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Spring/Summer 1995, Volume 12.2

Essay

 

William E. H. Meyer, Jr.

The Unwelcomed Presupposition of American Philosophy—Eye-Epistemology: An Essay Far Beyond the Bounds of Current Interdisciplinary Scholarship


William E. H. Meyer (M.A., University of Chicago) is a free-lance author and artist living in Beaumont, TX. His essays on hypervisuality have appeared in
Stanford Literature Review, Philosophy Today, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, among others. He is also a widely published poet. See other work by William E. H. Meyer, Jr. in Weber Studies:  Vol. 10.1 (essay)Vol. 13.2 (poetry)Vol. 17.0 (poetry), and Vol. 18.3 (poetry).

 

"How shall you know"?
Consult your Eye!
           —Emily Dickinson, Poem #420

Introduction: The Hypervisual Imperative

This essay presupposes the absolute failure of all previous "philosophical scholarship" to come to terms with American "truth and method"—the vile failure of nerve in assuming that New-World "thinking" owes its origins and impulse to any European antecedents—and offers instead the definitive account of our radical hypervisual phenomenon or truly "Great Awakening." No terms such as "Aristotelian" or "Platonic" or "Neo-Platonic" or "empirical" or "transcendental" or "realist" or "idealist" are finally relevant or even meaningful for grasping the "evolution" of American philosophy from the Puritans to the present day. And here, perhaps, the revered "pragmatism" is the most misleading or spurious of all; for its work-a-day, "practical"/"functional" connotation misses entirely the excitement and certitude felt by hypervisualists whose New-World, self-reliant experience supersedes mere "habit" or the uglier "fixation" of belief.

Indeed, when Jonathan Edwards announced the supersession of natural laws—"the sun shall rise in the West" (Awakening 357)—or when Ralph Waldo Emerson touted his remarkable "original relation to the universe" ("Nature" 21), each was indicating what D. H. Lawrence sensed as the "new consciousness" or "alien quality" or "inconceivable difference in being" arising upon "the American continent and nowhere else" (Studies 1). It is the presuppositionless presupposition that "the eye is final;what it tells us is the last stroke of nature; beyond color we cannot go" (Emerson, Journals 14:166, italics mine). Vis-à-vis any modern hermeneutical Gadamer who assumes that "we think with words" (Truth 491) or that "language is the fundamental mode of operation of our being-in-the-world and the all-embracing form of the constitution of the world" ("Universality" 3), an Edwards knows that he "cannot express" the uttermost of his convictions as he perceives the "majesty and grace" of the eye-dealism before him("Personal" 1:92). Or vis-à-vis any empirical or even "logical constructions" based upon "sensation," a James knows that "philosophy is more a matter of passionate vision than of logic" (Essays 206, italics mine).

In A History of Philosophy in America, Flower and Murphey stress the "complexity and intimacy of the relationship among science, religion, and philosophy" (1:xiii). This "indistinguishable" mass, however, has as its perceptible core the dogma of "The American Religion of Vision" (Meyer, "American" 1045) wherein all traditional thought and verbalization have been transmogrified into hypervision: "I see my thought standing, growing, walking, working, out there in nature; look where I will, I see it" (Emerson, Journals 14:166, italics mine). No "school" of philosophy or science or theology can prepare the "American scholar" for this shift wherein the order is given—"Forget the past!" (Emerson, Letters 134)—and wherein the Logos/logoi of exegesis and analysis have been eradicated in the parody upon the famous hyperverbal command, "Pray without ceasing"; Emerson merely notes the hypervisual "new commandment" in his journal—"Observe without ceasing" (12:478).

Finally, for all those who insist upon the continuity of European/American philosophy, this hypervisual imperative will come as the utmost shock and denial—the shock of finding oneself, in Perry Miller's famous dictum, radically "alone with America" (Errand 15). But only in this way can one begin to see the unifying and courageous "common sense" that runs through all of American thought—the American "Revolution" wherein Thomas Paine quickly grasped the fact that "America thinks and acts upon a different system" and that "America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power had anything to do with her" (Common 1:32). Our Dickinsonian "New Equation given" or "New Circumference" (147) demands a far more disciplined and rigorous application of our perceptual/conceptual powers than anything yet attempted in our treatises or books or currently touted "interdisciplinary journals." O Say, Can YOU See the New-World unification of transcendentalism and pragmatism in our sui generis "genius in America, with tyrannous eye"?(Emerson, "Poet" 238).

