In Above Time, James R. Guthrie explores the origins of the two preeminent transcendentalists' revolutionary approaches to time, as well as to the related concepts of history, memory, and change. Most critical discussions of this period neglect the important truth that the entire American transcendentalist project involved a transcendence of temporality as well as of materiality. Correspondingly, both writers call in their major works for temporal reform, to be achieved primarily by rejecting the past and future in order to live in an amplified present moment.
Emerson and Thoreau were compelled to see time in a new light by concurrent developments in the sciences and the professions. Geologists were just then hotly debating the age of the earth, while zoologists were beginning to unravel the mysteries of speciation, and archaeologists were deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. These discoveries worked collectively to enlarge the scope of time, thereby helping pave the way for the appearance of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859.
Well aware of these wider cultural developments, Emerson and Thoreau both tried (although with varying degrees of success) to integrate contemporary scientific thought with their preexisting late-romantic idealism. As transcendentalists, they already believed in the existence of "correspondences"—affinities between man and nature, formalized as symbols. These symbols could then be decoded to discover the animating presence in the world of eternal laws as pervasive as the laws of science. Yet unlike scientists, Emerson and Thoreau hoped to go beyond merely understanding nature to achieving a kind of passionate identity with it, and they believed that such a union might be achieved only if time was first recognized as being a purely human construct with little or no validity in the rest of the natural world. Consequently, both authors employ a series of philosophical, rhetorical, and psychological strategies designed to jolt their readers out of time, often by attacking received cultural notions about temporality.
Branka Arsić Harvard University Press, 2016 Library of Congress B931.T44A77 2015 | Dewey Decimal 818.309
Branka Arsic shows that Thoreau developed a theory of vitalism in response to his brother’s death. Through grieving, he came to see life as a generative force into which everything dissolves and reemerges. This reinterpretation, based on sources overlooked by critics, explains many of Thoreau’s more idiosyncratic habits and obsessions.
Robert Thorson gives readers a Thoreau for the Anthropocene. The boatman and backyard naturalist was keenly aware of the way humans had altered the waterways and meadows of his beloved Concord River Valley. Yet he sought out for solace and pleasure those river sites most dramatically altered by human invention and intervention—for better and worse.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of each.”
Modernity rules our lives by clock and calendar, dividing the stream of time into units and coordinating every passing moment with the universal globe. Henry David Thoreau subverted both clock and calendar, using them not to regulate time’s passing but to open up and explore its presence. This little volume thus embodies, in small compass, Thoreau’s own ambition to “live in season”—to turn with the living sundial of the world, and, by attuning ourselves to nature, to heal our modern sense of discontinuity with our surroundings.
Ralph Waldo Emerson noted with awe that from flowers alone, Thoreau could tell the calendar date within two days; children remembered long into adulthood how Thoreau showed them white waterlilies awakening not by the face of a clock but at the first touch of the sun. As Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.”
Drawn from the full range of Thoreau’s journals and published writings, and arranged according to season, The Daily Henry David Thoreau allows us to discover the endless variation and surprise to be found in the repetitions of mundane cycles. Thoreau saw in the kernel of each day an earth enchanted, one he honed into sentences tuned with an artist’s eye and a musician’s ear. Thoreau’s world lives on in his writing so that we, too, may discover, even in a fallen world, a beauty worth defending.
In the hot summer of 2004, David Leff floated away from the routine of daily life just as Henry David Thoreau and his brother had done in their own small boat in 1839. Fortified with Thoreau’s observations as revealed in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Leff brought his own concept of mindful deep travel to these same New England waterways. His first-person narrative uses his ecological way of looking, of going deep rather than far, to show that our outward journeys are inseparable from our inward ones.
How we see depends on where we are in our lives and with whom we travel. Leff chose his companions wisely. In consecutive journeys his neighbor and friend Alan, a veteran city planner; his son Josh, an energetic eleven-year-old; and his sweetheart Pamela, a compassionate professional caregiver, added their perspectives to Leff’s own experiences as a government official in natural resources policy. Not so much sight seeing as sight seeking, together they explored a geography of the imagination as well as the rich natural and human histories of the rivers and their communities.
