Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Refreshing Walk

I was curious to see what other people thought of the Thoreau article this week - "Walking". I had mixed reactions to it. On the one hand, Thoreau clearly goes overboard at some points and says things that he probable doesn't actually mean. For example, on page 196 he says "A successful life knows no law," a little extreme if you ask me. But overall I really liked the article. Extreme or not, it helps to remind the reader of things he or she may forget from time to time. Nature truly can be a place to clear the mind and embrace a more uninhibited side of ourselves. He reminds us of the importance of leaving the working world behind from time to time and simply venturing into the great outdoors, however much of a struggle it may be to forget our worries. Interestingly, he even calls nature a "sacred place" on page 182, which is reminiscent of the Greek and Roman approach to wilderness. He also connects nature to freedom and purity and talks extensively about his yearning to go westward, to follow the future. Unfortunately I think this perspective can be and was used to encourage the fulfillment Manifest Destiny and inspired in some people a desire to conquer nature rather than live peacefully with it. In spite of the possibility of misinterpretation, I think the article on the whole is a worthwhile reminder that an occasional foray into nature can offer the mind repose and clarity and can rejuvenate a person's sense of 'wildness'.

3 comments:

Katie Baird said...

I also had mixed reactions. I’m not sure why, but I felt almost alienated from the “walking” experience because of the lofty requirements he seems to place on a true experience. However, after lecture and the realization of comedic inputs throughout the story (which I’ll admit I didn’t pick up) I felt that my opinion of the essay improved.

Laura Martin said...

Katie- Definitely. Reading Thoreau from a modern viewpoint can be very alienating. I feel the same way (I never got the "Thoreau fetish" either). But it's important to remember that Thoreau is writing in a style developed from previous romantic writers (eg Rosseau).

Megan- Very good comment. You mention that Thoreau’s comment “a successful life knows no law” sounds extreme- but Thoreau often writes on the primacy of the individual, notably in Civil Disobedience ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Disobedience_(Thoreau) )

I’m not sure about Thoreau’s connection to the ideas of Manifest Destiny—certainly the same time period, but the vocal manifest-destiny guys were in Congress, pushing for annexation. It would be a good thing to discuss with Prof Tantillo! I wonder if Thoreau’s enthusiasm for westward expansion was based upon an idea of an intrinsic value of ‘wilderness’ or on use-values (using natural resources for production)?

Laura Martin said...
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