Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Psychological Biography

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A new psychological, social and political examination of Emerson’s life and experience of symbolic loss that demonstrates the importance and purpose of individual and social transformation and revitalizes Emerson’s literary importance for contemporary American society.


“…the maintenance of the American spirit requires heroes, institutions and cultural narratives that can serve to transform archaic narcissistic structures into mature ones. If today’s youth are in need of a social space to mourn, to individuate, and to develop that which lies within, and if the narratives of the social surround must house cultural self-objects which can be profitably utilized in the process of transformation, then Kramp has done all of us a service by reinstating Emerson as part of that pantheon.
-Professor William B. Parsons,
Department of Religious Studies,
Rice University

“ – some see Emerson as offering a kind of narcissistic and rampant individualism, while other see Emerson as offering a more responsible and relationship-affirming individualism – and Kramp connects these debates to current issues in American society.”
-Professor Nathan Carlin,
McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics,
The University of Texas Medical School

Table of Contents

Foreword by William B. Parsons
Preface by Nathan S. Carlin
Author’s Introduction
Part One: A Portrait of Emerson
Chapter 1: Methodology

I. A Brief History of Psychohistorical Method
A. Ethical Element of Psychohistory
B. Empathy
C. On Methodological “Impurity”
D. Psychology
E. History
F. Religious and Theological Studies
II. Psychobiography as Hagiography
III. Erikson’s Life Cycle Theory and Psychohistorical Method
IV. Conclusion
Chapter 2: Emerson’s Disillusionment
I. Introduction
II. Conflict in Emerson’s Religious Life
III. Loss of Father, Loss of Tradition
IV. Paternal Aunt Mary
V. Emerson’s Earliest Psychosocial Modalities
VI. The Enduring Crisis of Autonomy vs. Shame and Self Doubt
VII. The Martin Gay Fascination
VIII. Creative Formalization and Symbolic Loss
IX. Emerson’s Physical Maladies
X. Emerson’s First Moratorium
XI. Conclusion
Chapter 3: Emerson as Culture Maker
I. Introduction
II. Exhuming Ellen’s Body and The Politics of Mourning
A. Exhuming Ellen
B. Historical Considerations of Mourning Styles
C. Emerson’s Fidelity
III. Emerson’s Moratorium in Europe and England, 1832-1833: Resolution of Identity Confusion
A. Friendship with Thomas Carlyle
B. Emerson’s Interest in Biography
C. Similarities Between Emerson and Erikson’s Biographical Writing
D. Resolving Life Cycle Crises Through Biographical Writing
E. Landing on The Lyceum Circuit
IV. Lidian
A. Marriage
B. Integrating Work and Married Life
V. Emersonian Individualism: Understanding Emerson’s Culture Building Enterprise
A. The Divinity School Address and Compensation
B. Sartwell on Emerson’s Compensation
C. Corrington on Emerson’s Compensation
D. Modifications and Critique of Emerson’s Individualism
E. The Negative Tendency
F. Care in Emerson’s Adulthood: The Case of Jones Very
VI. Conclusion
Part Two: Application
Chapter 4: Identity Formation in America

I. Identity Crisis
A. Pahl
B. Kett
C. Erikson on identity Formation in America
D. Conformity and Social Deviance
E. The Epidemic of American Psychosis
Chapter 5: Emerson’s Appeal and Uses
I. Introduction
II. Contextualizing the Critics
A. The Mutation of Emerson’s Expressive Individualism
III. Emerson’s Expressive Individualism: Answers to The Experience of Symbolic Loss
A. Emerson’s Compensation and Economics
B. Emerson’s Individualism Demands Mourning, Transformation
IV. The Role of Moratorium in Managing Identity Crisis
A. Prisons
B. Psychiatric Care
V. Conclusion: Recovering Identity, Recovering Life Cycle Virtue

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