I. Edwards and Emerson: The Philosopher as "Visible Christian"

In the woods is perpetual youth….I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; I become part or parcel of God.
                    —Emerson, "Nature"

In Flower and Murphey's assertion that "Edwards was primarily a theologian and his work in philosophy was done to support his theology" (1:142), and in William James's concomitant realization that "philosophy" is essentially the means by which we justify or rationalize the primary "passionate vision," we have the basis for grasping the American achievement of Jonathan Edwards. Whether we turn to Edwards' fascination with observing flying spiders, or to his fascination with the case studies of "surprising conversions," or to his so-called "subjective idealism," we find the same ens entium—not the "New England Mind" but the New-World eye, Edwards' radicalization of the esse of things as percipi or even visibilis. Flower and Murphey's amazement at "the speed with which his philosophical views took shape" attests to the same speed of light which transformed Thomas Paine or Rip Van Winkle "in the twinkling of an eye": present in America only a relatively short time, Paine wisely notes that here is a "common sense "indebted to the "optic nerve":

Independence is the only bond that can tie and keep us together. We shall then see our object, and our ears shall be legally shut against the schemes of an intriguing, as well as a cruel enemy.(Common 1:91, italics mine)

All in all, Flower and Murphey's bland note that "Edwards' philosophy and theology are not separable" but are "distinguishable" fails miserably to come to terms with the hypervisual certitude with which Edwards joins all his "projects": "All spiritual discoveries are transforming" (Affections 340).

To be more specific, let us begin with that eye-epistemology or "passionate vision" and its "theological corollary" which we find in this very early essay, "Of Insects." Here, Edwards is first of all enthralled with the cunning and art of his subject: "Of all insects, no one is more wonderful than the spider, especially with respect to their sagacity and admirable way of working." Then follows the hypervisual basis for his fascination:

See hundreds of webs, made conspicuous by the dew, reaching from one tree and shrub to another; or they may be seen well enough by an observing eye at noonday by their glistening agent the sun. And what is still more wonderful, I know I have several times seen, in a very calm and serene day, standing behind some opaque body that shall just hide the disk of the sun and keep off his dazzling rays from my eye, multitudes of little shining webs and glistening strings of a great length, and at such a height as that one would think they were tacked to the sky at one end. (Scientific 154)

From this early and "dazzling" episode, Edwards comes to his "theological" position: "We hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator." Not for nothing did Edwards, in contradistinction to a Luther who found his "existential" certitude while reading the Book of Romans, experience his greatest raptures in the Emersonian "woods":

I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place, in my father's pasture and as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. ("Personal" 1:92, italics mine)

This ocular certitude is, in fact, responsible for Edwards' amazing declaration that "'tis light that must convert them if ever they are converted" (Awakening 390, italics mine)—an assertion that is by no means mere "metaphor"/"God-talk" but New-World eye-dealism. Hence, Edwards goes on ad infinitum to speak of "conversion" as "a glorious brightness suddenly shining in upon a person" or as "the dawning of the day"—a brightness far less conspicuous in European conversions (Meyer, "Edwards" 26)—or, in calmer "surprising conversions," as that wherein "but a little light appears, and it may be is presently hid with a cloud, till at length, perhaps, it breaks forth more clearly from behind the clouds" (Awakening 177). Indeed, here "Christology" becomes more than either theology or philosophy—it becomes Hypervisuality:

The soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of Righteousness, in such a manner, that its nature is changed, and it becomes properly a luminous thing; not only does the sun shine in the saints, but they also become little suns, partaking of the fountain of their light. (Affections 343, italics mine)

In fact, this eye-enthusiasm is the real separator between Edwards and his supposed mentor, John Locke. It is not a question of Edwards's and Locke's disagreement on the definition of "simple ideas" but on the basis of truth itself. Here, Locke insists upon reason or propositional logic as the ultimate arbitrator for "sensation" or even divine Logos itself: "It belongs to Reason, to judge the Truth of its being a Revelation, and of the signification of the Words" (Essay 694). Locke, in fact, despises or fears precisely that very eye-epistemology on which Edwards depends: here is the Englishman's scathing denunciation:

Reason is lost upon these enthusiasts, they are above it: they see the light infused into their Understanding, and cannot be mistaken; 'tis clear and visible there; like the Light of bright Sunshine, shows itself, and needs no other Proof, but its own Evidence…. We see it, as we do that of the Sun at Noon, and need not the twilight of Reason…. This is the way of talking of these Men.(700)

Edwards, of course, realizes the dangers of his New-World hypervisualityand he expends considerable energy attempting to justify his "passionate vision" by recourse to Scriptural proof-texts and even Newtonian materiality and Lockean sense-experience. But the "philosophy" and the "theology" always follow in the train of the fanatical "visible Christian," who retorts to such as Locke's above denunciation of "Light":

If such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper. (Edwards, Awakening 341)

Edwards simply will not trade his eye-epistemology for any au courant or traditionally revered philosophic "truth and method."

