Saturday, August 12, 2006

My thoughts on Thoreau

So, I posted a while back about how excited I was to finally get a chance to read Thoreau.  Now that I've had a chance to read a bit of it, I thought I'd give some of my first impressions.  Usually, I try to reserve judgement of a book until I get to the end.  There are very few books I give up on reading because I know that sometimes everything clicks into place at the end.  (Or maybe it just takes me that long to figure it all out).  I've had that experience with a few books, like "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by Joyce.  Reading this, you should be aware that my impressions of the overall book may change after I've read more of it.
The book is basically about how he went to Waldon's Pond and built himself a little house and there made his own living.  He didn't want to be 'trapped' by material possessions or owned by his house.  So, he goes there to prove that these things are not necessary to life.  The first hurdle for me was that he goes into A LOT of detail about the economics of it all at the beginning.  Not exactly too engaging for me.  I also find some of his philosophy to be out of date and overly simplistic.  He had it within his power to do what he did partially because he was an educated person with no wife or children to support.  His criticisms of materialism are certainly valid, but I think he takes it to a bit of an extreme.
I found his thoughts on books rather interesting.  He is a big fan of the classics, especially when read in their original language.  His reasoning is that these have survived because they are the "noblest recorded thoughts of man."  However, having studied literature, I know that sometimes they survived merely by chance, or because they were popular.  There may have been nobler thoughts out there recorded that got burned to the ground.  Plus, while I enjoy the Iliad very much and I think it is a great work of literature worth studying, I wouldn't exclude things that are more modern.  Afterall, literature is by necessity a discourse.  The thoughts and words are formed by a person in a particular situation that was influenced by their experiences and history.  This, in turn, is read and interpreted by people who are also influenced by their experiences and history.  So, something that is an important piece of literature for a certain group of people at a certain point in history, may not be as meaningful in a different time or place. 
So far, I'm not enjoying it as much as I thought I would.  Perhaps it's because the expectation was so high, since I'd heard so many good things about it and people that I respect highly esteem it.  Perhaps it's more meaningful for a different generation and I'm simply too far removed from it, or I'm too steeped in material culture so that it seems too radical for me to subscribe to.  I'll try to post again when I've finished it and see if my opinion has changed at all.

No comments: