discussed in class – the idea that unless we have some connection, or relation, to something we can not easily empathize or even appreciate.

While it feels that through most of his work Emerson does not place a high value on human interaction in this quote he seems to be suggesting that when sexes come together they are worthwhile. In the opening section on nature Emerson talks about “solitude,” from society (5) and the “trifle and disturbance” (8) that human relations become when you are communing with nature. The relationship to nature, or being one with nature, seems to be placed at a higher value than people themselves. However, in the quote that I chose he seems to be talking about how when it is the opposite sexes coming together in marriage specifically that it is important – particularly the image of procreation.

Yet on that note he also contradicts the importance he originally placed on the human and nature relationship – and of course this is not the first time, he also talks about human beings being above and owners of nature, not connected to it or as part of it like he originally states. Nature has no value unless we as humans impart it on it, nature is “barren,”   -evoking an infertile women – unless we make some connection, or unless nature gives us something that we can connect to. Just like the idea of roadkill we discussed in class, and the difference between something we understand or relate to – like a dead dog – as opposed to something we do not – like a dead possum.  In this quote nature has no inherent value of its own.

This quote is a perfect example of Emerson’s constant contradictions, and while I enjoyed certain areas of his work, he was still saying somethings that are to put it simply pretty messed up.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Ch./Art: Full book p.1x-76.pub. American Renaissance 2009

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by yribaf on September 20, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I thought this quote to be quite interesting as well because it seems like Emerson is saying that the only way nature can have value is if humans can use it in some way or relate it to themselves. He romanticizes nature in his writing, making it seem very heavenly in a sense to experience it, but then this quote makes it seem like the only reason nature is heavenly is because human existence gives it that quality. He sees no inherent value in nature in and of itself, but rather relates the wonder of nature to an inflated sense of self worth in my opinion. Emerson seems more like he is putting nature high on a pedestal so he can put humans on an even high pedestal, making it seem as if we are gods in a sense, as if we are above nature instead of one with it.

  2. Posted by christys21 on September 21, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    This qoute does do an amazing job at connecting humans with nature. The way Emerson explains the signigicance between an ant which has no relationship with a human to one that is able to relate with a human, puts his idea into clear perspective.
    His relation establishes the selfish thought humans have and the way they tend to take what they want, and ignore what they don’t care for.
    This all adds in to to idea you brought up that if humans put a value on a specific piece of nature, then we consider it to have to value. Emerson shows us this through the relationship of the ant who is only noticed when a string of relationship is made bewtween it and humanity.

  3. While reading Emerson’s work, this quote also jumped out at me and reminded me of the many conversations we have had in class. Emerson seems to be giving a prime example of the premise we discussed in class in which small things, such as ants, really do not matter to humans unless we can somehow be emotionally tied to them or find them useful. This sentiment is also expressed at the beginning of the text when Emerson describes how all of nature “incessantly [works] into each other’s hands for the profit of man” (12). These quotes reinforced to me the sad fact that nature is unimportant and almost worthless to human beings unless we have some deeper tie to it for personal or emotional gain.

  4. Posted by lpeake on September 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I find this quote to be fairly problematic. Obviously the way that humans interact with nature is going to shape the way that we view it, but nature has value of its own outside of human interaction as well. Nature is not solely based on humans and human interaction, and this quote is a perfect example of how, as humans, we try to remove ourselves from nature and pretend like we are superior beings to all others.

    I especially disagree with his implication in this quote that procreation is so important to all people that those who are unable to have, or simply not interested in having, children are somehow worthless.

    Clearly I agree with your last sentiment that much of what Emerson says in this piece is “pretty messed up.”

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