Boatright and Faust rightly recommend Emerson’s active reading style, but they misrepresent him as pragmatist who believed readers to be “makers of meaning.” Emerson was a transcendentalist whose fundamental message was that moral “truth exists, though all men should deny it.” Especially in his antislavery writings, Emerson teaches two ways for readers to find (not make) these moral truths in the texts they read: by reading with their souls, or intuitively (“repairing to the lamps”), and by reading for the facts (“raking the language”) that will awaken moral sensibilities. Rather than continue to invent an Emerson who flatters our contemporary philosophical biases, let’s ponder what Emerson actually advocates; his transcendental reading lessons may be just the ones that we require.

Response to Article

Michael D. Boatright and Mark A. Faust, Emerson, Reading, and Democracy: Reading as Engaged Democratic Citizenship