Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Henry David Thoreau's bullshit

Sitting in the doctor's waiting room today, I got to reading an Oct. 19, 2015, New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz entitled "Pond Scum: Henry David Thoreau's Moral Myopia." Schulz is kind to Thoreau's pedal-to-the-metal distaste for slavery and to his capacity to write beautifully about nature.

But when it comes to Thoreau's much-adored "Walden," Schulz rips into this American icon (1817-1862) with a gusto that would do a bookie's knee-capper proud.
Like many canonized works, it ["Walden"] is more revered than read, so it exists for most people only as a dim impression retained from adolescence or as the source of a few famous lines: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”
Since I stand guilty in the never-have-read-it-spotlight Schulz casts on "Walden" and its author, I hesitate to comment on her commentary other than to say that her criticisms of the oh-so-burnished, pantheonic place reserved for this book whose audience I too have seen genuflecting is ... well, "ludicrous" is a good deal kinder than Schulz is with her verbal brass knuckles. Misanthrope, hypocrite, narcissist ... the laundry list and evidence to support it goes on and on.

I liked the Schulz piece. It almost -- but not quite -- made me want to read "Walden."

1 comment:

  1. It has been a while since I read it, but here broad generalizations from what I remember: The first part is hard to get through because he is busy congratulating himself on how thrifty and practical he is, compared to everyone else who wastes money on silly things, like fashionable clothes and fancy houses. Once the cabin is built and he settles down to write about living there, what he observes, and the lake itself, the book is much more interesting. He described the first year with a lot of detail. Then ends abruptly with something like "And the second year passed much the same as the first. The End." I think it was worth reading, and someday I'll probably pull it out and read it again.