The heightened awareness of deep travel demands that we immerse ourselves fully in places and realize that they exist in time as well as space. Its mindfulness enriches the experience and makes the voyager worthy of the journey. Leff’s intriguing, contemplative deep travel along these historic rivers presents a methodology for exploration that will enrich any trip.
With the environmental crisis comes a crisis of the imagination, a need to find new ways to understand nature and humanity's relation to it. This is the challenge Lawrence Buell takes up in The Environmental Imagination, the most ambitious study to date of how literature represents the natural environment. With Thoreau's Walden as a touchstone, Buell gives us a far-reaching account of environmental perception, the place of nature in the history of western thought, and the consequences for literary scholarship of attempting to imagine a more "ecocentric" way of being. In doing so, he provides a major new understanding of Thoreau's achievement and, at the same time, a profound rethinking of our literary and cultural reflections on nature.
The green tradition in American writing commands Buell's special attention, particularly environmental nonfiction from colonial times to the present. In works by writers from Crevecoeur to Wendell Berry, John Muir to Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson to Leslie Silko, Mary Austin to Edward Abbey, he examines enduring environmental themes such as the dream of relinquishment, the personification of the nonhuman, an attentiveness to environmental cycles, a devotion to place, and a prophetic awareness of possible ecocatastrophe. At the center of this study we find an image of Walden as a quest for greater environmental awareness, an impetus and guide for Buell as he develops a new vision of environmental writing and seeks a new way of conceiving the relation between human imagination and environmental actuality in the age of industrialization. Intricate and challenging in its arguments, yet engagingly and elegantly written, The Environmental Imagination is a major work of scholarship, one that establishes a new basis for reading American nature writing.
Table of Contents:
PART 1: Historical and Theoretical Contexts
1. Pastoral Ideology 2. New World Dreams and Environmental Actualities 3. Representing the Environment 4. Walden's Environmental Projects
PART 2: Forms of Literary Ecocentrism
5. The Aesthetics of Relinquishment 6. Nature's Personhood 7. Nature's Face, Mind's Eye: Realizing the Seasons 8. Place 9. Environmental Apocalypticism
PART 3: Environmental Sainthood
10. The Thoreauvian Pilgrimage 11. The Canonization and Recanonization of the Green Thoreau 12. Text as Testament: Reading Walden for the Author
Appendix Nature's Genres: Environmental Nonfiction at the Time of Thoreau's Emergence Notes Acknowledgments Index
Reviews of this book: Literature generally defines itself as that realm of higher culture freed from both the sloppy nostalgia of nature lovers and the fact-bound objectivity of science. The resulting paradox gives Lawrence Buell his subject: nature writing survives in American literary and cultural studies as an 'enclave canon,' widely ignored even as the idea of nature is acknowledged to be formative to American culture and central to at least one canonical writer, Henry David Thoreau. In this fine book, Buell uses Thoreau's position at the crux of this paradox to argue for the return of nature to literary criticism and theory...Buell's excellent book is essential reading that for years to come will provide a central point of reference in discussions of Thoreau, environmental writing, and realist aesthetics. --Laura Dassow Walls, Isis
Reviews of this book: The Environmental Imagination has become a standard work on the subject, and a pioneering example of what is being called 'ecocriticism.' --Jay Parini, New York Times Magazine
Reviews of this book: [A] remarkable book...Building upon and brilliantly extending the new ecocriticism, Buell has made the most of Thoreau as cultural icon as well as major literary and intellectual figure, in the process raising the stakes and broadening the responsibilities of Thoreau scholarship and criticism. --William Rossi, ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Reviews of this book: Lawrence Buell has undertaken a heroic task: to reorient the understanding of American literature and culture towards 'ecocentrism'; that is, to place the environment (and not simply humans within the environment) at the center of American literary studies. Further, its concern for 'the literal environment as opposed to the environment as a cultural symbol,' The Environmental Imagination is a respectful effort to supplement if not displace Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden in American studies. Buell carries out his tasks largely by examining the implications of Walden on literature and environmental consciousness in the United States...That The Environmental Imagination can be deciphered by a lay reader is a tribute to a thesis that is both comprehensible and worth learning about. --Charles A. Miller, New England Quarterly
