Mar 11: I over-Compensate

So today is part of Emerson's On Compensation, and I was kind of dreading it. As a comedy writer, I have sworn on the altar of God to mock anyone who writes
It seemed to me also that in it might be shown men a ray of divinity, the present action of the Soul of this world...
-- and my impression is that's basically what Emerson is all about. And then I went to a wedding one time where Emerson was the reading. Yes, at least it's not "Let me not to the marriage of true minds," but nothing makes the mind wander like Emerson read by one of your college friends -- and not the friend who tried to become an actor, either.

So, two strikes, but I actually wound up liking it. It started slow, of course, with that line about the Soul. (The literal start, though, is great -- "Ever since I was a boy I have wished to write a discourse on Compensation" -- what fun around the schoolyard!) And there's a whole bunch of throat-clearing to the effect of, "I, Ralph Waldo Emerson, am smarter than my preacher." But then he gets down to brass tacks, which is good, because we've gone a couple pages without having a clue as to what we're talking about when we talk about Compensation:
POLARITY, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature....Superinduce magnetism at one end of a needle, the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end. If the south attracts, the north repels... An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman...
And I thought, holy shit, this is my wedding! For the Mrs. and I had this passage of Wallace Stevens read (again, by a non-actor):

Two things of opposite natures seem to depend
On one another, as a man depends
On a woman, day on night, the imagined

On the real. This is the origin of change.
Winter and spring, cold copulars, embrace
And forth the particulars of rapture come.

Music falls on the silence like a sense,
A passion that we feel, not understand.
Morning and afternoon are clasped together

And North and South are an intrinsic couple
And sun and rain a plural, like two lovers
That walk away as one in the greenest body.
Nice, huh? Plus an open bar -- the perfect wedding. So now I'm on Emerson's side, especially as he goes into a paragraph that could be summed up as, Mo Money Mo Problems:
If riches increase, they are increased that use them. If the gatherer gathers too much, nature takes out of the man what she puts into his chest; swells the estate, but kills the owner.
But then I think he takes it too far. First of all Emerson indulges in a little Rocky Todd-ism:
These appearances indicate the fact that the universe is represented in every one of its particles. Every thing in nature contains all the powers of nature. Every thing is made of one hidden stuff;
And then what sets me off more is that he makes it too perfect:
Justice is not postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. [Greek]. The dice of God are always loaded. The world looks like a multiplication-table, or a mathematical equation, which, turn it how you will, balances itself. Take what figure you will, its exact value, nor more nor less, still returns to you. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.
This, I think, is obviously untrue. Every crime is punished? I think his rhetoric is leading him astray. Look at this:
Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected ripens within the flower of the pleasure which concealed it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.
Pretty writing, but I get the impression that, because Emerson can make his sentences balance, he thinks the universe must balance also. Plus also, too, as well, the metaphors don't jibe. Punishment is the end of pleasure-- its goal (as the fruit is the goal of the seed)? Really? I didn't even know eating desserts had a goal, much less that it's, I don't know, cavities.

(Unless, of course, we resort to dime-store psychology. Take Spitzer and the hookers. He started using them after he screwed up the beginning of his governorship -- maybe this was just a sexy way to get out of being governor. In that sense the punishment truly was the end of the pleasure. Seems pretty crackpot, though.)

But I don't want to grouse too much. I found this reading teeth-sinking good, even if, in this excerpt, it comes down to taking the bitter with the sweet. That's what this project is all about too.

No comments: