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Irrational Rationalism in the Occult "Transparent Eyeball" : A Study on an Occult Idea in the Nineteenth Century America

American Studies
American Studies Institute
Publication Date
  • Occultism
  • Foucauldian Panoptic Power
  • Modernity'S Anxiety
  • Totalitarianism
  • Unconscious
  • Modern Rationality
  • "Transparent Eye-Ball"
  • Philosophy


Modern readings of Emerson since the1980s have presented Emerson as a de-transcendentalist, a prophet of postmodernism, whose trademark is the celebration of the plurality and diversity of the secularized world. These readings are unjustly influenced by modernist bias, because they do not sufficiently consider the context of occult, irrational elements in Emerson, and unduly emphasize secularized and materialist sides of Emerson instead. This paper suggests a reading for Emerson’s Nature within the context of those elements overlooked by modern Emerson scholarship, that is, elements of occult religious irrationality. With these elements foregrounded, the “transparent eye-ball” is interpreted not merely as an expression of peaceful spiritual experience but also a signal of modernity’s desire for “transparency” or “rationality.” As revealed in the metaphor of the “Transparent eyeball, such a desire contributes to modernity’s anxiety. This paper demonstrates how modernity’s demand for rationality and the ancient occult desire for transcendence coincide in the concept of Emersonian power as expressed by the “transparent eye-ball.” And finally, it discusses how a totalitarian unconscious operates beneath Emerson’s sincere celebration of the “transparency” of idealism.

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