Ralph Waldo Emerson, ou le génie de l’imitation

Abstract : Emerson’s essays testify to the writing subject’s desire for originality, his will to stop “[groping] among the dry bones of the past” (Nature, 27) in order to project himself ahead, literally to ex-press himself. This prospective impulse is however undermined by the subject’s realization that he is “warped by [his predecessors’] attraction clean out of [his] own orbit, and made a satellite out of a system” (“The American Scholar,” 59). That tension between originality and imitation, creation and quotation, leads the Emersonian subject to boast his inalienable right to plagiarism, counterfeiting and despoilment. Imitation, then, would be the genius’s birthright, the condition of his originality. For Emerson, imitation is neither what the subject cannot reject, nor what he must accept. Rather, mimetic appropriation – what “Quotation and Originality” calls “assimilating power” – becomes the means for self-invention as Emersonian imitation involves imitating nothing but what comes ahead.
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Thomas Constantinesco. Ralph Waldo Emerson, ou le génie de l’imitation. Sillages Critiques, Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2012, L'imitation, 14, ⟨http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/2809⟩. ⟨hal-01378888⟩

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