Reviews of this book: A groundbreaking study...It is at once comprehensive, the bibliography alone comprising almost 140 pages of detailed notes; urgent, pressing upon our own imagination the real consequences of literary conventions of representing nature; and controversial, insightfully critiquing various cherished cows of contemporary literary theory...The Environmental Imagination is sure to be a standard reference for scholars of both Thoreau and the tradition of American nature writing. --Robert Anderson, Growth and Change
Reviews of this book: Lawrence Buell's The Environmental Imagination is among the first ambitious and comprehensive attempts to define ecocriticism and establish its central issues and the mainstream of its tradition--at least, for Buell, in America. In that respect, it resembles some of the seminal works in women's studies, as a book that both argues for the legitimacy of its subject and reveals how it has a history, a solid tradition, that parallels the ones long-since established in the mainstream genres...The Environmental Imagination...will play a central role in establishing literary ecocriticim as a major field and will assume a place as one of that field's canonical texts...Its argument will rightly be acknowledged in all serious treatments of American nature writing from this point forward. --Frederick W. Shilstone, South Carolina Review
In his 1862 eulogy for Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson reflected that his friend "dedicated his genius with such entire love to the fields, hills, and waters of his native town, that he made them known and interesting to all reading Americans, and to people over the sea." Finding Thoreau traces the reception of Thoreau's work from the time of his death to his ascendancy as an environmental icon in the 1970s, revealing insights into American culture's conception of the environment.
Moving decade by decade through this period, Richard W. Judd unveils a cache of commentary from intellectuals, critics, and journalists to demonstrate the dynamism in the idea of nature, as Americans defined and redefined the organic world around them amidst shifting intellectual, creative, and political forces. This book tells the captivating story of one writer's rise from obscurity to fame through a cultural reappraisal of the work he left behind.
Henry David Thoreau: A Life
Laura Dassow Walls University of Chicago Press, 2017 Library of Congress PS3053.W28 2017 | Dewey Decimal 818.309
“Walden. Yesterday I came here to live.” That entry from the journal of Henry David Thoreau, and the intellectual journey it began, would by themselves be enough to place Thoreau in the American pantheon. His attempt to “live deliberately” in a small woods at the edge of his hometown of Concord has been a touchstone for individualists and seekers since the publication of Walden in 1854.
But there was much more to Thoreau than his brief experiment in living at Walden Pond. A member of the vibrant intellectual circle centered on his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, he was also an ardent naturalist, a manual laborer and inventor, a radical political activist, and more. Many books have taken up various aspects of Thoreau’s character and achievements, but, as Laura Dassow Walls writes, “Thoreau has never been captured between covers; he was too quixotic, mischievous, many-sided.” Two hundred years after his birth, and two generations after the last full-scale biography, Walls restores Henry David Thoreau to us in all his profound, inspiring complexity.
Walls traces the full arc of Thoreau’s life, from his early days in the intellectual hothouse of Concord, when the American experiment still felt fresh and precarious, and “America was a family affair, earned by one generation and about to pass to the next.” By the time he died in 1862, at only forty-four years of age, Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. What did that portend for the contemplative individual and abundant, wild nature that Thoreau celebrated?
Drawing on Thoreau’s copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.
“The Thoreau I sought was not in any book, so I wrote this one,” says Walls. The result is a Thoreau unlike any seen since he walked the streets of Concord, a Thoreau for our time and all time.
Life of Henry David Thoreau
Henry S. SaltEdited by George Hendrick, Willene Hendrick, and Fritz Oehlschlaeger University of Illinois Press, 1993 Library of Congress PS3053.S3 1993 | Dewey Decimal 818.309
No Englishman did more in the nineteenth century to advance the literary reputation of Henry David Thoreau than Henry S. Salt. A biographer and literary critic as well as a remarkable reformer who participated broadly in his era's movements for social change, Salt abandoned his mastership at Eton in the 1880s to devote himself to causes including socialism, vegetarianism, animals' rights, conservation, and prison reform.
