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LIT 229 — Waking Up to Life: Emerson with Thoreau, Whitman, and William James

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 16—Mar 20
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Jan 29
Units: 2
Tuition: $460
Instructor(s): Charles Junkerman
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Jan 16—Mar 20
10 weeks
Drop By
Jan 29
2 Units
Charles Junkerman
To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. For the eye is fastened on the life, and slights the circumstance. —Emerson, “History”

Ralph Waldo Emerson is often called a “wisdom writer,” someone—like Montaigne—who can help us figure out how to live our lives better. He was persuaded that most people sleepwalk through life (“Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir-tree”). What was to be done? Emerson’s answer surprised his contemporaries, and still intrigues us: “The way of life is wonderful: it is by abandonment.” What he meant by this is that if we can learn to become non-judgmentally receptive to whatever comes, even the most ordinary of things will appear remarkable, and we will experience an influx of optimism, confidence, and courage. Emerson’s own life seemed proof that this courage would come—he was a tireless social reformer who gave over 1,500 public lectures in hundreds of cities across the country—but he accepted cheerfully that daily life is mostly local and uneventful (“We must wear old shoes and have aunts and cousins.”)

This combination of bravery and serene cheerfulness attracted scores of admirers to Emerson, including Margaret Fuller, Frederick Douglass, the entire Alcott family, Thomas Carlyle, Friedrich Nietzsche—a veritable Who’s Who of the mid-19th century. In this course, though, we will focus on three: Walt Whitman (“I was simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil”), Henry David Thoreau (who built his cabin at Walden Pond on Emerson’s woodlot), and William James (Emerson’s godson). We will read selected essays and journals of all four of these luminous “wisdom writers” along with several recent biographies. And we’ll see at the end of ten weeks whether our lives have been awakened.

Charles Junkerman, Associate Provost and Dean, Stanford Continuing Studies

Charlie Junkerman has been the dean of Continuing Studies since 1999, and teaches regularly on Emerson, Thoreau, and the American Transcendentalists. He received a PhD from UC Berkeley in comparative literature, and has published on subjects as diverse as John Cage, Native American photography, and stone architecture. In 2009, he received the Cuthbertson Award for exceptional contributions to Stanford.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Lawrence Buell, Emerson (Harvard Belknap, 2004) (ISBN 0674016270)
(Required) Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. David Mikics, Harvard Belknap , The Annotated Emerson (Hardcover, 2012 ) (ISBN 978-0674049239)
(Required) William James, The Heart of William James (Harvard Belknap 2010) (ISBN 0674065999)
(Required) Henry David Thoreau, The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau (North Point Press, 2002) (ISBN 0865476462)
(Required) Henry David Thoreau, The Heart of Thoreau's Journals (Dover, 1961) (ISBN 0486207412)
(Required) Walt Whitman, Song of Myself and Other Poems (Counterpoint, 2011) (ISBN 1582437114)