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美国超验主义  

2009-05-04 17:06:56|  分类: 花中李的爱默生R. |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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美国超验主义也叫“新英格兰超验主义”或者说“美国文艺复兴”是美国的一种文学和哲学运动。与拉尔夫·沃尔多·爱默生和玛格丽特·富勒有关,它宣称存在一种理想的精神实体,超越于经验和科学之处,通过直觉得以把握。领导人是美国思想家、诗人拉尔夫·沃尔多·爱默生。
   美国超验主义(American Transcendentalism)是美国的一个重要思潮,它兴起于十九世纪三十年代的新英格兰地区,但波及其他地方,成为美国思想史上一次重要的思想解放运动。它是与拉尔夫·沃尔多·爱默生以及梭罗相关的一种文学和哲学运动,宣称存在一种理想的精神实体,超越于经验和科学之处,通过直觉得以把握。

  一般认为,爱默生是超验主义的倡导者,他的散文,特别是他的演讲,令人感到亲切,富有一种奇异的带有强烈个人色彩的声音;他的散文在端庄凝重的说教之中每每流溢出特有的富有魅力的睿智、幽默感和文学、哲思的深度来。他的言词文本雄辩有力而辉煌,语调变幻莫测,显示出他的深奥的文学技巧来。

  1831年,爱默生辞去波士顿第二教堂的圣职到欧洲去旅游。其间,他会见了不少当时的文学名人,诸如英国诗人、散文家瓦特·兰德(Walter Savage Landor),诗人柯勒律治(Samuel Taylor Coleridge),华兹华斯(William Wordsworth)和苏格兰散文家、历史学家卡莱尔(Thomas Carlyle)。特别是他在苏格兰乡间会见了卡莱尔之后,开始了两位文学家的终生友情和通信。

  1837年,当爱默生作《美国学者》演讲时,另一名超验主义的集大成者梭罗刚从哈佛大学毕业。对于很多人而言,梭罗是一本教科书,通过他,人们可以用自然界发生的事实来理解世界,于是世界便成了一个供人阅读、品味、咀嚼的整体。他希冀过简单的生活。

  梭罗说过:“我之所以走进林间并不是想生活得便宜些或者更昂贵些,而是想以最少的麻烦做些个人想做的事。”因此,他的文字细腻而自然,充满了一个敏感的作家和一个深思熟虑的哲人对大自然的至诚的感受和感动。

  比起爱默生的演说和写作,梭罗更多地是实践和行动,在他的性格中,那种崇尚生命和自然、崇尚自由和独立的精神,和那种曾经在美国的开发,尤其是西部的开发中表现出来的勇敢、豪迈、粗犷、野性的拓荒者精神存在某种内在的联系。

  从现在的历史资料来看,人们无法了解梭罗是否亲自聆听爱默生的演讲,但梭罗一生实践了爱默生在《美国学者》中的召唤:更多地关注美国本土,追求美国本土的独创性。

  作为一场融欧洲与美国思想潮流于一体的思想运动,它催生了美国散文一系列经典之作:《自然》(Nature,1836)、《美国学者》(TheAmericanScholar,1837)、《知识的自然历史》(NaturalHistoryofIntellect,1893)、《瓦尔登湖》(Waldon,orLifeintheWoods,1854 梭罗著),等等。

  十九世纪的美国被一些历史学家认为是独特的美国文化诞生和成长的时期,是继政治独立之后美国精神、文化从欧洲大陆的母体断乳而真正独立的时期。正是在这样的特殊时代,以爱默森和梭罗等为代表的“超验主义”思潮“破空出世”,成为美国人的精神独立宣言。

  超验主义追求人的自由的精神成为美国文化中一个重要遗产。这种思潮发源于单一神教,同时又接受了浪漫主义的影响,强调人与上帝间的直接交流和人性中的神性,其结果是解放了人性,提高了人的地位,使人的自由成为可能。超验主义具有强烈的批判精神,其社会目标是建立一个道德完满、真正民主自由的社会,尽管带有乌托邦的理想色彩。

  超验主义的核心观点是主张人能超越感觉和理性而直接认识真理,认为人类世界的一切都是宇宙的一个缩影——“世界将其自身缩小成为一滴露水”(爱默生语)。它强调万物本质上的统一,万物皆受“超灵”制约,而人类灵魂与“超灵”一致。这种对人之神圣的肯定使超验主义者蔑视外部的权威与传统,依赖自己的直接经验。

      超验主义的主要思想观点有三。首先,超验主义者强调精神,或超灵,认为这是宇宙至为重要的存在因素。超灵是一种无所不容、无所不在、扬善抑恶的力量,是万物之本、万物之所属,它存在于人和自然界内。其二,超验主义者强调个人的重要性。他们认为个人是社会的最重要的组成部分,社会的革新只能通过个人的修养和完善才能实现。因此人的首要责任就是自我完善,而不是刻意追求金玉富贵。理想的人是依靠自己的人。其三,超验主义者以全新的目光看待自然,认为自然界是超灵或上帝的象征。在他们看来,自然界不只是物质而已。它有生命,上帝的精神充溢其中,它是超灵的外衣。因此,它对人的思想具有一种健康的滋补作用。超验主义主张回归自然,接受它的影响,以在精神上成为完人。这种观点的自然内涵是,自然界万物具象征意义,外部世界是精神世界的体现。

  爱默生有句名言——“相信你自己”,这句话成为超验主义者的座右铭。这种超验主义观点强调人的主观能动性,有助于打破加尔文教的“人性恶”、“命定论”等教条的束缚,为热情奔放,抒发个性的美国式文化奠定了基础。

  正因为爱默生的超验主义观点摒弃了加尔文教派神为中心的思想,认为在某种意义上,“人”就上帝,才使得超验主义明显地烙上资本主义上升期的时代轰烈:“一个人一定能够成为他想成为的人。”而这种素来被称为美国平民宗教的自立自强,激励了美国民族精神的发展完善。

  因此,超验主义者的贡献就在于在理想主义的旗帜下重新审视了“美”的哲学命题,解放了美国思想,也使美国文学(包括散文创作)从模仿英国及欧洲大陆的风格中脱颖而出,开创了美国文艺复兴时期。

  其实,“超验主义”作为一种并不确切的戏称,也许只在认识论的意义上表现了这一思潮的一个特征,即崇尚直觉和感受,而这一思潮的意义也许更重要地是体现在它热爱自然,尊崇个性,号召行动和创造,反对权威和教条等具有人生哲学蕴涵的方面,它对于美国精神和文化摆脱欧洲大陆的母体而形成自己崭新而独特的面貌产生了巨大影响。




   1.Brief introduction
   American Transcendentalism or“New England Transcendentalism” or “American Renaissance” (1836---1855) was the first American intellectual movement, which exerted a tremendous impact on the consciousness of American people. As Lawrence Buell states, “To proclaim transcendentalism’s impact, however, is easier than to define it, for the movement was loosely organized and its boundaries were indistinct”.