This, of course, brings us to the question of Edwards' "idealism"—a position which apparently makes the material world and our experience of it secondary to the "invisible" or "spiritual" or "ideal" Reality/God. Indeed, here, in Edwards' divinization of sight—in his reliance upon the all-seeing Providence of Calvinism, which always holds out an infinity of observation we find him ensconced as "America's philosopher." Here is where Edwards' disagreement with Locke over the question of "knowledge" as the "perception of the agreement, or disagreement, of ideas" reveals its hypervisual bias. Edwards wants instead knowledge as "the perception of the union or disunion of ideas" (Scientific 350)—the merger with the God of the transparent eyeball, wherein one's own eyes are "swallowed up in God" or in that kind of enthusiasm which Locke detested. All exists because God sees it—and as hypervisual or "visible" Christians, we can dare, as we quoted above, "to partake of the fountain of our light." For Edwards, Reality is that which is observed/created by God and, though imperfectly, by his "luminous" saints and subjected eye-dealists. This, in fact, is why Edwards hated those passages in the Bible which stressed walking by "blind faith" and not "sight"—the same hypervisual imperative driving an Ahab in Moby-Dick to declare, "That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate" (Melville 221, italics mine). Moreover, this is why Edwards can laud "the late invention of telescopes, whereby heavenly objects are brought so much nearer and made so much plainer to sight" as the "type and forerunner of the great increase in the knowledge of heavenly things to come" ("Images" 1:107)—the same hypervisual sentiment echoed by Emerson wherein "faith is telescopic" (Letters 234). And, of course, this is exactly why Alexis de Tocqueville would immediately come to recognize a "lack of philosophic method" among the Americans who, above all, "hate whatever conceals a thing from sight and wish to view it more closely in the broad light of day" (Democracy 394)—who wish simply to incarnate the Ideal in the visibly real.

In sum, for Edwards and for all Americans, "philosophy" and "theology" were amalgamated into the American Religion of Vision or an eye-dealism wherein the "visible Christian" and the Super-Scientist Observer were the "subjects" in a new experiment or "manifest destiny"—both what John Winthrop called his flock's excruciating visibility or hypervisual hubris wherein "we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us" ("Model" 1:27), and what F. Scott Fitzgerald would come to illustrate in the New-World deity, Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, identified solely by his "gigantic pale blue eyes with retinas one yard high" (Gatsby 23). O Say, Can YOU See why Edwards' most famous sermon depended not upon bombast but the "logic" of the hypervisual percipi:

For God is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. ("Sinners" 1:102)

Indeed, turning briefly now to Emerson and his more-than-philosophical passion for "an original relation to the universe"—an ocularity wherein we might now "behold God and nature face to face" ("Nature" 21, italics mine)—we find it to be an abomination to assert, as Flower and Murphey have done, that the Englishman, Coleridge, was "the turning point for Emerson" or that British/Romantic Idealism was the impetus behind "Emerson's definitive statement of his position in 'Nature'" (1:408). The English hyperverbal ideal of "a man speaking to men" or the European belief that "we think with words" or the Wordsworthian craving to, above all else, "hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn" ("World" 236, italics mine) was never the basis for Emerson's "perpetual youth" or transcendentalism as the "transparent eyeball." The American scholar simply notes in his journal what D. H. Lawrence called the "inconceivable difference in being between us and America"—Emerson writes: That which others hear, I see (Journals 7:152).

Vis-à-vis a John Locke's reliance upon "Reason" and "Logic" as the means to judge both human and divine revelation, Emerson declares that "life is not dialectics" ("Experience" 261) because "the eye is final" (Journals 14:166, italics mine). In fact, Emerson could set forth the fundamental New-World/Old-World breach in this humorous but telling bon mot: Eyes wait for no introduction; they are no Englishman (Home Book 597).