In 1890 Salt published the initial version of Thoreau's Life. With the help of American friends, he revised the book and published it anew six years later. The present volume is the third version of the biography, completed in 1908 but never published in Salt's lifetime.
Combining a concise narrative of Thoreau's life with a perceptive treatment of his ideas and writings, it stands as a penetrating study of Thoreau, stressing his distinctive individuality. Through an astute analysis of the text and a concise biography, the editors illustrate Salt's growth as a scholar and his changing views on Thoreau and Thoreau's philosophy.
In No Man's Garden, ecologist Daniel Botkin takes a fresh look at the life and writings of Henry David Thoreau to discover a model for reconciling the conflict between nature and civilization that lies at the heart of our environmental problems. He offers an insightful reinterpretation of Thoreau, drawing a surprising picture of the “hermit of Walden” as a man who loved wildness, but who found it in the woods and swamps on the outskirts of town as easily as in the remote forests of Maine, and who firmly believed in the value and importance of human beings and civilization.Botkin integrates into the familiar image of Thoreau, the solitary seeker, other, equally important aspects of his personality and career -- as a first-rate ecologist whose close, long-term observation of his surroundings shows the value of using a scientific approach, as an engineer who was comfortable working out technical problems in his father's pencil factory, and as someone who was deeply concerned about the spiritual importance of nature to people.This new view of one of the founding fathers of American environmental thought lays the groundwork for an innovative approach to solving environmental problems. Botkin argues that the topics typically thought of as “environmental,” and the issues and concerns of “environmentalism,” are in fact rooted in some of humanity's deepest concerns -- our fundamental physical and spiritual connection with nature, and the mutually beneficial ways that society and nature can persist together. He makes the case that by understanding the true scientific, philosophical, and spiritual bases of environmental positions we will be able to develop a means of preserving the health of our biosphere that simultaneously allows for the further growth and development of civilization.No Man's Garden presents a vital challenge to the assumptions and conventional wisdom of environmentalism, and will be must reading for anyone interested in developing a deeper understanding of interactions between humans and nature.
<P>The Maine Woods, vast and largely unsettled, are often described as unchanged since Henry David Thoreau's journeys across the backcountry, in spite of the realities of Indian dispossession and the visible signs of logging, settlement, tourism, and real estate development. In the summer of 2014 scholars, activists, members of the Penobscot Nation, and other individuals retraced Thoreau's route.</P><P>Inspired partly by this expedition, the accessible and engaging essays here offer valuable new perspectives on conservation, the cultural ties that connect Native communities to the land, and the profound influence the geography of the Maine Woods had on Thoreau and writers and activists who followed in his wake. Together, these essays offer a rich and multifaceted look at this special place and the ways in which Thoreau's Maine experiences continue to shape understandings of the environment a century and a half later.</P><P>Contributors include the volume editor, Kathryn Dolan, James S. Finley, James Francis, Richard W. Judd, Dale Potts, Melissa Sexton, Chris Sockalexis, Stan Tag, Robert M. Thorson, and Laura Dassow Walls.</P>
Thoreau was a poet, a naturalist, a major American writer. Was he also a scientist? He was, Laura Dassow Walls suggests. Her book, the first to consider Thoreau as a serious and committed scientist, will change the way we understand his accomplishment and the place of science in American culture.
Walls reveals that the scientific texts of Thoreau’s day deeply influenced his best work, from Walden to the Journal to the late natural history essays. Here we see how, just when literature and science were splitting into the “two cultures” we know now, Thoreau attempted to heal the growing rift. Walls shows how his commitment to Alexander von Humboldt’s scientific approach resulted in not only his “marriage” of poetry and science but also his distinctively patterned nature studies. In the first critical study of his “The Dispersion of Seeds” since its publication in 1993, she exposes evidence that Thoreau was using Darwinian modes of reasoning years before the appearance of Origin of Species.
This book offers a powerful argument against the critical tradition that opposes a dry, mechanistic science to a warm, “organic” Romanticism. Instead, Thoreau’s experience reveals the complex interaction between Romanticism and the dynamic, law-seeking science of its day. Drawing on recent work in the theory and philosophy of science as well as literary history and theory, Seeing New Worlds bridges today’s “two cultures” in hopes of stimulating a fuller consideration of representations of nature.
