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More Day to Dawn

More Day to Dawn: Thoreau's Walden for the Twentyfirst Century

Sandra Harbert Petrulionis
Laura Dassow Walls
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    More Day to Dawn
    Book Description:

    Walden is one of the most frequently assigned texts in literature classes across the country, and it might seem that little new could be said about such a popular book. But these essays demonstrate that scholarship on Henry David Thoreau continues to break new ground. Emerging new voices join senior scholars in exploring a range of topics: Walden's climb to fame; modes of representation in the text; the relationship between fact and truth; Thoreau and violence; Thoreau and evolutionary theory; the working community created by Thoreau's reading and labor; how women read Walden; and the relationship between politics, nature writing, and the science of ecology. The volume closes with an afterword suggesting directions for future research. Thoreau asserted that the leaves of the earth's strata were not page upon page to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, "but living poetry like the leaves of a tree." The continuing vitality of Walden shows that it, too, is not a fossil but a living book, still putting out green leaves of insight. Each decade since Walden was published in 1854 has seen the world grow more crowded and less "simple." What, in our consumerist, speedoflight, hypermediated world would Thoreau have found worth pursuing? How would he structure his life so as to shut out the phones ringing, the cars honking, the litter trashing his beloved haunts? Readers still seek answers to such questions by picking up their dogeared copy of Walden and immersing themselves yet again in its pages. Students convince us that this book still holds the power to change lives. These essays are written with the expectation that Thoreau in the new century can help us realize that there are more lives to live and more day to dawn—that "the sun is but a morning star." Contributors include Nina Baym, Robert Cummings, Robert Oscar López, Lance Newman, H. Daniel Peck, Dana Phillips, Larry J. Reynolds, David M. Robinson, William Rossi, Robert Sattelmeyer, Sarah Ann Wider, and Michael G. Ziser.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-149-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sandy Petrulionis and Laura Dassow Walls
  4. Abbreviations of Works by Henry David Thoreau
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Walden Sesquicentennial Essays
    (pp. 1-10)

    Henry David Thoreau’sWaldenappeared in 1854, 153 years ago. When the untried author built his tiny cabin on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wood lot near the shore of Walden Pond—he started building the cabin in spring 1845, made his official move on July 4 of that year, and stayed for twenty-six months—he had no idea that his contemplated work might ever be widely distributed. The 1854 book addressed itself quite narrowly to “you who read these pages, who are said to live in New England” concerning “your outward condition or circumstances in this world, in this town,” by...

  6. Walden: Climbing the Canon
    (pp. 11-27)

    Walden’s rise to canonical status and something more, which I attempt to trace in this essay, is coeval with the rise of American literature itself as an academic discipline in the twentieth century, and yet the book’s shifting reputation is difficult to disentangle from the larger fact of Thoreau himself as a controversial and iconic figure in American culture. The latter phenomenon actually had its beginnings in publicity about Thoreau’s Walden experiment that appeared even beforeWaldenwas published in 1854, and the reception of the book a hundred and fifty years later is still highly colored (pacethe much-heralded...

  7. Lakes of Light: Modes of Representation in Walden
    (pp. 28-40)

    InRural Hours(1850), a work of bioregional literature published in the United States four years beforeWalden,Susan Fenimore Cooper took note of a significant change in American artistic and intellectual culture: “Some foundation for the change [a shift from abstraction to particularity] may doubtless be found in the fact, that all descriptive writing, on natural objects, is now much less vague and general than it was formerly; it has become very much more definite and accurate within the last half century.” “[P]eople,” she adds, “had grown tired of mere vapid, conventional repetitions, they felt the want of something...

  8. Thoreau and Idealism: “Face to Face to a Fact”
    (pp. 41-59)

    In light of the recent critical emphasis on Thoreau’s engagement with empirical studies of plant and animal life, it is crucial to see his increasing attention to the detail of the material world as one part of a larger project of categorization and explanatory theorizing about the unifying laws and structures of the universe.Waldenand the Journal are permeated with moments of observational intensity, moments that are not “mystical” or “transcendent” in any ordinary sense, but which certainly do not strike us as ordinary moments of perception, even in the context of close scientific observation. These interpretive encounters are...

  9. The Cimeter’s “Sweet” Edge: Thoreau, Contemplation, and Violence
    (pp. 60-81)

    Henry David Thoreau’s most revered sacred text, theBhagavad Gita,dramatizes the problem of how to live in a world on the edge of violence and warfare. It was a problem Thoreau faced and we still face 150 years after the publication ofWalden(1854). TheGitabegins with the warrior hero Arjoon on the battlefield of Kooroo in the open space between two warring armies made up of his kinsmen. As he surveys the scene, he is filled with doubt and despair because he wishes to remain virtuous and nonviolent. He even declares himself more ready to be killed...

