Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

transcendent, transcendental

cf. Transcendentalism

Oxford English Dictionary Transcendence 1.a. The action or fact of transcending, surmounting, or rising above; †ascent, elevation (obs.); excelling, surpassing; also, the condition or quality of being transcendent, surpassing eminence or excellence

transcend (transitive verb) 2.a. To pass or extend beyond or above (a non-physical limit); to go beyond the limits of (something immaterial); to exceed.

3. To go beyond in some respect, quality, or attribute; to rise above, surpass, excel, exceed.

4. a. (intransitive verb)  To ascend, go up, rise; to pass upward or onward.

transcendent (adjective) 1.a. Surpassing or excelling others of its kind; going beyond the ordinary limits; pre-eminent; superior or supreme; extraordinary.

3. Of an idea or conception: Transcending comprehension; hence, obscure or abstruse.

4.b. (Philosophy) By Kant applied to that which transcends his own list of categories (explained as a priori conceptions of the understanding, which it necessarily employs in ordering its experience, but which have no validity outside of experience); hence, transcending or altogether outside experience; not an object of possible experience; unrealizable in human experience.

5. (Theology) Of the Deity: In His being, exalted above and distinct from the universe; having transcendence.

transcendental (adjective) (Philosophy) 2.a. orig. in Aristotelian philosophy: Transcending or extending beyond the bounds of any single category . . . . By 17th c. writers often made synonymous with metaphysical.

2.b. In the philosophy of Kant (1724–1804): Not derived from experience, but concerned with the presuppositions of experience; pertaining to the general theory of the nature of experience or knowledge, a priori . . . .

Literary applications:

1. literary-historical movement of Transcendentalism during American Renaissance / Romantic period of American literature.

2. The romance narrative concludes in transcendence:

Attributes of romance narrative:

plot or story-line: journey, quest, mission, adventure, self-transformation

separation & reunification (as in rescues, recoveries)

characterization: simple, moralistic, symbolic: good guy-bad guy; fair lady-dark lady; innocent child and corrupt adult (contrast tragedy's mixed characters)

heroic individualism

settings: extreme or idealized (contrast with realism)

codes of honor, chivalry 

conclusion as transcendence: The fairy tale ends with conflicts ended and the couple "living happily ever after." The knight slays the dragon, wins the hand of the fair lady, or sees the Holy Grail. The cowboy cleans up the town and (maybe with his girl) "rides off into the sunset." Also, "Let's get away from it all."