Stanley Cavell, one of America's most distinguished philosophers, has written an invaluable companion volume to Walden, a seminal book in our cultural heritage. This expanded edition includes two essays on Emerson.
“The American people sees itself advance across the wilderness, draining swamps, straightening rivers, peopling the solitude, and subduing nature,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835. That’s largely how we still think of nineteenth-century America today: a country expanding unstoppably, bending the continent’s natural bounty to the national will, heedless of consequence. A country of slavery and of Indian wars. There’s much truth in that vision.
But if you know where to look, you can uncover a different history, one of vibrant resistance, one that’s been mostly forgotten. This Radical Land recovers that story. Daegan Miller is our guide on a beautifully written, revelatory trip across the continent during which we encounter radical thinkers, settlers, and artists who grounded their ideas of freedom, justice, and progress in the very landscapes around them, even as the runaway engine of capitalism sought to steamroll everything in its path. Here we meet Thoreau, the expert surveyor, drawing anticapitalist property maps. We visit a black antislavery community in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York. We discover how seemingly commercial photographs of the transcontinental railroad secretly sent subversive messages, and how a band of utopian anarchists among California’s sequoias imagined a greener, freer future. At every turn, everyday radicals looked to landscape for the language of their dissent—drawing crucial early links between the environment and social justice, links we’re still struggling to strengthen today.
Working in a tradition that stretches from Thoreau to Rebecca Solnit, Miller offers nothing less than a new way of seeing the American past—and of understanding what it can offer us for the present . . . and the future.
More than any other Transcendentalist of his time, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) embodied the full complement of the movement’s ideals and vocations: author, advocate for self-reform, stern critic of society, abolitionist, philosopher, and naturalist. The Thoreau of our time—valorized anarchist, founding environmentalist, and fervid advocate of civil disobedience—did not exist in the nineteenth century. In this rich and appealing collection, Sandra Harbert Petrulionis untangles Thoreau’s multiple identities by offering a wide range of nineteenth-century commentary as the opinions of those who knew him evolved over time.
The forty-nine recollections gathered in Thoreau in His Own Time demonstrate that it was those who knew him personally, rather than his contemporary literati, who most prized Thoreau’s message, but even those who disparaged him respected his unabashed example of an unconventional life. Included are comments by Ralph Waldo Emerson—friend, mentor, Walden landlord, and progenitor of the spin on Thoreau’s posthumous reputation; Nathaniel Hawthorne, who could not compliment Thoreau without simultaneously denigrating him; and John Weiss, whose extended commentary on Thoreau’s spirituality reflects unusual tolerance. Selections from the correspondence of Caroline Healey Dall, Maria Thoreau, Sophia Hawthorne, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, and Amanda Mather amplify our understanding of the ways in which nineteenth-century women viewed Thoreau. An excerpt by John Burroughs, who alternately honored and condemned Thoreau, asserts his view that Thoreau was ever searching for the unattainable.
The dozens of primary sources in this crisply edited collection illustrate the complexity of Thoreau’s iconoclastic singularity in a way that no one biographer could. Each entry is introduced by a headnote that places the selection in historical and cultural context. Petrulionis’s comprehensive introduction and her detailed chronology of personal and literary events in Thoreau’s life provide a lively and informative gateway to the entries themselves. The collaborative biography that Petrulionis creates in Thoreau in His Own Time contextualizes the strikingly divergent views held by his contemporaries and highlights the reasons behind his profound legacy.
David R. Foster Harvard University Press, 1999 Library of Congress PS3053.F66 1999 | Dewey Decimal 818.309
In 1977 David Foster took to the woods of New England to build a cabin with his own hands. Along with a few tools he brought a copy of the journals of Henry David Thoreau. Foster was struck by how different the forested landscape around him was from the one Thoreau described more than a century earlier. The sights and sounds that Thoreau experienced on his daily walks through nineteenth-century Concord were those of rolling farmland, small woodlands, and farmers endlessly working the land. As Foster explored the New England landscape, he discovered ancient ruins of cellar holes, stone walls, and abandoned cartways--all remnants of this earlier land now largely covered by forest. How had Thoreau's open countryside, shaped by ax and plough, divided by fences and laneways, become a forested landscape?
