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Book Review

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In Emerson and Skepticism John Michael argues that even in Emerson's early works his famous self-reliance was more a dream than an achievement. For Michael this dream dates from Emerson's initial quarrel with Unitarianism. In Emerson's "The Lord's Supper," the skeptical arguments that Unitarians had turned against orthodox Christianity come back to haunt Unitarianism itself. We are presumably left with the autonomous individual, the Emerson who can confidendy say to his Unitarian teachers, "This mode of commemorating Christ is not suitable to me. That is reason enough why I should abandon it" (p. 17). But, as Michael points out, this supposedly self-justified individual still seeks approbation from others. Although freed from the doctrinal constraints that bind a preacher, Emerson as a writer needed an audience. Even as Emerson thus longed for approval, he distrusted the negative reaction he got. But he also worried about his right to censure his critics. In short, Emerson could neither dispense with an audience (and still count himself a writer) nor could he trust his reviewers, whether friends or foes.

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Philosophy and Literature