Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Read Walden?

In class yesterday, we divided into small groups to brainstorm what we should emphasize in our discussion of chapter 1 of Walden on February 3. By far the most thought-provoking response was this, from one group:

"We feel that we should not continue to read Walden. We should be thinking about things that are modern, that are relevant to today's issues and creating something new. After all even Thoreau says, "One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessel" (Walden, p.11) and says that change "is taking place every instant" (ibid). In order to understand change we have to realize it is constantly changing."

As a historian, I believe that the past has lessons, though I acknowledge that it should never be used as a blueprint. Some of Thoreau's ideas still resonate and inspire; some are dated beyond usefulness. And then there is the troubling issue of Thoreau's position of privilege, which makes it possible for him to undertake his two-year experiment and publish a book about it. (Not unlike today's No Impact Man)

I ask you: Why read Walden, in 2010? Or were my students right?

For more discussion on Walden, stay tuned to our Ning network, Thoreau's America. To see all the discussion ideas, click here.

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