A Danish Thoreau?

Thoreau has been charged with being “asocial,” the view that he can’t connect with others because of a radical independence that sets him off from others, happier alone in his cabin than in the village among others. He’s often called selfish, neglecting others as he sought only his own adventures.

Of course Walden has a chapter, “Visitors,” that chronicles the varieties of social life in and about the cabin–including reading Homer, with his friend the Canadian wood chopper. Someone utterly asocial would not bother to defend John Brown, or be a radical abolitionist, or answer his neighbor’s plea that he go down to Fire Island in search of the remains of Margaret Fuller, drowned in a ship wreak. Nor would someone utterly asocial hire out as a surveyor or launch successful lecturing stints.


In a similar vein, Kierkegaard has been charged with “a-cosmism,” the view that he can’t connect with the cosmos – nature, or others – because of a radical subjectivity that keeps him closed up within himself. Yet Thoreau’s Danish contemporary had notes on autumn that show him as attentive to the seasons and to nature as the Concord saunterer – hardly “a-cosmic.”

Actually, Kierkegaard projected five linked reflections on autumn.

He had notes sketching Fall

  1. as a general season eliciting praise,
  2. in terms of motion (changing leaves, swift breezes, slides into winter’s motionless stillness).
  3. in terms of sounds (birds in song as they migrated, whispering trees and rustling leaves).
  4. in terms of color (the great variety in palette in contrast to Winter or Summer).
  5. in terms of recollection (the serenity and richness available in autumn, or the autumn of our lives).

Throughout, he sees fall as a movement toward death that nevertheless sings out the counter-movement of life.

Kierkegaard’s early death cut short his completion of this project. Notes were found in his basement, and over time and neglect became moldy. Being neither religious nor ethical nor aesthetical in any forthright way, what was one to do with them?

In an uncanny parallel, Thoreau’s early death cut short his “calendar project” that would have arraigned nature’s changes around the four seasons, including fall.


3 comments on “A Danish Thoreau?

  1. dmf says:

    hard to say how much of these authors psyches we get on the page, I think tho that Kierkegaard’s anti-Hegelian bent would make it hard to argue that he had anything like a Catholic natural theology or even an Emersonian of overSouls and such. Some good phenomenology tho in his work as you have noted.

  2. M Robinson says:

    I think your sense of SK is right here, Ed. SK often thought with and in nature. That part of him, though, is less well known still, as you know. Glad your book on Thoreau will highlight that.

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