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Chapter 5. Solitude 
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Post Chapter 5. Solitude
Summary

"To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks . . ." -- Thanatopsis

http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/thanatopsis.html

evening at the pond: vitality in Nature

returning home: signs of visitors

one's space

natural tranquility

awaking to ambient vitality

the human experiment

escaping social submergence

Father Time and Mother Nature

the pill of immortality: identifying with cosmic process

http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendenta ... ter05.html
Walden Study Text



Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:19 pm
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We often see in Walden what a critic labeled the pathetic fallacy, that nature is capable of showing sympathy with human beings. Thoreau writes, " Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me." (4). Now, do I believe that Thoreau really believed that a tree could have an emotional reaction to him? I don't. I think he is simply describing his feelings and omitting the "seemed to" or "as if". That we may feel this way about nature is a truth of sorts, regardless of scientific validity.

DWill



Mon Aug 25, 2008 5:13 pm
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The real fallacy involves a poverty of imagination and rigidity of method that restricts truth to only what is scientifically valid. Actually, it is a pathetic abuse of scientific knowledge that is validated by silencing emotions or castrating the imagination...leaving the wondrous intimacy made possible in every pine needle just a pile of muck...that great and voluptuous interconnected web of never-ending relationships that produce a tree: coaxing, calling, alluring, eliciting, demanding, whispering to one who is willing to hear...a woody intimacy and intimate wood...sending a rippling effect into every interaction with each strand of life...a communion and love affair with each speck of existence, no matter how small, large, banal, wretched, muddy, living or dead.



Tue Aug 26, 2008 6:34 pm
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If you're positing a scientific fallacy, is it to say that science can define the value of things for us? Or does it ever really explain anything at all to the depths that we have need of reaching? You seem to say that the mystery reamains no matter that science has said it is all rationally evident.
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Wed Aug 27, 2008 9:51 pm
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Quote:
The gentle rain which waters my beans and keeps me in the house today is not drear and melancholy, but good for me too. Though it prevents my hoeing them, it is of far more worth than my hoeing. If it should continue so long as to cause the seeds to rot in the ground and destroy the potatoes in the low lands, it would still be good for the grass on the uplands, and, being good for the grass, it would be good for me.


The passage goes to Thoreau's almost complete lack of parochialism, the universalness of his view. It's strange to say this, in a sense, when we consider his Concord chauvinism, but really there is no contradiction. Concord was as good as any place in the world, he was sure of that, but he had the solid proof of it. And its people really had nothing to do with its high status; it was only as bad as any other place in that regard.

Thoreau always encourages us to see beyond our narrow personal interests. So my "bad" weather will be good for other people, other creatures. (Didn't he say something like, "There is no such thing as bad weather?") He even encourages us to see beyond our narrow human interests. It is this last part that presents the greatest, probably insurmountable, challenge for us. For we are convinced that anything we do to advance the human project must be good. Thoreau would have strongly disagreed, I believe. To name one instance, he would have been aghast at the thought of an industry devoted to medical experimentation on animals. To name another, he would have hated the taking away of liberties for the purpose of making us "safe." To truly live as but one species among the millions of others, we would have to rein in our own species' development, and this we are loath to do. No one with an ounce of political power is proposing it.

Some of the writing seems to display that extravagance (extra-vagance) that Thoreau wishes his work to attain (see last chapter). If it attains to true obscurity, so much the better.
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5.6 Any prospect of awakening or coming to life to a dead man makes indifferent all times and places. The place where that may occur is always the same, and indescribably pleasant to all our senses. For the most part we allow only outlying and transient circumstances to make our occasions. They are, in fact, the cause of our distraction. Nearest to all things is that power which fashions their being. Next to us the grandest laws are continually being executed. Next to us is not the workman whom we have hired, with whom we love so well to talk, but the workman whose work we are.


Probably my favorite extravagance:
Quote:
5.11 With thinking we may be beside ourselves in a sane sense. By a conscious effort of the mind we can stand aloof from actions and their consequences; and all things, good and bad, go by us like a torrent. We are not wholly involved in Nature. I may be either the driftwood in the stream, or Indra in the sky looking down on it. I may be affected by a theatrical exhibition; on the other hand, I may not be affected by an actual event which appears to concern me much more. I only know myself as a human entity; the scene, so to speak, of thoughts and affections; and am sensible of a certain doubleness by which I can stand as remote from myself as from another. However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I than it is you. When the play, it may be the tragedy, of life is over, the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned. This doubleness may easily make us poor neighbors and friends sometimes.

I wonder if this ability to walk beside himself also helps him to separate his merely personal interests from the greater good, as mentioned above. Also, in the last sentence quoted, is he saying that this ability to abstract himself from himself is what makes him too, what, unspontaneous? to be a good friend or neighbor? Is this a veiled apology for his lack of sociability?
Quote:
5.17 The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature -- of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter -- such health, such cheer, they afford forever! and such sympathy have they ever with our race, that all Nature would be affected, and the sun's brightness fade, and the winds would sigh humanely, and the clouds rain tears, and the woods shed their leaves and put on mourning in midsummer, if any man should ever for a just cause grieve. Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?