  10. Following Thoreau’s Instincts
    (pp. 82-99)

    Not many people today would disputeWalden’s status as an environmental classic. Yet on the central environmental question of humananimal kinship versus the superiority and privileged separation of human from nonhuman nature, Thoreau’s classic must appear extremely limited. Animals are interesting to Thoreau as they “carry some portion of our thoughts” (W225).¹ But in themselves, let alone in the coevolutionary history of our relations with them, they appear hardly to exist at all. This historical limitation arises in large part, of course, from Thoreau’s having writtenWaldenalmost a decade before Darwin published his theory of evolution by...

  11. Thoreau’s Materialism: From Walden to Wild Fruits
    (pp. 100-126)

    Thoreau’s retrospective outburst about climbing Ktaadn is so extravagantly fractured that its argument can get lost. It begins with relaxed contemplation of the central Romantic idea, “our life in nature,” and then descends rhythmically from the abstract to the concrete until it grounds that idea in the irreducible facticity, the thingness, of the planet. Having found apoint d’appui,it rises again, the rhythm more insistent and confident now, opening outward from the actuality of the nonhuman “earth,” to the materiality of the complete ecosocial “world,” and finally to the patterns of human understanding that bind its communities. The climactic...

  12. Thoreau, Homer, and Community
    (pp. 127-151)

    This essay will seek to add to Thoreau studies by examining new connections between Thoreau’sWaldenand Homer’sIliad.In the process, it will also build on the work of other Thoreau scholars, to reflect on his conflicted thoughts about community and friendship inWalden.What Thoreau got out of reading Homer and how he felt about human relationships are more interconnected than one might guess. One can, for instance, come to notice Thoreau’s conversation with the ghosts of ancient Greece inWalden,by beginning with a question that strikes at the notion of community: When Thoreau speaks, with whom...

  13. “And What Became of Your Philosophy Then?”: Women Reading Walden
    (pp. 152-170)

    We are not yet unpacked. There is a chaos of suitcases in the bedroom and a labyrinth of boxes in the hall. A semester with Colgate’s New Mexico study group has ended, and we return to upstate New York with scant time before the semester begins.Thatis a textbook definition of disorientation. “What—how—when—where?” I wake on this winter morning as did Thoreau wondering over questions that I am not yet certain how to ask. The only thing I can say for sure is that the mice who moved in with my daughter’s stuffed animals during our...

  14. Walden and the Georgic Mode
    (pp. 171-188)

    Lyric poem, experimental novel, literary almanac, spiritual autobiography, travelogue, jeremiad, homily, and philosophical treatise—Waldenhas traditionally defeated every critical effort to stabilize its generic identity. Indeed, as many readers have noted, polygeneric restlessness is a rhetorical tactic well suited to a book written in defiance of the spirit of conventionality that is the essence ofgenre,“a literary form that has clear superficial features or marks of identification.”¹ At the same time that critics have ruled any generic pigeonholing both impossible and undesirable, however, they have reached a tacit consensus on the question ofWalden’smode, a broader compositional...

  15. Thoreau’s Divide: Rediscovering the Environmentalist/Agriculturalist Debate in Walden’s “Baker Farm”
    (pp. 189-210)

    At a recent symposium sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE), one particular question continually resurfaced in disparate discussions: How are environmental scholars and activists perceived by those who work or live on the land of environmental conflict? Throughout the conference, a generalized and growing concern for the relationship between environmentalists and people who work the land for a living was never far from formal and casual conversation. It seems that many environmental speakers and scholars are worried about a growing rift between themselves and agricultural workers, including both owners and laborers. But it...

  16. Leaving Walden
    (pp. 211-240)

    In this essay, I am going to explore a couple of different but closely related matters. First I will reconsider Thoreau’s reasons for moving out of his family’s home in Concord and to a cabin he had built beside Walden Pond, in light of the difficulty he seems to have had in staying put at that pond once he had made the seemingly momentous decision to try and live there all by himself. Rather than taking him to task for this apparent inconsistency, as others have done, I am going to argue that his almost daily departures from Walden and...

  17. Afterword
    (pp. 241-248)

    For more than 150 years,Waldenand Henry David Thoreau have spoken to that within us that seeks to “front only the essential facts of life . . . to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life . . . to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms . . . to know it by experience” (W90–91). The contents of this book demonstrate that scholars of Thoreau’s magnum opus continue to break new ground as they consider its multifaceted advice. Thoreau asserted...

  18. Contributors
    (pp. 249-252)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)