Emerson and Prodigies


I recently came across this news clip about a 12-year-old music prodigy. The clip is actually fascinating-I would take a look at it if you have time. Jay has been writing music since he was 2 and began attending Julliard at the age of 10. He is now 12. Jay has written 6 symphonies, a number of symphonies that most musicians accomplish in their lifetime. Jay knows he is not a normal kid, as he “listens to the instructions in his head” to create masterful pieces that far surpass his years. The story of this twelve-year-old boy made me think about Emerson’s ideas and if he would think that this young boy exuded his same mentality. Although it has nothing to do with nature, it most definitely has to do with self-reliance and solitude. Jay greatness is most certainly misunderstood-even to his parents he is considered a mental anomaly. Despite his attendance at Julliard, he is not seeking recognition-rather he seems oblivious to any inkling of recognition and solely looks to himself for the ‘music in his head.’ He doesn’t care what anyone else has to say about his music. Additionally, I don’t believe he is necessarily looking for advice at Julliard, rather he is going to school to foster his talent and look inside himself to see if there is more that he can gain from music. A story like his is essentially unheard of, making it clear that he does not practice conformity. He has taken his own path, he does not attend high school and he has surpassed everyone’s talent in terms of music composition. Through the video we see that Jay does not look to anyone for self worth- the music is his own and he believes that there is no way to change that. He only attends school to learn more about the music-so while some people would think that this constitutes as reliance, I would respectfully disagree. I don t think this qualifies as Jay relying on someone else for information rather he is informing himself so he can be even more independent-if that it is even possible. Jay does not adhere to the conventionality of society either-whether it is by choice or not remains to be seen.
But that made me think-what if it wasn’t by choice? What if Jay has no choice but to listen to the music in his head that is causing his eminent solitude and self reliance-Would he still be considered projecting Emerson’s ideals? This is something to consider. For those who were born and had no choice but to be self reliant, those who were born into a life in which they must isolate themselves from society in order to thrive, or were born into a life of solitude-where do these people fall?
Are these people considered to be upholding the ideals of Emerson? These people neither fall in or out of the circle explicitly. In my personal opinion, I think that choosing to uphold Emerson’s ideals is the whole idea of Emerson’s ideas. If there is no motive for self-reliance then it is not Emersonian. It is not the act of being forced into solitude, but rather the act of placing yourself there. It is the action of making yourself be self-reliant that is the idea of being self-reliant. What I’m saying is- If there is no choice, then you cannot choose and if you cannot choose, than you cannot be considered Emersonian. Being born with this gift-one that isolates you from the rest of society and essentially prevents you from being conventional does not give you the opportunity to be conventional. Without that choice, you are forced into self-reliance, and Emerson’s ideals revolve around the motivation to be self reliant, actively seeking out independence from the conventionality of society and the conformance that surrounds it. What do you think?

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3 Responses to Emerson and Prodigies

  1. haleynicoleepstine says:

    I agree with your argument that the decision to be self-reliant/ follow Emerson’s ideas is what makes them an Emersonian character. However, I do think that Emerson would be a huge advocate for prodigy children/ genius children. The quote in the book ” to be misunderstood is to be a genius” immediately made me think of people like Bill Gates. People who were for sure not the “cool” kids in high school, but they turned out to be the most sucessful and geniuses.

  2. palaie says:

    The story of this boy is truly a unique one. I also agree that Emerson would probably not think of Jay as an Emersonian because he is not intentionally looking within himself. I do, however, believe that he posesses some Emersonian qualities. I recall discussing the influence of parents during discussion and how children gain their values from their parents. We came to the conclusion that Emerson would probably be against children following what their parents teach them (or at least following all of what they are taught) because then that would not be them making decisions on their own. In this aspect, Jay is an Emersonian. The video explains that neither of Jay’s parents are musicians and that his father is a linguist who has lost his sight. This is extremely different from the path that Jay has chosen through his pursuit of music and in this way, he is an Emersonian. You could also go as far as to argue that he is consciously doing what he is doing because he has chosen a path that is different from what he has been taught from his parents and the society around him. His mother explained that he had never seen a cello before, but asked for one in order to learn how to play it. This is an example of Jay looking within himself and not depending on those around him to teach him what path to take.

  3. flitvak says:

    It seems to me that the premise of this post rests on the idea that someone who achieves Emersonian self-reliance must force oneself to do so. That upholding Emersonian characteristics must be a voluntary act, in my opinion, is verifiable. I agree with jtgilb who questions whether or not prodigies who are unconsciously self-reliant are Emersonian. Writes Emerson in The Over-soul, “all goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all the organs; is not a function, like the power of memory, of calculation, of comparison, but uses these as hands and feet; is not a faculty, but a light; is not the intellect or the will, but the master of the intellect and the will; is the background of our being, in which they lie, –an immensity not possessed and that cannot be possessed.” (53) He implicitly states that introspection and revelation through the soul are not an innate function. That the ability to look within is “not possessed” and “cannot be possessed.” Therefore Jay does not uphold the ideals of Emerson.

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