Emerson’s Superhero


After offering some preliminary remarks on the notion of what makes a “captive mind,” the article shifts its attention to one of the most significant and yet relatively neglected early essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the essay “War.” This text, I argue, deserves not only to be considered the (largely forgotten) founding document of the American anti-war movement, but it remains important even today, as it sheds light on the inevitable contradictions and double-binds any serious movement against war and for social justice must face. It is a text, in other words, which helps us highlight some of the problems we run into—both conceptually and practically—when we try to free our minds from a given mindset, but we must still rely on a world that is pretty much the outcome of the ideologies, customs, and traditions we wish to transcend. To imagine a world free of violence and war is the age-old problem of how to change the world and make it “new” when the practical and intellectual instruments we have are all steeped in the old world we want to abolish. Emerson’s thinking provides a basis to unpack the aporias of what, historically speaking, the antiwar movement has been, both inside and outside the US.  The article concludes by examining some recent collections of US pacifist and anti-war writings, as providing useful examples of the challenges antiwar, and more generally protest movements, must face. 


Ralph Waldo Emerson; anti-war movement; protest movements

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Published : 2020-08-16

MarianiG. (2020). Emerson’s Superhero. Review of International American Studies, 13(1), 27-51. https://doi.org/10.31261/rias.7771

Giorgio Mariani  giorgio.mariani@uniroma1.it
the “Sapienza” University of Rome  Italy

Giorgio Mariani is a Professor of American Literature at the “Sapienza” University of Rome, Faculty of Letters and Philosophy. He has served as President of the International American Studies Association (IASA), from 2011 to 2015. His work has concentrated on nineteenth-century American writers (Emerson, Melville, Stephen Crane, and others); on contemporary American Indian literature; on literary theory; on the literary and cinematic representation of war. He has published, edited, and co-edited several volumes, listed below.  His essays and reviews have appeared in many journals, including American Literary History, Studies in American Fiction, Fictions, RIAS, RSA Journal, Stephen Crane Studies. Nuovo Corrente, Zapruder, Leviathan, Letterature d'America, A.I.O.N., Acoma, Studi Americani. With Donatella Izzo he edits the American Studies series of the Sapienza UP, and with Donatella Izzo and Mauro Pala he edits the series "Le Balene" published by La Scuola di Pitagora. He is co-editor-in-chief with (Donatella Izzo and Stefano Rosso) of  Acoma. Rivista internazionale di studi nord-americani. His books published in English include: Waging War on War. Peacefighting in American Literature (2015), Post-tribal Epics: The Native American Novel between Tradition and Modernity (1996), Spectacular Narratives: Representations of Class and War in Stephen Crane and the American 1890s (1992).

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