Thursday, November 02, 2006

Henry David Thoreau

Now here's a philosopher I can get behind. Thoreau is the featured writer for this, week six of my "Classics of American Thought" class. Up to now, we've had five philosophers, four of which were clergymen, and they're all so darned positive about everything. Winthrop with his City on a Hill, Berkeley with his God is controlling each and every one of our thoughts at all times, and that blowhard Emerson with his "Oooh look at the pretty night sky...I think I shall faint with joy" schtick.

In Walden, Thoreau is realistic about the grim prospects life might hold.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.
Unless it was quite necessary. Finally, someone who admits that ultimately, there might not be any meaning to life whatever, and resignation might just be the only sane course. Such an admission makes me credit the rest of his views all the more.
I reduce [life] to its lowest terms, and , if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world.
I also appreciated his professions of frugality in the service of stripping away all luxuries, such as his discovery that bread without yeast tasted just as good as bread with, even if I didn't always quite believe him.

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