Thoreauvian Modernities
Transatlantic Conversations on an American Icon

Edited by François Specq, Laura Dassow Walls, and Michel Granger

New approaches and fresh questions regarding the relevance of Thoreau in our own time


"Given the worldwide impact of Thoreau’s Walden and 'Civil Disobedience,' it’s hard to believe that there has never been a bona fide gathering of international perspectives on his work and significance. Thoreauvian Modernities handsomely supplies this need, almost on the eve of the bicentennial of his birth."
—Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

"Thoreauvian Modernities offers a provocative variety of essays about Thoreau’s relevance to modernity both in his own day and ours. It also contains a groundbreaking transcontinental exchange of critical perspectives between European and American scholars. Although European postmodern theory and American ecocritical concerns often seem opposed to each other, this volume shows that the two can cross-fertilize rather than contradict each other, and the quality of the essays throughout the volume is consistently excellent."
—Richard J. Schneider, editor of Thoreau’s Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing

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Does Thoreau belong to the past or to the future? Instead of canonizing him as a celebrant of “pure” nature apart from the corruption of civilization, the essays in Thoreauvian Modernities reveal edgier facets of his work—how Thoreau is able to unsettle as well as inspire and how he is able to focus on both the timeless and the timely. Contributors from the United States and Europe explore Thoreau’s modernity and give a much-needed reassessment of his work in a global context.

The first of three sections, “Thoreau and (Non)Modernity,” views Thoreau as a social thinker who set himself against the “modern” currents of his day even while contributing to the emergence of a new era. By questioning the place of humans in the social, economic, natural, and metaphysical order, he ushered in a rethinking of humanity’s role in the natural world that nurtured the environmental movement. The second section, “Thoreau and Philosophy,” examines Thoreau’s writings in light of the philosophy of his time as well as current philosophical debates. Section three, “Thoreau, Language, and the Wild,” centers on his relationship to wild nature in its philosophical, scientific, linguistic, and literary dimensions. Together, these sixteen essays reveal Thoreau’s relevance to a number of fields, including science, philosophy, aesthetics, environmental ethics, political science, and animal studies.

Thoreauvian Modernities posits that it is the germinating power of Thoreau’s thought—the challenge it poses to our own thinking and its capacity to address pressing issues in a new way—that defines his enduring relevance and his modernity.

Contributors: Kristen Case, Randall Conrad, David Dowling, Michel Granger, Michel Imbert, Michael Jonik, Christian Maul, Bruno Monfort, Henrik Otterberg, Tom Pughe, David M. Robinson, William Rossi, Dieter Schulz, François Specq, Joseph Urbas, Laura Dassow Walls.

Page count: 296 pp.
4 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


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François Specq is a professor of American literature and culture at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon-Université de Lyon/CNRS. Laura Dassow Walls is William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. Michel Granger is a professor of American literature and culture at the Université de Lyon/CNRS.