Part ecological and historical puzzle, this book brings a vanished countryside to life in all its dimensions, human and natural, offering a rich record of human imprint upon the land. Extensive excerpts from the journals show us, through the vividly recorded details of daily life, a Thoreau intimately acquainted with the ways in which he and his neighbors were changing and remaking the New England landscape. Foster adds the perspective of a modern forest ecologist and landscape historian, using the journals to trace themes of historical and social change.
Thoreau's journals evoke not a wilderness retreat but the emotions and natural history that come from an old and humanized landscape. It is with a new understanding of the human role in shaping that landscape, Foster argues, that we can best prepare ourselves to appreciate and conserve it today.
From the journal:
"I have collected and split up now quite a pile of driftwood--rails and riders and stems and stumps of trees--perhaps half or three quarters of a tree...Each stick I deal with has a history, and I read it as I am handling it, and, last of all, I remember my adventures in getting it, while it is burning in the winter evening. That is the most interesting part of its history. It has made part of a fence or a bridge, perchance, or has been rooted out of a clearing and bears the marks of fire on it...Thus one half of the value of my wood is enjoyed before it is housed, and the other half is equal to the whole value of an equal quantity of the wood which I buy."
--October 20, 1855
Best known for his two-year sojourn at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau is often considered a recluse who emerged from solitude only occasionally to take a stand on the issues of his day. In Thoreau’s Democratic Withdrawal, Shannon L. Mariotti explores Thoreau’s nature writings to offer a new way of understanding the unique politics of the so-called hermit of Walden Pond. Drawing imaginatively from the twentieth-century German social theorist Theodor W. Adorno, she shows how withdrawal from the public sphere can paradoxically be a valuable part of democratic politics.
Separated by time, space, and context, Thoreau and Adorno share a common belief that critical inquiry is essential to democracy but threatened by modern society. While walking, huckleberrying, and picking wild apples, Thoreau tries to recover the capacities for independent perception and thought that are blunted by “Main Street,” conventional society, and the rapidly industrializing world that surrounded him. Adorno’s thoughts on particularity and the microscopic gaze he employs to work against the alienated experience of modernity help us better understand the value of Thoreau’s excursions into nature. Reading Thoreau with Adorno, we see how periodic withdrawals from public spaces are not necessarily apolitical or apathetic but can revitalize our capacity for the critical thought that truly defines democracy.
In graceful, readable prose, Mariotti reintroduces us to a celebrated American thinker, offers new insights on Adorno, and highlights the striking common ground they share. Their provocative and challenging ideas, she shows, still hold lessons on how we can be responsible citizens in a society that often discourages original, critical analysis of public issues.
Recent Thoreau studies have shifted to an emphasis on the green" Thoreau, on Thoreau the environmentalist, rooted firmly in particular places and interacting with particular objects. In the wake of Buell's Environmental Imagination, the nineteen essayists in this challenging volume address the central questions in Thoreau studies today: how “green,” how immersed in a sense of place, was Thoreau really, and how has this sense of place affected the tradition of nature writing in America?
The contributors to this stimulating collection address the ways in which Thoreau and his successors attempt to cope with the basic epistemological split between perceiver and place inherent in writing about nature; related discussions involve the kinds of discourse most effective for writing about place. They focus on the impact on Thoreau and his successors of culturally constructed assumptions deriving from science, politics, race, gender, history, and literary conventions. Finally, they explore the implications surrounding a writer's appropriation or even exploitation of places and objects.
Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, America was captivated by a muddled notion of “etymology.” New England Transcendentalism was only one outcropping of a nationwide movement in which schoolmasters across small-town America taught students the roots of words in ways that dramatized religious issues and sparked wordplay.
Shaped by this ferment, our major romantic authors shared the sensibility that Friedrich Schlegel linked to punning and christened “romantic irony.” Notable punsters or etymologists all, they gleefully set up as sages, creating jocular masterpieces from their zest for oracular wordplay. Their search for a primal language lurking beneath all natural languages provided them with something like a secret language that encodes their meanings. To fathom their essentially comic masterpieces we must decipher it.
