Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Walden Forever Wild and Dadaism

While studying, I was thinking about the whole Walden Forever Wild thing, and I did a quick Google search that came up with an article in the NY Times about the movement and its intentions for Walden Pond, about how they want to turn it into a "shrine" to Thoreau and Emerson ( link here . To accomplish this, they want to lower public access to the site, banning people from swimming in the area, etc. Obviously, from the state of things today (ie. bioengineering and stuff like that to better accommodate huge foot traffic) they didn't succeed, but it got me thinking about some other things.

I couldn't help but be reminded of a controversy that came up a couple of years ago about a man who defaced Marcel Duchamp's famous Fountain sculpture ( link here ). For those that don't know about the sculpture or its history, Marcel Duchamp was a major figure in the Dada movement. Dadaism was basically a nihilist approach to art. Artists like Duchamp saw a ridiculousness in the whole artifice and culture and construction of the art world and art history, so they created works of art like giant urinals as sort of a tongue-in-cheek protest to this. But, today, the Fountain and other works have become part of the canon, which is completely ironic and antithetical to their intended purpose. The man who defaced it understood this; that's why he defaced it. But the art establishment obviously thought otherwise.

Walden Forever Wild reminded me of this whole incident. Isn't it sort of ironic that a group of people wanted to turn Walden Pond into a shrine to Thoreau, to sort of canonize the Pond? Isn't it sort of antithetical to Thoreau's entire goal at Walden Pond, to experiment in simple living? If people want to follow or emulate Thoreau's ascetic ethic, they shouldn't go to Walden, which is a tourist destination now. Unsettled places are a shrine to Thoreau. Walks in the woods are a shrine to Thoreau. Walden Pond is not a shrine to Thoreau, and to try to turn it into one completely misses the point, especially considering the fact that Walden Pond has already been transformed by the millions of visitors it's seen already. Rather, I like what's been done with the Pond today, a sort of Olmstedian gardening of the place, acknowledging that people will be coming through but taking measures to lessen that impact while employing methods that nature itself uses.

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