236. Nietzsche vs. Emerson


In section 117 of his book Daybreak Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote:

In prison.  My eyes, however strong or weak they may be, can see only a certain distance, and it is within the space encompassed by this distance that I live and move, the line of this horizon constitutes my immediate fate, in great things and small, from which I cannot escape. Around every being there is described a similar concentric circle, which has a mid-point and is peculiar to him. Our ears enclose us within a comparable circle, and so does our sense of touch. Now, it is by these horizons, within which each of us encloses his senses as if behind prison walls, that we measure the world, we say that this is near and that far, this is big and that small, this is hard and that soft: this measuring we call sensation – and it is all of it an error!” 

This view of inevitably confining and falsifying circles is quite terrifying. But contrast it with this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (1803-1882) essay “Circles” where we encounter a view of liberating and enriching circles courtesy of literature and its power of the imagination:

“Literature is a point outside of our hodiernal circle, through which a new one may be described. The use of literature is to afford us a platform whence we may command a view of our present life, a purchase by which we may move it. We fill ourselves with ancient learning, install ourselves the best we can in Greek, in Punic, in Roman houses, only that we may wiselier see French, English, and American houses and modes of living. In like manner, we see literature best from the midst of wild nature, or from the din of affairs, or from a high religion. The field cannot be well seen from within the field. The astronomer must have his diameter of the earth’s orbit as a base to find the parallax of any star. Therefore we value the poet.”


Go here for my post which explores Emerson’s essay “Circles” and his view of the imagination in more detail.

Go here for my post on the value of the humanities.

Go here for my post showing some problems with Nietzsche’s views on how our mental faculties falsify everything.

2 replies on “236. Nietzsche vs. Emerson”

    • Dwight Goodyear on

      Hey Aidan! Nice to hear from you. What class did you take again? Thanks for reading and I’ll do my best to keep the posts coming.

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