Another example of Romantic identification with nature and belief in its "benificence." Thoreau may here go a little beyond conventional thinking in the last sentence, in which there is a true organic identity between humans and nature, not just a spiritual one. There is a passage from The Maine Woods that provides an interesting counterpoint to the view of nature as beneficent. Thoreau there appreciates it in a different way, on a hike to the cloud-shrouded summit of Mt. Katadin.
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Vast, Titanic, inhuman Nature has got him at disadvantage, caught him alone, and pilfers him of some of his divine faculty. She does not smile on him as on the plains. She seems to say sternly, Why came ye here before your time? This ground is not prepared for you...Shouldst though freeze or starve, or shudder thy life away, here is no shrine, nor altar, nor any access to my ear.

We arent' in Concord anymore, Henry.
DWill



Wed Aug 27, 2008 10:49 pm
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DWill: If you're positing a scientific fallacy, is it to say that science can define the value of things for us? Or does it ever really explain anything at all to the depths that we have need of reaching? You seem to say that the mystery reamains no matter that science has said it is all rationally evident.

The fallacy, and perhaps it is the fallacy of fallicies, involves purposefully avoiding knowledge in order to protect a prejudice: in this case, it requires one willfully remain ignorant of the glorious chorus and exhuberant dance of nature's web. The prejudice revolves around a cancerous delusion: man is the measure of all things...which metastasizes into man is the master of all things. Like the most ignorant of tyrants or foolish of kings, this deluded monarch feels it beneath himself to listen to nature's trees, or ponds, or fields of clover...mere peasants, subjects only to be spoken to, not heard from...never equals, sharing in power and participating as brothers and sisters, fellow citizens mutually assisting nature's anarchic fecundity.



Fri Aug 29, 2008 8:43 am
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The prejudice revolves around a cancerous delusion: man is the measure of all things...which metastasizes into man is the master of all things.

Man being the measure of all things was the motto of humanism. Thoreau dissented in no uncertain terms. It's interesting that humanism can be attacked both from the religious fundamentalist side and from the bio-centric side opposite to it politically.
DWill



Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:22 am
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I don't understand the need to nitpick the way Thoreau has presented these thoughts.

What he is saying is that we are each part of the universe - if we can appreciate this and live within ourselves, we will never be lonely.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how they have been affected personally by Thoreau's words?

Last night, I got up to stand at the window and watch the trees sway in the late summer breeze and breathe in the air.

These past few days I find myself thinking of Thoreau and everything he has to say in Walden . . . we go off up to the coffee shop for a while, sit outside, have a smoke, drink coffee, cappacino, have a couple of cinammon buns and watch cars as they move down Keele Street.

Thoreau's philosophy is sharp in my mind as I think of these cars, the money they cost and what it takes to upkeep them.

It's because of our own frugal ways that we were able to buy our present car . . . for years we didn't own one - we rode our bicycles everywhere.

My husband, being the superintendent of the building in which we live, we can't be away for that long. The car enables us to 'get away' more, even if it's just out for coffee.

I'd like to hear how your lives are affected.

Whether the author contradicted himself in passages, whether he's guilty of having different thoughts and preferences at different times, doesn't interest me in the slightest.

I'm happy with the thoughts and philosphy he has put forth in this book.



Sat Sep 06, 2008 12:54 am
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There are many people homeless these days, but there are (though very few) some tough old guys that prefer to live outdoors.

I know of one who seems to make a home of one of the gazebo's in High Park. He and another man (his partner, perhaps) have been doing this for years.

I've always been impressed by the way they keep their bedrolls so neatly tucked under the picnic tables, how neither of them bother anyone. They don't stem for change, bum cigarettes and/or make a nuisance of themselves by accosting people as they pass.

When there is a family or a group wanting to use the gazebo for a picnic, the men simply wander off and return later. Nobody has to ask them to go so others can use the space.

I've seen the one fella' . . . heard people call him 'John' . . . out shopping, like everybody else. Whether the men live on 'pensions' or not, is something I don't know. And what they do in the winter, I don't know either - maybe they sleep at a hostel, or pay for rooms somewhere . . . maybe they continue to sleep outdoors, or have a shelter somewhere.

While I've been reading Thoreau, I've thought of those men, and wondered what Thoreau would think of them.



Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:01 am
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WildCityWoman wrote:
I don't understand the need to nitpick the way Thoreau has presented these thoughts.
Does anyone have any thoughts on how they have been affected personally by Thoreau's words?

I can see how some of the discussion would hit you this way, as picking the nits. You're absolutely right that your question is the most important one when it comes to Thoreau. I think it would be a good wrapping-up, if we are about to move on from Thoreau, to hear what others have to say about how Thoreau affects them personally. A new thread for this would probably work best.
Will



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Good idea, Will . . . I'll look now - if you haven't opened a thread on it, I will do so.

Carly



Sun Sep 07, 2008 12:22 pm
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WildCityWoman wrote:
Good idea, Will . . . I'll look now - if you haven't opened a thread on it, I will do so.

Carly



Will has already done so, Carly (no 'e' I see), and I have posted to it. Your turn.

Tom



Sun Sep 07, 2008 12:27 pm
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Thanks, Tom . . . been there - done that.



Sun Sep 07, 2008 6:20 pm
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