I confess: it’s not easy to re-root. I am just now returning to Thoreau after a year’s distraction with things Kierkegaardian. This last year has been endless celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Kierkegaard’s birth, which left little time for Thoreau. But this fall I’m teaching a seminar on him at Tel AViv University, and have the time to dive back into the texts, and catch up. I’m hunkering down.
Just came across a collection of essays, Thoreauvian Modernities, half of which come from European scholars. I’m a New Englander by birth, growing up just miles from Concord (in Dedham) and I’m afraid through high school and college I had a provincial and condescending attitude — Thoreau was a ‘local’, and those tourists who visited Walden Pond were, well, . . . just tourists! The Thoreau striding toward his cabin at the tourist spot somehow superseded the writer. Recently I’ve snapped awake learning that Virginia Woolf reviewed Walden favorably, and that Pierre Hadot has praise for Thoreau’s philosophy as a way of life. Some of that probably rubbed off on Foucault — not that American thinkers need confirmation by Europeans.
I didn’t read Thoreau closely (with the care I’d devote to a complex passage from Kierkegaard or Kant) until a few years ago, when suddenly his literary-philosophical-religious-political genius shone through. And of course, once that happened, I could easily imagine readers in France or Germany being mesmerized too — the way we accept classical (and good non-classical) music ‘immediately,’ quickly forgetting (or never knowing) its point of origin.