Testimony without Representation
In Emerson’s 1836 Nature, he claims that the natural world—including humans and objects—produces testimony insofar as it exists. This chapter works through Emerson’s idea as it develops in his First-Series Essays “Self-Reliance” and “Spiritual Laws.” Emerson asserts that persons constantly write the testimony of their own character and, by the same token, things constantly write the testimony of their own “character.” This writing of, say, a vegetable never represents the past or its speaker, and yet—by virtue of its foreignness—it demands that we pause before it, that we think in response to it. Recording such testimony constitutes a particular challenge, since to directly represent it is to overwrite and lose its non-representational quality. Emerson’s Second-Series Essays “The Poet,” “Experience,” and “Nature” respond to this challenge, describing and demonstrating writing that preserves testimony without representation.
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