December 18, 2013
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Posted in: Panel of Experts
[WALDEN; OR, LIFE IN THE WOODS]
Although the first edition gives the title Walden; or, Life in the Woods, on March 4, 1862, two months before he died, T wrote to his publishers, Ticknor & Fields, asking them to omit the subtitle in a new edition. They complied with this request, although it has rarely been followed since. Paul (75) suggests that T may have dropped the subtitle because he feared his audience was taking it too literally and thus missing the more important philosophy permeating the book. T could have derived the subtitle from his friend Charles Lane’s essay “Life in the Woods” in the Dial (IV, 1844, 415) or from John S. Williams, “Our Cabin; or, Life in the Woods” in the October 1843 American Pioneer (DeMott), but not from the then popular The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods, by J.T. Headley (New York, 1849), which did not appear until after T had used the subtitle in an advertisement for W in the back pages of the first edition of A Week. For a comprehensive study of the types of books on which T based the structure of W, see Linck Johnson. For a discussion of the organic structure of W, see Lane (1960). Kurtz is one o the most straightforward analyses of W’s style.
Posted in: General Discussion
Is there any possibility of Thoreau borrowing from the Christian tradition and positing “the woods” as a corollary of “wilderness”, where the demons (in us) are often portrayed and living? To reach one’s “higher self”, one must wake up inwardly to those elements that lead the soul (psychological and emotional state) astray.
In his new book, Cryptic Subtexts in Literature and Film: Secret Messages and Buried Treasure (New York: Routledge, 2019), Steven F. Walker offers a new interpretation of Walden’s 1854 subtitle, “Life in the Woods.” It is well known that that subtitle was hardly original, having appeared in several publications prior to the publication of Walden, including an article of that name by Charles Lane which appears in the final issue of The Dial. Walker grants that Thoreau may have used the title “ironically,” that is, “as a vigorous rejoinder to the thesis of Lane’s Dial essay” (13). More intriguing, however, is Walker’s argument that Thoreau may have associated “life in the woods” with a phase of life known in Hindu as “vanaprastha” (literally translated as “life in the woods”)—“the third stage of life—that of the solitary, contemplative hermit living in the forest on the outskirts of the village—as described in The Laws of Manu” (14) which Thoreau read in Emerson’s library in 1840. “Such a new framing,” Walker says, “certainly provides a new perspective on Thoreau’s life-in-the-woods enterprise, which, for all its Yankee originality, also can be seen as a spiritual retreat based on an ancient Hindu paradigm of the stages of life” (16).
Find references in JSTOR articles
The drawing of T’s cabin was made by his sister Sophia, an amateur artist. T himself complained of it, “Thoreau would suggest a little alteration, chiefly in the door, in the wide projection of the roof at the front; and that the bank more immediately about the house be brought out more distinctly” (Sanborn, 1917, 338). Sanborn adds, “He must have noticed that her trees were first and pines, with a few deciduous tress that did not then grow there.” Ellery Channing thought it a “feeble caricature.” Other contemporary drawings of the cabin may be found in Meltzer and Harding (144-5).
[to wake my neighbors up]
The epigraph is quoted from the second chapter of W. It is omitted from many modern editions, and unfortunately so, for it sets the mood for the whole book. Broderick (1954) points out how this awakening and morning theme is a basic image carried throughout W. A possible source for T’s idea is Orestes Brownson’s statement in his Boston Quarterly Review in 1839 that he “aimed to startle, and made it a point to be as paradoxical and extravagant as he could.”
February 17, 2019 at 5:50 pm
See in context
December 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:25 pm
January 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm
March 5, 2019 at 6:47 pm
Posted in: Emerson-Thoreau SUNY Geneseo
I think there is a very subtle irony in this part of the sentence. T could have said, “you … who live in…” Instead he twists the sentence and says, “you … who are said to live.” Implying that he himself does not recognize some of his readers to be alive or living. The whole book says why.
March 5, 2019 at 6:36 pm
On one hand T emphasizes that the first person will be retained in his book, on the other hand he is apologizing for answering questions which are asked about his mode of life. It seems like there are two Thoreaus in Walden. One is drinking from the sky which is pebbly with stars the other is the one who fishes in Walden Pond. I feel as if these two Thoreau’s are at war in many of Thoreau’s sentences in Walden.
