C19 2024: "The End(s) of Originality?: The Transcendentalists and AI"

deadline for submissions: 
August 28, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Ralph Waldo Emerson Society
contact email: 

[The deadline for submissions is Monday, August 28th, 2023. If you have questions, please contact markgallagher@ucla.edu]

The Ralph Waldo Emerson Society will sponsor a panel at the seventh biennial conference for C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists taking place March 14-16, 2024, in Pasadena, California.

The End(s) of Originality?: The Transcendentalists and AI

In the July/August issue of The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance retells the story of Emerson’s 1833 visit to the Cabinet of Natural History at the Jardin des Plantes, finding in it a parable for our time. “The flash of vision Emerson experienced in Paris was not a rejection of change but away of reimagining human potential as the world seemed to spin off its axis,” LaFrance says, adding that, “Emerson’s reaction to the technological renaissance of the 19th century is worth revisiting as we contemplate the great technological revolution of our own century: the rise of artificial superintelligence.”

This panel invites papers that consider how the Transcendentalists and thinkers they influenced may inform our understanding of artificial intelligence as the end of—or furthering the ends to—human creativity and originality. What perspectives do Emerson’s transcendentalist writings offer insofar as they theorize or model a kind of natural intelligence? What do essays such as “Self-Reliance,” “Circles,” “Intellect,” “The Poet,” or “Experience,” for example, say about human expression in terms of its originality, agency, and ethics? What epistemological or teleological questions do they pose for AI? How might the writings of other transcendentalists–both and white and Black, as Peter Wirzbicki describes them–underscore the value of intellectual production toward engineering social and political change? How do Transcendentalist utopian projects, from Brook Farm to Fruitlands and even Thoreau’s experiment at Walden Pond, inform our understanding about the meaning of labor and its relationship to ingenuity, contemplation, and creativity? How might feminist ways of thinking about creativity and/or collaborative practices contribute to this conversation?

Please send a 300-word abstract and a brief biography to Mark Gallagher (markgallagher@ucla.edu) by Monday, August 28th, 2023.

The Emerson Society welcomes and encourages submissions on Emerson and his circle from diverse perspectives and critical methodologies, as well as by marginalized and/or traditionally underrepresented groups.