Date of Award


Degree Type




First Advisor

Sonstegard, Adam

Subject Headings

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882, Postmodernism, Postmodernism -- Religious aspects, Deconstruction, Emerson, Postmodernism, Deconstruction, Nature, Agnostic, Solipsism, God, Aesthetics


Between his pivotal essays "Nature" in 1836 and "The Poet" in 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson's increasingly negative and distrustful view of language can best be described as a precursor to deconstruction and postmodernism. Contemporary critics are too quick to dismiss a deconstructionist Emerson. There is evidence within his major essays that Emerson's understanding of language not only leads him to public and private displays of pessimism, but also to feelings of internal solipsism, agnosticism, and epistemological anxiety. Emerson demanded that mankind should utilize nature and aesthetics to experience the sublime and an immediate and original relationship with God. Yet, Emerson's essays evidence the idea that art and language itself futilely failed in bringing about an original relationship with God. By the time he wrote "The Poet," Emerson officially succumbed to the belief that truth and God were ultimately unattainable, a belief that 20th century literary criticism defines as deconstructionist and postmodern