March 5, 2019 at 6:27 pm
What is impertinent the mode of life or the questions? And what is the antecedent of they? Affairs? I have been thinking about this for a long time.
February 28, 2019 at 3:10 pm
If we try to read Walden as “deliberately and reservedly” as it was written we will never underestimate its profound depth by taking Thoreau too literally. Here “the labor of my hands” does not merely refer to Thoreau’s physical labor with his hands and tools, his ax, spade, nails and beans. Rumi says, “Man has a body and soul other than the body that cows and donkeys have.”
In Where I Live and What I Lived for, Thoreau reveals a deeper aspect of this labor when he says, “I fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.” Fishing in the sky is another aspect of Thoreau’s labor and the fish is a type of food that is necessary for Thoreau’s particular kind of life. Thoreau did not move to the woods to live like the beasts of the forest. He moved there to “live deliberately.” That particular type of deliberate life requires a transcendental kind of labor, hand, food and feeding. Walden is profound from the very beginning. I have started my new reading of my Walden and am preparing a new edit for the second publication of my translation in Iran.
February 18, 2019 at 5:48 pm
“I felt as if I could spit a Mexican with a good relish…” This is an example of the Dionysian in Thoreau. He is swept up by the martial spirit of music from the village and feels himself capable of violence but instead sublimates his energy into tending his bean-field, doing battle with weeds, or exercising his “chivalry” upon a woodchuck.
February 18, 2019 at 5:38 pm
That’s why Thoreau says: “We are not wholly involved in Nature.” The “dancer” and “Nature” desist from the dance. Thoreau’s double consciousness is of himself engaged in the “field of action,” as HDT, where he must be ethical, and “outside” the field of action as Spectator (non-judging). Awareness of judging/non-judging attitude in Thoreau helps us to discern some of the seeming paradoxes in his writing.
February 18, 2019 at 5:27 pm
The dichotomy, me and not-me, and the “spectator” is relatable to the Contact passage in “Ktaadn,” where Thoreau distinguishes between spirit (which he says “I am one”) and matter (which he says “has possession of me”). This is, in fact, the condition of purusha (roughly spirit) and prakriti (matter) in the Sankhya Karika Yoga text, which Thoreau read (Sattelmeyer), where the Spectator is watching, or entwined with, the Dancer.
For further evidence that Thoreau read about the “Spectator” in Hindu literature, here’s a quote from “Friday,” in “A Week”: “
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A Hindoo sage said, “As a dancer, having exhibited herself to the spectator, desists from the dance, so does Nature desist, having manifested herself to soul—.”
February 18, 2019 at 5:02 pm
Wonderful Mike, so good of your to allow your full PDF to be shared here!
I urge anyone interested in this problematic to consult Mike’s Transcendental Ethos, p. 22 ff.
Here Cousin gets a fuller gloss and appropriate context, I learned much from it.
I wish I had caught this earlier, but better late than sorry 🙂
February 18, 2019 at 4:54 pm
Also, see: http://commons.digitalthoreau.org/docs/frederick-transcendental-ethos-a-study-of-thoreaus-social-philosophy/
Victor Cousins is discussed in “Transcendental Ethos,” page 22.
February 18, 2019 at 4:41 pm
I agree with Mike that Emerson’s notion of the “me” and “not me” in his essay “Nature” (1836) may also be at play here. Interestingly, Victor Cousin in his Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1828-29; Boston: Hilliard et al., 1832), some years before develops the following argument: “The fundamental fact of consciousness is a complex phenomenon composed of three terms, namely, the me and the not me, bounded, limited, finite; then the idea of something different from these, of the infinite, of unity, &c.; and again, the relation of the me and the not me, that is – of the finite, to the infinite, which contains and unfolds it: these, therefore, are the three terms of which the fundamental fact of consciousness is composed” (159). Cousin then goes on to develop the argument over the following pages. From Walter Harding’s Emerson’s Library (1969), we learn that Emerson owned Cousin’s tomes in the original French. Regarding Thoreau, in turn, we learn from Sattelmeyer’s Thoreau’s Reading (1988) that he extracted Cousin in the English translation (quoted here above) from the Institue of 1770 library at Harvard College, twice in 1837.
The Emersonians will surely have all this covered already, but it is interesting to note that Cousin’s focus is chronological (finite-infinite), whereas Emerson and Thoreau seem more concerned with the spatial (here-not here).
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