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Henry David Thoreau – Grasping the Community of the World

Translated by Jean Ward


Tadeusz Slawek

This study takes up Thoreau’s work as an early and prophetic diagnosis of the modern crisis of relationships between the individual and society. Thus Adorno’s formulation of «a melancholy of science» finds its predecessor in Thoreau’s famous dictum from the early pages of Walden that we live our lives in quiet desperation. The author reads Thoreau’s Journal as an attempt to refute tendencies towards the narrowing of life to being understood merely in techno-economic categories which threaten the quality of the development of both the individual and the community. Thus in literary scholarship it is essential to find strategies which will critically contribute to understanding and transforming what Auerbach called «ways of life» and what Barthes referred to as «living-together».
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Henry David Thoreau: Grasping the Community of the World




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His name was Eliot Alison… That was all there was on the yellow piece of lined paper torn out of a notebook and slipped inside the first volume of Thoreau’s Journal, bought in the spring of 1995 in a second-hand bookshop in Concord. “Books with a Past, Inc.”: an exceptionally well-chosen name, when you think that they deal in “used” books, books that have passed through the hands of many other users and owners before they come into ours. But it is a past, not the past, for these stories are not in themselves the object of interest; they do not unfold themselves in a single narrative form, nor do they find their way inside the covers of the book that is bought. Instead, they remain on the outside; they are weeds that have been pulled up from the fertile field of the story or the academic discourse. A past remains untold; it is one of many voices that gradually fall silent outside the closed doors of the cover, while inside is the bright light of some philosophical or literary salon, the light of the tale spun behind those closed doors: the past. In this way the books with which we spend our time are divested of any life other than the one that they supply to themselves. This study, which begins with a piece of yellowed paper and several thousand pages of a thinker’s journal, is concerned with what, to adapt Emerson’s...

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