Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joan Richardson

Subject Categories

American Literature | Dance | Literature in English, North America | Theatre and Performance Studies


Emerson, impersonal, non-dualism, Somatics


Committing to the Waves: Emerson's Moving Assignments reads Ralph Waldo Emerson as a writer of assignments for living and working whose senses can be taken up across a wide array of creative and exploratory fields. Shifting between an interdisciplinary array of contexts ranging from philosophy and poetics to dance, performance, and somatic movement experiments, I join the practical sense of creative inquiry embodied in these fields to the abstract images of Emerson's assignments. I argue that Emerson's descriptions of intelligence and power, and so his approaches to navigating skepticism and loss, as well as the non-possessive sense of what "self" actually means to this thinker of "self-reliance" can be illuminated by reading from the non-dualist perspective that embodied inquiry offers.

The dissertation also enacts the self-reliance that Emerson calls for by taking up my response to Emerson through my sense of his assignments. The first half of this study uses this embodied work as a resource for reading Emerson, situating his sense in relation to extra-literary and extra-philosophical research. The second half of the dissertation makes a pivot, taking Emerson as a resource for performance assignments, first in the form of a chapter written with poetic constraints, which approaches the question of how philosophical commitments might animate theater and actual performance, and finally by following Emerson's instruction to the scholar to dive into her "privatest presentiments" to find where that privacy meets a public intelligence and intelligibility. The dissertation concludes with the documentation of Another Tree Dance, an original performance generated from that Emersonian private dive.