All in all, American "Transcendentalism" is not, at root, Kantian or Coleridgean; rather it is the visible Christian's appreciation of the power of the eye to create a "union," as Edwards said, between real and ideal. Hence, Emerson can make such remarks as "thought is nothing but the circulations made luminous" or "the blue zenith is the place where romance and reality meet" ("Angle" 159, italics mine). This is why Emerson preferred the "flash of insight" to the drudgery of mere collection and classification of data in order to form "generalizations" or even "propositions." Truly, this is why Emerson declares that facts become "transparent" and that laws "shine" through them. For Flower and Murphey to declare, with the philosopher's typical contempt, that "this is merely a poetic way of saying that the meaning of the fact is understood" (1:423) is a complete and utter failure to once again come to terms with the foundation of American "truth" and "knowledge." Emerson—and Edwards—knows that the "genius in America, with tyrannous eye" ("Poet" 238) has not only achieved a radically "surprising conversion" or "original relation to the universe" but has even transformed language itself from "tongue" to "eye"—language as "the radical correspondence" or union "between visible things and human thoughts" ("Nature" 33, italics mine).

Walt Whitman declared that "I have no church, no chair, no philosophy" but that he had the task to "wash the gum from your eyes" ("Song" 1:969)—a primary sentiment shared by early American thinkers from Edwards to Emerson, who knew that we were no longer "sons of Europe" but ignorant and wide-eyed Americans and "educated by a moment of sunshine" (Emerson, Journals 13:66). Here, Alexis de Tocqueville is again an objective analyst of the "philosophical" Democracy in the New World:

Americans, being accustomed to the witness of their own eyes, have no need for books to teach them philosophic method. (Democracy 344)

This, as we shall now see, holds as true for "modern" as for "early" American thinkers.

II. Peirce and James: "How to make our ideas really clear"

…the worthy knight and champion of her from the blaze of whose splendours he draws his inspiration and courage (italics mine).

C.S. Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief"

Peirce failed to "make our ideas clear"; but in his driving passion to unite the real and the ideal in the divinized "percept" or "observation," he enunciated perhaps better than any other American the pragmatic fear of any "belief" or "inquiry" based upon "authority" or "a priori" deductions. His relentless trials with Kantian categories or with scholastic logic or with "semiotic idealism" or with "the method of science" reveal, above all, the quintessential American searcher—the Puritan ego rising above the "cogito" in quest for "perspicuity" and the ultimate "plain style" which Perry Miller reports "was to be nothing but a transparent glass through which the light of revelation might shine" (New England 349). All in all, the pragmatic "habit" to which Peirce returns again and again is the imitatio of the Divine Mind/Providence/All-Seeing Eye—the synthetic ideal of the super-Calvinist/Scientist Observer, the Edwardsian/Emersonian "conversion" to American ocularity.

Here, while it is true that Peirce looked exhaustively at major western philosophers, both ancient and modern, it is also important to recognize that he never accepted the essence or spirit of their methods or systems—certainly never in the easy way that Flower and Murphey insist, for example, in declaring that "Peirce's answer to this problem is typically Platonic" or that "it was from Kant that he acquired his concept of the nature of philosophical systems" (2:568). Kant had to be discarded because his a priori "preliminary table" and "categories" could never bear the American burden of ceaseless and immediate perception—even if this perception was said to be necessarily "interpreted" by the mind. And Plato had to be given the American transcendentalist twist—from emphasis upon the Divine Mind's embodiment in material form, to the New-Englander's celebration of himself as the "transparent eyeball" who vindicates and co-perceives, as Edwards wrote, "the majesty and grace of God." Indeed, Peirce's "method of science" seems so "peculiar" to Flower and Murphey because it is always in danger of succumbing to that cosmic idealism/hypervisualism which Peirce reveals in our epigraph to this part—the "choosing" of the "scientific method" as a "bride" by passionate/involuntary love wherein "she" appears in a "blaze of splendours" from which the enamored philosopher draws his "inspiration and courage," exactly in the same way that converts reveled in the excitement of their "surprising conversions": "'Tis light that must convert them if ever they are converted'" (Edwards, Awakening 390, italics mine). In this, Peirce was never to lose that tinge of New-World "enthusiasm" for the "transparent" or "clear" which a more reasonable/hyperverbal John Locke had denounced vis-à-vis our "Great Awakening" to the hypervisual ideal.

