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Strangers by Choice

An Asocial Philosophy of Life.- Translated by Tul'si Bhambry and Agnieszka Waśkiewicz. Editorial work by Tul'si Bhambry.


Andrzej Waskiewicz

Strangers by Choice explores voluntary otherness as a philosophy of life. This philosophy is asocial in the sense that its followers tend to privilege separateness over belonging, and yet it does not lead to alienation or isolation from society. Building on Simmel’s notion of the stranger, the author sheds light on the experience of spiritual idealists, both real and fictional, who maintain a distance from mainstream society in order to live by the laws of their transcendental homelands. Waśkiewicz addresses representations of strangeness from a broad spectrum of Western culture, including Stoic philosophy, Augustine of Hippo, Henry David Thoreau, the physicist Richard Feynman, and finally Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Highlighting how these writers and thinkers have negotiated individuality and community, this interdisciplinary study contributes to debates on identity in both practical philosophy and the history of ideas.
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Chapter 3. Somewhere between Nature and People


Chapter 3

Somewhere between Nature and People

Thoreau and his legend

The following two chapters are structured differently than the preceding ones, as they deal with concrete individuals – Henry David Thoreau and Richard Feynman. These two men’s lives diverge from the patterns discussed above, but they are nevertheless characterized by the strangeness that forms the key theme of this book. Thoreau’s biography is no less fascinating than his work. And since his life and writing appear to be inseparable, it is plausible that he would have approved of my reading of his work as a literary testimony of sorts.1

In the popular imagination Thoreau’s life stands out among other literary figures. The biographer and scholar Walter Harding points to the myth of Thoreau spending half his life in prison and the other half in the solitude of the woods.2 In reality, Thoreau’s life was neither as stormy nor as extraordinary as the lives of other American literary icons. The author of Civil Disobedience spent only one night in prison, while his cabin on Walden Pond in Massachusetts, where he lived for exactly two years, two months and two days in the 45 years of his life, is situated a mere one and a half miles from the town, which Thoreau visited almost every day. Contrary to popular belief, therefore, he lived among other people.

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