"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
I'm not sure what to make of Thoreau. From what I've read in Walden, he is not the protector of wilderness and untrammeled land that we like to turn him into. I dislike his "philosophical utilitarian" approach to nature (as it was explained in Making Nature Sacred and Wilderness and the American Mind).
I quite enjoyed reading Walden, even the irritating bits, even the contradictory bits that I saw as contradictory (I'm very little judge, contradiction often makes sense to me, as my current state of being seems to be constant contradiction itself. I cannot criticize opposing statements made with the same breath.)
We read an excerpt, "Walking" from another work by Thoreau, and it demonstrated the same contradictions Walden did. For all his "[wishing] to speak a word for Nature," Thoreau lived in an anthropocentric world, his concerns were mainly with the human condition, and the human soul. Nature was merely a means to make humans better, stronger. Humans were best as border dwellers, between civilization and wildness. We needed to be raised in the wild, we needed to understand the animal part of ourself, but, especially as expressed in the chapter "Higher Laws" in Walden, we then were best the more we repressed that animal self. Thoreau advocated enjoying and observing nature, but he also advocated a sort of asceticism to improve the conditions of our souls.
I'm not in to asceticism too much myself.
I sympathize with the contradictions presented though. There's the process, first of all, of randomly throwing out thoughts, whatever you might be thinking, no matter whether it's something you really believe or not. I do that myself. Second, contradictions, at least my contradictions, are often the result of genuine confusion, of wrestling with ideas and come out with several conflicting conclusions, and not knowing which is better. Ideas evolve when written out.
I've had friends complain of Thoreau's contradictions and hypocrisies, but I don't think we can criticize him for thinking (though we can certainly disagree with his thoughts) and he never, from my first reading, claimed he was going to live in the wild, by himself.
And from the excerpt "Walking":
"If you are reading to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again--if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."
"No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession."
"I think I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least--and it is commonly more than that--sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements."
I am quite interested by his definition of walking (though he soon enough strays from the subject) and like the idea that there is a proper way to walk, not as most people do, passing by, experiencing nothing, but actually being part of the world, seeing what happens around you, being guided by whatever compass exists inside you.
I may be putting words in his mouth, but I like the idea that there are different ways to walk, and the better of them takes you off the paths humans travel in general, away from the highways, and the quickest route to the tavern or the mall.
What does anyone else think about Thoreau and his writing?
*also posted in slightly different versions in my own journal*