Intimate Attachments: Fathers, Sons, and Public Intellectuals

Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)


This chapter brings together narratives Du Bois and Emerson composed in response to the deaths of their sons: Du Bois in the essay “Of the Passing of the First-Born” from The Souls of Black Folk and Emerson in letters, journal entries, and his 1844 essay “Experience.” These elegiac-autobiographical writings serve as both personal memorials and explorations of reform under the aegis of public intellectualism. By that I mean they theorize reform as an emotional process and articulate it in affective-cognitive terms in order to more effectively convey the complexity and ambiguity of the problems and tensions each man seeks to address. Comparing these narratives offers a vivid look at how both writers approach reform in an abstract sense (as we have seen Emerson do in arguing for “a right perception” of truth in “Fate,” or as Du Bois does in describing the dilemmas and obligations of the American Negro). It also sheds additional light on their explorations of reform models in less abstract, more personalized terms (as we saw in their interpretations of the character and actions of John Brown). Finally, it reveals the different yet equally fraught constructions of intimacy in their work and how Du Bois, especially, adumbrates the risks and rewards of inviting his audience to share in the emotional pain of his loss.


Journal Entry Racial Prejudice Public Intellectual Intellectual Work African American Culture 
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© Ryan Schneider 2010

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