He’s Nothing if Not Thoreau
I dipped back into Thoreau’s Walden the other day. I know, he and his journal of his year in the woods are American classics, practically part of the American mythological, pseudo-religious canon, so what I’m about to say here is going to look a lot like unpatriotic sacrilege.
Thoreau’s authorial voice reminds me a lot of somebody’s grandma.
Truthfully, that’s neither good nor bad, qualitatively, and well, I’m pretty fond of grandmas, generally, and mine, specifically. But still, there aren’t that many grandmas around who have been canonized as one of the greatest thinkers in American history. (Not that your garden-variety grandmother couldn’t, shouldn’t, or never will be. I just can’t think of an example of that happening yet.)
So there’s that.
Then, there are just some things he writes about that seem awfully judgmental. For example, people should be reading Virgil (in the original Latin), Homer (in the original Greek—and how you’re going to find the “original” Greek-language version of Homer, I don’t know, considering we don’t have it and it’s thought to have been an oral epic, and perhaps there wasn’t a Homer), and a smattering of religious texts from other cultures. And, presumably, people should also be reading Walden. Those who aren’t reading these things are reading “Small books” and children’s tales, wasting their time, as grunting, savage, non-thinking animals are wont to do.
I find that a bit harsh. Mr. Thoreau, surely, surely, you could admit that enlightenment really could be found nearly everywhere. Or at least, consider: perhaps it’s less about the object than the viewer?
Too, for all Thoreau’s criticisms of the follies of man, when he enters into a critique of the vanity of fashionable dress, it struck me that criticizing clothing for being too excessive, too fashionable, too unnecessary is not really so much an improvement over criticizing clothing for being not enough of any of those things. The clothes don’t make the man—though, to the judgmentally inclined, to the self-appointed arbiters of Wisdom and Fashion alike, they evidently always do. Here again, perhaps it’s less about the object than the viewer?
Still, despite the tendencies of Thoreau to strike the reader as a strange hybrid of maiden aunt and basement blogger; despite the bizarre rantings against humanity for its surface excesses and deficits, there remains the Walden that interests, surprises, and still converses across the years.
Thoreau excoriates “The News” in Walden. “If you’ve read about one crime, no need to read about the others…” and the lack of substance amid the sensationalism. I found myself talking to Thoreau: “Well, Henry, clearly you’ve been watching Fox 59 again…So, H.D., what d’ya think of the 24 hour, 360 degree surround-sound of ‘news and stuff?’”
But mainly, so far, the part I like best is the same part everybody likes best: the message to look at what’s around you; to not miss life while supposedly “living;” the “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.”
Which, I’m pretty sure, is the part that put ol’ Thoreau up on the pedestal, forever at Walden Pond, one of the Great American Sages. I’m also pretty sure that bit alone earned him the spot fairly.
So, I’ll keep reading Walden just because of that. Though, when he hits Grandma mode, I may put it down in favor of On Civil Disobedience. I’m hoping that one doesn’t have an entire section on clothes.
Libertarian candidate for the 2012 U.S. House seat for Indiana’s Ninth District, Jason Sharp, exited the race July 16th, 2012. Via Twitter, Mr. Sharp stated that he was leaving the race in order not to split the vote and risk the victory of Democratic candidate, Shelli Yoder, over Republican incumbent, Todd Young. As I tweeted to him in response, I disagree with his thought that a Yoder victory would be “a disaster,” but I thought it was gutsy of him to run and I admired it. I do think it takes a lot of courage to run, especially when you’re not heavily backed, funded, and pedigreed. I wish the best to Jason Sharp. I imagine he’ll find his way on a ballot again.
In other news, there goes about an hour and a half of Jason-Sharp-specific blog prep and note-taking right down the ever-loving drain.
The Anonymous Artiste as a Young (?) Lady (?)
Found this rather charming piece of sidewalk chalk art on one of my walks around the neighborhood. The best things in life really are free. Enjoy.