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Showing posts from October 11, 2015

more on thoreau

I’ve thought some more about the essay on Thoreau that I dissed yesterday. I actually see where Schulz is coming from in her recoil from the idea that Thoreau was a saint, rather than a writer. But Schulz certainly fails to understand Thoreau the writer. It is a misprison that comes out best, I think, in Schulz’s staging of the gotcha moment. Which is here: “The book is subtitled “Life in the Woods,” and, from those words onward, Thoreau insists that we read it as the story of a voluntary exile from society, an extended confrontation with wilderness and solitude. In reality, Walden Pond in 1845 was scarcely more off the grid, relative to contemporaneous society, than Prospect Park is today. The commuter train to Boston ran along its southwest side; in summer the place swarmed with picnickers and swimmers, while in winter it was frequented by ice cutters and skaters. Thoreau could stroll from his cabin to his family home, in Concord, in twenty minutes, about as long as it takes t

the wrong question to ask about Thoreau

Kathryn Schulz’s attack on Thoreau is not very convincing. She quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay on Thoreau, and basically she simply develops his line of attack. At the bottom, of course, Schultz’s problem is the person, Thoreau. She thinks of him as a fanatic, a narcissist, a this and a that. It is the moralizing approach. Bad Thoreau, wandering like Maldoror along the beach at Cape Cod. And – implicitly – good us, who would weep decorously over the bodies of children who are drowned. Schulz treats this passage as though Thoreau had no idea that weeping decorously over the bodies of children was to be expected – this, in the great era of sentimental literature about same. What is lost when one gets immersed in the moralizing approach is, well, almost everything. For Schultz, for instance, Thoreau is an absolutely humorless person. Thus, she reads Walden as an absolutely humorless text. In the process, she seems to have ignored completely the long tradition of American de

gun control as a foreign policy issue - not that the "adults" care

Democracy is still a great instrument of popular control, which means that it has to be constantly policed and the issues at stake rigorously trivialized by the “serious” people (who have now taken to calling themselves the adults lately – perhaps the unrelenting riducule aimed at the serious people during the 00s on the internet, which has been echoed by Paul Krugman, has been taking effect). Thus the role of the email scandal that surrounds Clinton’s years as secretary of state. It is a zero of a scandal – I mean, in contrast with the scandal that has not arisen because Dick Cheney erased 30,000 of his emails. One of the great unknowns of the Obama years is whether we would be in much better shape, politically, if the Obama Justice department hadn’t taken that massive dose of oxycodine and decided to give a pass to all Bush administration officials and Wall street, occasionally waking up to jail some journalist for publishing unclassified material about this or that random atrocity.