   New England Transcendentalism was, in essence, romantic idealism on Puritan soil. It was a system of thought that originated from three sources. First William Ellery Channing (1780---1842) was an American Unitarian clergyman. His Unitarianism represented a thoughtful revolt against orthodox Puritanism. Unitarianism believed God as one being, rejecting the doctrine of trinity, stressing the tolerance of difference in religious opinion, and giving each congregation the free control of its own affairs and its independent authority. It laid the foundation for the central doctrines of transcendentalism. Secondly, the idealistic philosophy from France and Germany exerted enormous impact on American intellectuals. Thirdly, oriental mysticism as revealed in Hindu and Chinese classics reached America in English translations. As a result, New England Transcendentalism blended native American tradition with foreign influences.
  Dissatisfied with the materialistic-oriented society and eager to save the soul with a doctrine of the mind, some American intellectuals were so athirst for new ideas that they formed an informal discussing group, the Transcendental Club, with some thirty men and women of Boston and Concord in 1836. They were strongly influenced by the new German idealism and delighted in abstract discussion. They met irregularly over the next four years at Ralph Waldo Emerson's home in Concord for the purpose of discussing the new ideas of life and society. This club was the first and most famous of a series of forums that served during the next few decades as social gathering points. It became the movement's magnetic center. From 1836 to 1835, they advocated their views and principles in various magazines. Besides, they even published their journal. The Dial (1840-1844).
  Their meetings and their journal promoted this movement and added prominence to it. Many people interested in the new ideas of transcendentalism were impressed by the brotherhood of humanity. In order to separate themselves from the evil society, they made two communitarian experiments by establishing ideal communities. George Ripley (1802-1880) set up the Brook Farm on Boston's outskirts, which ran from 1841 to 1847 with emphasis on cooperation without competition. On this farm, people shared in domestic and physical labor, and secured material and cultural welfare. It stressed educational reform and its most distinguished institution was its school. The great novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (1806-1864) was once its member. It is a pity that a disastrous fire in the uninsured main building put and end to this experiment. The second experiment is Fruitlands, near Harvard, set up by Bronson Alcott (1799-1888) in 1843. On this farm, Alcott stressed the absolute avoidance of exploitation of man and beast. It lasted less than a year because it was more extreme in practice than the Brook Farm. Alcott also helped to organize and preside over the concord School of Philosophy (1879-1888), a summer seminar. This was the last significant activity of transcendentalism. However, in the 1830s and 1840s,transcendentalism was treated in newspapers and magazines as something between a national laughing stock and a clear menace to organized religion

  2. Major Concepts
  
  The term “transcendentalism” is derived from the Latin verb transcendere meaning, to rise above, or to pass beyond the limits. Transcendentalism has been defined as the recognition in man of the capacity of acquiring knowledge transcending the reach of the five senses, or of knowing truth intuitively, or of reaching the divine without the need of an intercessor. As the leader of this movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson interpreted transcendentalism as “whatever belongs to the class of intuitive thought,” and as “idealism as it appears in 1842.” He believed that the transcendental law was the “moral law” through which man discovered the nature of God as a living spirit. The major concepts that accompanied transcendentalism can be summarized in the following six points.
  
  (1) It stressed the power of intuition, believing that people could learn things both from the outside world by means of the five senses and from the inner world by intuition. But the things they learned from within were truer than the things they learned from without, and transcended them. It held that everyone had access to a source of knowledge that transcended the everyday experiences of sensation and reflection. Intuition was inner light within.
  
  (2) As romantic idealism, it placed spirit first and matter second. It believed that both spirit and matter were real but that the reality of spirit was greater than that of matter. Spirit transcended matter, and the permanent reality was the spiritual one. It stressed essence behind appearance.
  
  (3) It took nature as symbolic of spirit of God. All things in nature were symbols of the spiritual, of God’s presence. Nature was alive, filled with God’s overwhelming presence. Everything in the universe was viewed as an expression of the divine spirit. Behind physical objects was a universal soul. Nature was God’s enlightenment towards human beings. Therefore, it could exercise a healthy and restorative influence on human mind. Nature was ennobling and people were somehow better for being out in the woods or meadows. So people should come close to nature for instructions. Nature not only showed humanity its own materiality but taught human morality. Nature’s beauty was the beauty of human mind. The two were joined together. With this organic view in mind, it stressed unity of humanity and nature.
  
  (4) It emphasized the significance of the individual and believed that the individual was the most important element in society and that the ideal kind of individual was self-reliant and unselfish. It held that there was a greatness in all human beings that needed only to be set free. People should depend on themselves for spiritual perfection. As the individual soul could commune with God, it was, therefore, divine. With the assumption of the innate goodness of humanity, it held that the individual soul could reach God without the help of churches or clergy. While stressing individuality, it rejected the restraints of tradition and custom. The transcendentalist had an uncompromising concern for individual’s moral development rather than for social progress. The dignity of the individual remains a vital part of American creed even today.
  
