Posts Tagged ‘Thoreau’

Last Sunday’s essay in the New York Times Magazine by Benjamin Anastas bordered on the sacrilegious. Anastas disparaged a sacred text of American individualism, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay, “Self-Reliance,” calling it “high-flown pap” and “the most pernicious piece of literature in the American canon.” Anastas criticized it on many grounds,  including its author’s arrogance, but most critically for endorsing, perpetuating, and perhaps being responsible for American self-absorption. He could have gone farther.

It is striking that this essay has been for so long a feature of American high school and college reading lists, since it forcefully, if biliously, presents a harshly individualistic version of American culture.


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