This essay offers a new reading of Emerson’s late redactorial and critical work that evinces a correspondence between bodily and literary decomposition. I argue that the critical value of Parnassus (1874) lies precisely in its demonstration of Emerson’s principles of composition, in particular a late compositional style that I define as Emerson’s “decomposition.” The very difficulty in “authorizing” such a text makes us attend to the role of citation and quotation in Emerson’s work, in larger proprietary questions of nineteenth-century authorship, in the twentieth-century discourse of the “death and rebirth” of the author, and in a current age when digital dissemination threatens copyright value and challenges writers to reconfigure conceptions of creative composition in formally innovative works. A revised formal appraisal of Parnassus, in its classificatory, literary, and biological contexts, is not only instrumental for Emerson scholars, but can also help bridge the ample body of theoretical work on the question of the author with the undertheorized critical study of the anthology as a genre.
Emerson’s Decomposition: Parnassus
Nikhil Bilwakesh, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alabama, has published essays in American Periodicals: A Journal of History and Criticism (2011), ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance (2009), and Nineteenth-Century Prose (2009). He recently completed an essay on contemporary Cuban translations of Walt Whitman, and is currently working on an essay on Thoreau’s errancy in Staten Island.
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Nikhil Bilwakesh; Emerson’s Decomposition: Parnassus. Nineteenth-Century Literature 1 March 2013; 67 (4): 520–545. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.2013.67.4.520
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