Interpreting Thoreau as an ironic moralist, satirist, and social critic rather than a nature-loving mystic, Transcendental Wordplay suggests that the major American Romantics shared a surprising conservatism. In this award-winning study, Professor West rescues the pun from critical contempt and allows readers to enjoy it as a serious form of American humor.
American literary historians have viewed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s resignation from the Unitarian ministry in 1832 in favor of a literary career as emblematic of a main current in American literature. That current is directed toward the possession of a self that is independent and fundamentally opposed to the “accoutrements of society and civilization” and expresses a Transcendentalist antipathy toward all institutionalized forms of religious observance. In the ongoing revision of American literary history, this traditional reading of the supposed anti-institutionalism of the Transcendentalists has been duly detailed and continually supported. Richard A. Grusin challenges both traditional and revisionist interpretations with detailed contextual studies of the hermeneutics of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Theodore Parker. Informed by the past two decades of critical theory, Grusin examines the influence of the higher criticism of the Bible—which focuses on authorship, date, place of origin, circumstances of composition, and the historical credibility of biblical writings—on these writers. The author argues that the Transcendentalist appeal to the authority of the “self” is not an appeal to a source of authority independent of institutions, but to an authority fundamentally innate.
In his meticulous notes on the natural history of Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau records the first open flowers of highbush blueberry on May 11, 1853. If he were to look for the first blueberry flowers in Concord today, mid-May would be too late. In the 160 years since Thoreau’s writings, warming temperatures have pushed blueberry flowering three weeks earlier, and in 2012, following a winter and spring of record-breaking warmth, blueberries began flowering on April 1—six weeks earlier than in Thoreau’s time. The climate around Thoreau’s beloved Walden Pond is changing, with visible ecological consequences.
In Walden Warming, Richard B. Primack uses Thoreau and Walden, icons of the conservation movement, to track the effects of a warming climate on Concord’s plants and animals. Under the attentive eyes of Primack, the notes that Thoreau made years ago are transformed from charming observations into scientific data sets. Primack finds that many wildflower species that Thoreau observed—including familiar groups such as irises, asters, and lilies—have declined in abundance or have disappeared from Concord. Primack also describes how warming temperatures have altered other aspects of Thoreau’s Concord, from the dates when ice departs from Walden Pond in late winter, to the arrival of birds in the spring, to the populations of fish, salamanders, and butterflies that live in the woodlands, river meadows, and ponds.
Primack demonstrates that climate change is already here, and it is affecting not just Walden Pond but many other places in Concord and the surrounding region. Although we need to continue pressuring our political leaders to take action, Primack urges us each to heed the advice Thoreau offers in Walden: to “live simply and wisely.” In the process, we can each minimize our own contributions to our warming climate.
Robert M. Thorson Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress PS3048.T55 2013 | Dewey Decimal 818.303
Walden's Shore explores Thoreau's understanding of the "living rock" on which life's complexity depends--not as metaphor but as physical science. Robert Thorson's subject is Thoreau the rock and mineral collector, interpreter of landscapes, and field scientist whose compass and measuring stick were as important to him as his plant press.
Walking Towards Walden is an exploration of the sense of place, what it means, how it developed, and why it matters. Based on an eighteenth-century literary device in which a group of friends undertake a walking tour and discuss a certain subject, this wide-ranging story emerges from the author’s fifteen-mile bushwhack through woods, backyards, and marshes—from a hilltop in Westford, Massachusetts, to the town of Concord, Massachusetts—trespassing all along the way. A mock epic, complete with encounters with armed mercenaries and vicious dogs, the book covers all the aspects of place—art, literature, myth, and even music.
At his death, Henry Thoreau left the majority of his writing unpublished. The bulk of this material is a journal that he kept for twenty-four years. Sharon Cameron's major claim is that this private work (the Journal) was Thoreau's primary work, taking precedence over the books that he published in his lifetime. Her controversial thesis views Thoreau's Journal as a composition that confounds the distinction between public and private—the basis on which our conventional treatment of discourse depends.