  (5) Emerson envisioned religion as an emotional communication between an individual soul and the universal “Oversoul”. The “Oversoul” as called by Emerson was an all-pervading unitary spiritual power of goodness, omnipresent and omnipotent, from which all things came and of which everyone was a part. It existed in nature and in humanity alike and constituted the chief element of the universe. Generally, the Oversoul referred to spirit of God as the most important thing in the universe. Since the Oversoul was a single essence, and since all people derived their beings from the same source, the seeming diversity and clash of human interests was only superficial, and all people were in reality striving toward the same ends by different but converging paths. Thus was affirmed the universal brotherhood of humanity, and the ultimate resolution of all social problems. The harder each person strove to express his or her individuality, the more faithfully he or she followed the inner voice, the more surely would the aims of his or her life coincide with those of his or her neighbor.
  
  (6) It held that commerce was degrading and that a life spent in business was a wasted life. Humanity could be much better off if people paid less attention to the material world in which they lived.
  
     3. Significance
  
   Therefore, transcendentalism can be best understood as a somewhat late and localized manifestation of romantic movement in literature and philosophy. The triumph of intuition over five senses, the exaltation of the individual over society, the critical attitude toward formalized religion, the rejection of any kind of restraint or bondage to custom, the new and thrilling delight in nature --- all these were in some measure characteristic of transcendentalism. These ideas also inspired English poets Wordsworth and Coleridge as well as many German idealist philosophers. As formulated by Emerson, transcendentalism became a clarion call to action, exhorting young people to cast off their deadening enslavement to the past, to follow God within, and to live every moment of life with strenuousness, to regard nature as the great objective lesson proving God’s presence everywhere in His creation.
  
   Transcendentalism was also an ethical guide to life for a young nation of America. It preached the positive life and appealed to the best side of human nature. Therefore, it stressed the tolerance of difference in religious opinion and the free control of his own affairs by each congregation, and called to throw off shackles of custom and tradition, and to go forward to the development of a new and distinctly American culture. It insisted on the essential worth and dignity of the individual as a powerful force for democracy. It also advocated, and practiced, an idealism that was greatly needed in a rapidly expanded economy where opportunity too often became mere opportunism, and the desire to “get on” obscured the moral necessity for rising to spiritual height.
  
   New England Transcendentalism is important to American literature at least for two reasons. On the one hand, it is represented by two major writers of the country----Emerson and Thoreau. They became movers and shakers whose writings have had more and more impact with the passage of time. So far as these two writers are concerned, they were more enduringly important for their ideology than for their actual literary achievement. On the other hand, a new group of writers under the influence of Emerson and Thoreau began to apply transcendental ideas in their works. Almost all the writers of the period were more or less influenced by transcendentalist doctrines. Hawthorne, Melville, Lowell, Dickinson, and Whitman were all exponents of transcendentalism in one way or another. They created one of the most prolific periods in the history of American literature.
  
  4. Weaknesses
  
  The transcendentalist movement had a small membership and only lasted for a few years, but it has exerted great impact in the country. As time passes, the term “Transcendentalism” has lost its derogatory sense and become the condensation of American romantic movement in literature of the period. It lasting importance is great. Transcendentalism, however, was never a systematic philosophy. It borrowed from many sources and reconciled few of them. Whenever the demand of logic became too insistent, it turned to mysticism. It became a rationale for the pressure toward expansionism that was already turning people’s minds to the conquest of the West. It resulted far more often in rampant individualism than in a democracy of mutual helpfulness and equal opportunity. The denial of the reality of evil tended to make moral indignation an irrelevant emotion. The failure of transcendentalism as a moral force in American life was its denial of its real spiritual origin. People used it to justify their acquisitiveness and left it up to the principle of compensation to balance the rest of the account. These are its weaknesses.
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