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Henry David Thoreau’s Aesthetics

A Modern Approach to the World


Verena Kerting

The aim of the analysis is to show how Thoreau anticipated modern, 20 th century notions of world and art. Following a summary of Baumgarten’s, Leibniz’, Descartes’ and Kant’s aesthetic theories five basic aesthetic questions are formulated. A close reading of Walden and the Journal answers these questions in regard to Thoreau’s artistic approach. The close reading documents his life-long struggle for an adequate perception of the phenomena that «made his world». To Thoreau even the most trivial thing expressed its divine character through its specific beauty. The last two chapters of the analysis reveal the connections that exist between Thoreau’s aesthetics of the trivial and 20 th century aesthetics, between his notion of nature as expression and recent biosemiotic theory.
Contents: «Aesthetics» - An Ambivalent Term – A Definition of «Aesthetics»: Five Fundamental Questions – Thoreau’s Aesthetics - A Textual Analysis – Thoreau’s Aesthetic Position: Trying to Answer Five Fundamental Questions – Modern Implications of Thoreau’s Aesthetic Position.