Indeed, it is true that Peirce was always attempting to interpose the "logic" or the "word" or the "sign" or the "perception" between himself and the "blaze of splendours" of his American environment—that he "attacks the traditional empiricist view that we begin with experiences of sense which are directly given" (Flower, History 2:576). But this early "concept of It" or the later, more sensuous and immediate "percept," which is finally "a nonconceptual starting point," (Flower, History 2:606, italics mine) evinces an American evolution wherein not only must "sense data" and mere "observation"/"classification" be eclipsed by the rapture of the enthusiastic "scientific eye"—what Peirce in the Monist series of the 1880's called the "agapastic development of thought" (qtd. in Flower, 2:616)—but wherein the logic of Logos is dethroned by an ideal nature which is "divined before the mind possesses it." Robert Frost was to call this the thrilling experience of "the land that was ours before we were the land's"; and Joyce Kilmer called it the preference for vision over cognition or Derridean "intertextuality"/sign:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

For Peirce, the goal of evolution brought together the ideal and real in a "cosmos of perfect and infinite beauty"—known by infinite observation and the progress of agreed-upon "opinions" of the observant. Here, the ideal pastime or "play" as a preparation for science/philosophy was something Peirce called "musement," wherein at "the dawn or the gloaming," one passes from "drinking in the impression" to "attentive observation" to "musing" to "communion between self and self" (Collected Papers 6:314). Edwards had called it the "awakening" to the "excellence" of God and "America the Beautiful." Whitman had found it in the exercise of "loafing and observing a spear of summer grass." Indeed, Peirce's musement is identical with Emerson's rapture in "Nature": "I am nothing; I see all; I am part or parcel of God."

Finally, Peirce's vacillation between or attempt to synthesize "subjective idealism" and "empiricism"—his natural hatred for any sheer "atomic" theory—marks him, even in his ultimate failure, as a staunch exponent of that "new consciousness" or hypervisual sagacity which Thomas Paine held up for his own "revolutionaries": In language as plain as A, B, C, I hold up truth to your eyes—(Crisis 3:15).

And it is obvious, too, of course, that Peirce himself resisted this eye- epistemology or too-dazzling "Truth" as an unwelcomed presupposition—as a terrible dilemma wherein vision bursts the bonds of both real and ideal. Yet because Peirce could never finally elude his "manifest destiny" to make our ideas "clear," perhaps it is somehow fitting that this American-scholar-in-spite-of-himself should have died according to Emerson's criterion for greatness"—misunderstood" and in penury. Emily Dickinson, who died not in poverty but obscurity, called this painfully dazzling "Truth" the curse/"secret" of her Jamesean "passionate vision"—the New-World illogical and most unphilosophical "very Lunacy of Light" (Dickinson 291).

Turning now to our last "American scholar," I think that only a philosophic dunce or blind-man would fail to see that in William James's "radical empiricism," "pure experience," "pluralistic universe," "varieties of religious experience," and even his pragmatic/passionate "will to believe," there is the same "radical" experience that lies behind an Edwards' fascination with the "distinguishing marks" of "visible Christians" or an Emerson's tyrannous-eyed a prior—is for his "Age of Revolution." James's hypervisual "philosophic orientation," for example, is crystal clear in his assertion that "prima facie there is this in favor of the eaches, that they are at any rate real enough to have made themselves at least appear to everyone" (Essays 183-4). Moreover, as Flower and Murphey tell us, "the way of a mediator is hard"—as James struggled to unite rationalism, idealism and empiricism in a philosophic "system" that would be true to the discontinuity/"eaches" of experience, as well as to its continuity/"common faith." Here, ultimately, as Richard Bernstein reminds us, James failed—i.e., he characteristically spurned "philosophy" for hypervision: "Vision" is especially appropriate for characterizing James's philosophic world ("Introduction" xii).

