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By Jonathan McKenzie

This paintings presents a clean interpretation of Henry Thoreau's political idea via a complete interpretation of private and non-private writings. whereas contemporary critics have opened new vistas in Thoreau interpretation, little realization has been paid to Thoreau's journals and correspondence.

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We may be quick to assume that Thoreau’s philosophical sensibility comes through the force of will, but Thoreau reminds us that the exercise of philosophical life goads and prompts us from our desire to experience the satisfaction of maintaining assumptions. Not many of us “love to entertain doubts and questions,” but Thoreau nonetheless continues to entertain them in order to produce a self that reflects his own ambitions. Thoreau’s glorification of the work of selfhood (what I choose to call “ownness,” following both Epictetus and Stirner) exists even in the earliest entries of the Journal.

In a more important way, however, this work continues the trend of pushing for a more comprehensive vision of Thoreau’s philosophy with respect to the rest of his life and work. The originality of this book resides in the willingness to suggest that Thoreau’s major political essays do not occupy privileged space in his political theory, but that they obscure the relationship that Thoreau wishes to cultivate with the state. We can locate a more comprehensive and complicated political vision through Thoreau’s wider work, giving us a vision of a theorist heavily invested in cultivating a serious philosophical mind and struggling to place political participation within that comprehensive vision.

Cavell’s extraordinary success with this treatment of Walden manages to submerge the metaphors of the text under the root metaphors of writing and the writer. Even those chapters that rebuke reading and writing, such as “Sounds,” become the lamentations of the insufficiencies of language; that is, “Sounds” begins to read like a writer’s frustration. Look at the final paragraph of The Senses of Walden: “The boon of Walden is Walden. Its writer cups it in his hand, sees his reflection in it, and holds it out to us.

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