As Noah Webster stated, A national language is a national tie, and what country wants it more than America? In 1829, James Fenimore Cooper proudly announced: We speak our language, as a nation, better than any other people speak their language. Webster’s dictionary was a decisive step in nation building. However, any dictionary has its limits and cannot transcend morphological and lexicological levels. Transcendence occurs far beyond syntax in the broad realm of consciousness. Nation building starts from mythos rather than logos. It extends beyond linguistics, slides into the galaxy of syncretism while learning how to make baby giant steps towards its destiny.
Myth of the New Adam placed in the Garden of Eden structured American nation building and became a meaningful podium for transcendentalism and romanticism. Alexis de Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America, foretold what direction American literature would take with the course of time. Style will frequently be fantastic, overburdened, and loose – almost always vehement and bold. Authors will aim at rapidity of execution, more than at perfection of detail. Small productions will be more common than bulky books; there will be more wit than erudition, more imagination than profundity; and literary performance will bear marks of an untutored and rude vigor of thought-frequently of great variety and singular fecundity. In 1831, literary scene of the United States was not yet populated with its big names and masterpieces. However, in spite of this preconceived notion, one important tendency was captured accurately – the crave for originality and forsaking the plain old Adam, as expressed by Emerson.
American cultural milieu was unique. American authors may truly be said to live more in England than in their own county; since they constantly study English writers (Tocqueville). Ironically, the very fact that Americans did not have their own language per se, presented a great opportunity for thinking on global scale. It triggered development of metalanguage for art and politics, leaving behind the old classical legacy with its stereotypes and constraining models of the “old Adam”. In other words, America provided a fresh start for her New Adam.
In 1833, Ralph Emerson meets Coleridge, Wordsworth , Thomas Carlyle in England and becomes deeply inspired by their views and philosophy. In 1836 he writes Nature, which overpowers the cultural layers. According to Emerson, words are signs of natural facts. The language phenomenon is explained in terms of divine and spiritual principles. Spirit and Nature outshine poets and philosophers, like the future overtakes the past. Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? An original relation to the universe amounts to the quest for self-discovery and creating a new type of civilization, where the old myths function as a secondary modeling system and appears to some extent estranged from its original context.
In American romanticism, wilderness is no longer a protestant nightmare. For Bryant, Emerson and Thoreau, it stands for the new Garden of Eden, which is immaculate, beautiful and sublime. The Hudson River School artists as their followers also emphasized their divergence from Calvinist concept of the fallen and corrupted Earth. They opposed to it a notion of the Sublime, introduced by a British philosopher, Edmund Burke, in his essay, On the Sublime and Beautiful. Its palpable fragrance imbues Cole’s Essay on American Scenery.
Thomas Cole admired Claude Lorrain, a French 17th century artist, and was largely influenced by his art. Cole’s canvas, The Garden of Eden, bears a strong resonance to Lorrain’s paintings. The latter’s idyllic scenes and pastoral landscapes were reminiscent of the time when humankind lived in harmony with God, with each other and the nature. This theme was profoundly akin to both American and European romanticists. Like Thomas Cole, Dostoevsky also showed a deep interest to Claude Lorrain’s pictorial paradise . The two personified radically different visions of this recurring mythologem.
Dostoevsky persistently defined the painting by Claude Lorrain, Acis and Galatea, as the golden age. It was his trope for the garden of Eden. In a story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, Lorrain’s canvas is portrayed as a utopia, unfolded on the idyllic Greek island, accidentally corrupted by the main character. For Dostoevsky, the human being is too complex to be restrained within any imposed ideal framework or stylized mythology. It’s no place for “prescribed” Eden in his world, where an ideal has to be endured, suffered through and regained in a titanic effort of defeating the inner beast. Dostoevsky ideal is a starets, a spiritually advanced teacher, whose wisdom is obtained out of dramatic transformation, humility and assuming a responsibility for other people’s sins. In this respect, nothing can be more diametrically opposed than Dostoevsky’s Christian personalism and mythologized pantheism of Cole, or Thoreau’s Walden.
In American romanticism, the new Adam is already redeemed and the golden era is projected in the future. As announced by Noah Webster, American glory begins at the dawn. In Thomas Cole’s world view, the threat comes from the outside. It’s a technology that threatens the pristine and divine world — not the inner demons and the dark side of the mind as in Dostoevsky’s universe. Consequently, the Hudson River artists’ reverence for untouched wilderness will spawn preservation movement and national parks system, that is unrivalled in the world. On the other hand, the New Adam is not about spiritual pilgrimage, but asserting powers for the common good. The New Adam is a future superhero, belonging to meta genres that manage to stay beyond and above any conventional classification. At the same time, Manifest Destiny is a logical sequel and vibrant expansion of the static and pictorial Garden of Eden.
In Europe, all roads lead to Rome, in Russia — to Pushkin; hence his status of semi god among semioticians. In the United States, the names with the related cultural context that inspired American romanticists, were engulfed by the majestic landscapes of wilderness, penned by Creator himself. As beautifully noted by Bryant, The groves were God’s first temples. In this mythological matrix, romantic nation builders allude not to their European forerunners, but to the American scenery as their primary source.