All in all, Flower and Murphey's assertion that "James outdid most Empiricists by insisting that the whole of knowledge, from valuation to logical implication, from objective reference to all factors of verification, should have its clear roots in the experiental—"that James was obsessed with "the ultimate need to test in observation" rather than by "logic" (2:637, italics mine)—denotes no importation from Europe "onto the American scene" but is the quintessential "distinguishing mark" of the New-World philosopher. Indeed, Flower and Murphey's and others' lack of attention to James's The Varieties of Religious Experience as they trace his "drift from medicine through physiology to psychology" (2:639) again points to that failure to see how James realizes that the "Great Awakening" in America is no Old-World "mystical" or "sociological" or even "psychological" phenomenon but is the dangerous "vastation" of a New-World "Lunacy of Light." And this revolutionary aspect of James's observations led Whitehead to speak of the radical psychologist-philosopher's achievements in hypervisual terms: James clears the stage of old paraphernalia, or rather, he entirely alters its lighting (qtd. in Flower 2:645, italics mine). Truly, James's realization that "in a subject like philosophy it is really fatal to lose connection with the open air of human nature" (Essays 130, italics mine) matches that of another "Pragmatist," Henry David Thoreau, who, in asking "what is the pill that will keep us well, serene, contented," demands "undiluted morning air—Morning air!" (Walden 1:781). O Say, Can YOU SEE the "reason" WHY?

Or—transcending "philosophy" via "popular culture"—O Say, Can YOU See why the American national symbol is the 'eagle-eyed' American Eagle of 6X vision, and not the roaring Lion of hyperverbal England? Or why the American Liberty Bell ominously cracked upon its first ringing—a "crack" in our relations to "the courtly muses of Europe" which Americans are now quite content to go and view rather than to repair and hear? Or why, in line with James's revolutionary pluralism, the New World greets its visitors and immigrants with no lyrical/chiming "Big Ben," cognizant of temporality and tradition, but with the newly refurbished Miss Hypervisual Liberty, with torch held high in token of that "blaze of splendors" which C. S. Peirce craved above all else in "the fixation of belief"?

In William James's insistence on "passionate vision" over "logic," we have the ultimate American "philosophy" and "unwelcomed presupposition," viz., that seeing is saying, the highest kind; but saying can never rival seeing as the highest ideal. In William James's demand for pluralism and variety we have the New-World reply to any Dasein or intertextuality which would lock all men into "No-Exit" European rooms with "language as the house of being." Emerson simply declares—and James of the next generation would no doubt agree—that "what a little of all we know is said" ("Poet" 239).

Conclusion: A "Golden Age" of American Philosophy?

"What you see is the truth!… I've seen the only truth there is!"
                          —Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood

Just as there has really been no single "American Renaissance" akin to any European flowerings or enlightenments but rather a series of aesthetic/artistic "Great Awakenings" or "Revolutions" throughout the course of American history, so there has been no "Golden Age" of American philosophy limited to that period of time between the Civil War and the Second World War. Moreover , here we can follow the omnipresent power of the "transparent eyeball" as it vindicates the recurring theme of what Hemingway simply called our "clean, well-lighted place" or what Peirce adored as the blazing "bride" of his philosophic "method." Indeed, too, this ubiquitous hypervisuality should help dispell the initial suspicion between such traditional disciplines as "romantic" artists/writers/literary critics and "logical" or more "objective" philosophers—for both types of cultural heroes vindicate the unique accomplishments of New-World visionaries from the Puritans to the present hour. For example, when William Bradford expressed the ocular shock of the first arrival—"What could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men?" ("Plymouth" 1:20-1)—or when John Winthrop exulted in the hypervisual hubris of his congregation, "like a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us," these "literary men" or even "theologians" were transcending all conventional bounds of academic departments and the proliferation of literary and philosophical mutual admiration societies for a truly valuable commentary upon and community of all our contemporary "arts and sciences." Or when Flannery O'Connor's grotesque hero reminds us in the insightful epigraph above—"What you see is the truth!… I've seen the only truth there is!" (Wise 103, italics mine)—Flower and Murphey, in their A History of Philosophy in America, should have made room for or even gratefully welcomed such a "literary" eye-epistemologist within the traditional interdisciplinary team of "scientists, theologians, and philosophers."

All in all, O Say Can YOU See, then, the real patriotic detriment and critical cowardice in Charles Frankel's declaring, of Peirce and James and others, that "the golden age of American philosophy marked the appearance of American philosophers not as Americans but as philosophers" (Golden 1, italics mine)? "Vile," proclaimed Melville, in his hatred of "flunkeyism" to Europe; for his great chase of the white whale was no Englishman's comfort in the Leviathan of Continental thinking but the "fiery hunt" for "the great principle of light" (Melville, Moby-Dick 264, italics mine). It is high time that we take our finest seekers of wisdom, in whatever mode, and follow Melville's simple encomium for that author who dared to reveal the hypervisual "scarlet letter" emblazoned on every New-World breast: Call him an American and have done ("Hawthorne" 1:839, italics mine).

 

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