‘Higher Laws’ and ‘Divine Madness’: Transnational and Translocal Configurations of Quixotic In/Sanity in the American Renaissance


The New England Transcendentalists deliberately chose a position which by definition did not belong to what was to them the common “prosaic mood” (Thoreau) of their time. Their choice was the result of representatively romantic discontent with their contemporary reality and, at the same time, through the vigorous drive of the Puritan spiritual leadership, it was essentially anachronistic. The sophisticated delight of identifying with such a doubly anomalous nonconformist ideal only intensified the need for counterbalancing the prosaic sanity of the real world with a wished-for poetic insanity, or “madness from the gods” (Emerson). Such “madness by romantic identification” whose “features have been fixed once and for all by Cervantes” (Foucault), naturally caused “Quixotic confusion” between reality and imagination and the substitution of the true with the fabulous. Though peculiarly intensified in the former Puritan context and in the context of ‘Americanness’ in which the nineteenth century New England intellectuals placed it, the problem was far from being merely a local, New England-centered, phenomenon. This paper argues that in their ‘in/sane’ Quixotic quest for perfection, which caused a series of personal failures, the New England Transcendentalists were remarkably faithful saunterers in a blessed place that, to them, was both America and, at the same time, the all-encompassing perennial—translocal and transnational—world, inviting them to establish what Emerson called “an original relation to the universe.”



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Published : 2020-12-31

BakratchevaA. (2020). ‘Higher Laws’ and ‘Divine Madness’: Transnational and Translocal Configurations of Quixotic In/Sanity in the American Renaissance. Review of International American Studies, 13(2), 87-101. https://doi.org/10.31261/rias.9827

Albena Bakratcheva  abakratcheva@gmail.com
New Bulgarian University, Sofia  Bulgaria

Albena Bakratcheva is a Professor of American Literature and American Studies at New Bulgarian University, Sofia, Bulgaria, and Chair of the Master’s Program of American and British Studies. In 2007 she obtained the degree of the Doctor of Letters (habilitation). Among other publications, Bakratcheva is the author of Similarities in Divergences (1995—in Bulgarian), Potentialities of Discourse (1997—in Bulgarian), Visibility Beyond the Visible (2007—in Bulgarian), The Call of the Green: Thoreau and Place-Sense in American Writing (2009–2017—in English), and The Poetic Discourse of American Transcendentalism (Rodopi Publishing House, Amsterdam and New York, NY 2013—in English). She is the editor and translator of Henry David Thoreau. Life Without Principle. Selected Works (2001 and 2011); editor of The Sun Is but a Morning Star. Anthology of American Literature (2005); editor and translator of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Over-Soul. Selected Works (2014); Henry David Thoreau. Wild Apples. Selected Works (2019); American Literary Theory and Criticism (2020). Albena Bakratcheva is a member of the Thoreau Society, and the International American Studies Association (IASA). Her international experience includes: Fellowship of the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany (1992), Fulbright Grant—SUNY, (1993–94), USIA Fellowship—Summer Institute on Contemporary American Literature at the University of Louisville (1999). Since 2008, she is an Erasmus Lecturer of American Literature at the Dipartamento di Lingue e Letterature Moderne, Universita degli Studi di Macerata, Italia. Albena Bakratcheva is the honorary recepient of The Walter Harding Distinguisehd Service Award for excellent literary scholarship (Concord, Massachusetts, 2014).

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