Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Discussion Questions on WALDEN - week 2

[WALDEN: "Where I Lived; What I Lived For; Reading; Sounds"]

The following questions were addressed on Sept. 19:

1. Thoreau says he goes to Walden Pond to “live deliberately.” What does that mean? Can this be accomplished by living within a community, or can it only be done in solitude?

2. What is Thoreau’s concept of a good education? Is it achievable on a large scale? on a small scale? by one person? Is it desirable?

3. What is Thoreau’s attitude toward progress? For example, does he think the railroad is a good thing, or a bad thing?


Blogger SMJ said...

In Walden, when Thoreau says he wants to live "deliberately" he means the act of living without haste, and with forethought and care. His intention is to slow down the pace of time in order to observe things more closely. Being deliberate, he chooses to be fully conscious of the world around him, especially nature untamed. To achieve this, he builds a house in the woods, away from the daily travail of Concord.

For better or worse, Thoreau has decided that if he is to live his life authentically, that is to say without pretense or strife, he must remove himself from the realm of men (politics and society) and enter the realm of pure being (nature); because, as history informs us, these two realms are incompatible and lead in opposite directions.

The realm of men is essentially a realm of speech (rhetoric) where, as Plato recognized, everything exists as a symbol of something else; which is why the world of men is essentially reduced to a collection of metaphors. What is ultimately real (and true) cannot be reduced to metaphor, and is therefore inaccessible to men.

Instead of a life based on allegory, Thoreau wants to unveil the thing itself, a life unfiltered by the customs and laws of society ("the essential facts of life."). Every retreat from the society of men can be understood as an attempt to recover something lost or something longed for-- whether it be faith in an invisible God, the innocence of youth, or the primeval forest. For the nature of Thoreau's quest is, at bottom, spiritual not factual. He is not conducting experiments or gathering samples. His simple accounting has no economic advantage. His object is simply to remove himself from the company of men so that he might become better acquainted with the world he inhabits, with its sounds, smells, and strange behaviors.

Although customs and laws are indeed "facts" of society, they are not "the essential facts of life," for there is a life prior to and more essential than the life of men. And it is Thoreau's desire to recover what this original sense of life means to man, and show us why it ought to be experienced.

9/22/2005 3:04 PM  

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