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

Reviews

"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


"What a wonderful idea, to bring together top scholars from both sides of the Atlantic to consider how Thoreau spoke to his own time and how he speaks to ours! Thoreau turns out to be an endlessly fruitful source for new ideas and insights regarding modernity. American readers may find the Europeans’ reflections on this quintessentially American writer particularly interesting—although the Americans’ essays also provide many valuable new insights. I highly recommend Thoreauvian Modernities."
—Philip Cafaro, author of Thoreau's Living Ethics: Walden and the Pursuit of Virtue

"Thoreauvian Modernities is a fitting tribute to the American philosopher who was, in so many ways, ahead of his time. As an environmentalist, social progressive, postmodern literary stylist, theorist of embodied knowledge, and opponent of the fact-value distinction, Henry David Thoreau was a thinker whose audience had not yet arrived. Yet his voice is also untimely because it is deeply suspicious of novelty and fashion, inspired by ancient wisdom traditions, and decidedly ambivalent about modern technology and culture. This interdisciplinary collection of essays analyzes Thoreau’s contested legacy, exploring various aspects of his incredibly rich writings and bringing to light many valuable insights. It will enable readers to understand better the intricacies of Thoreau’s work and the ways in which it refuses to conform to any of our standard assumptions about intellectual history."
—Rick Anthony Furtak, coeditor of Thoreau's Importance for Philosophy

“Until fairly recently, Thoreau has too often served as a poster child of a nature devoid of culture and not, as he emerges here, as an analyst of the enmeshedness of human and nonhuman materiality. Thoreauvian Modernities indeed attests to a sort of renaissance in Thoreau scholarship, one that promises to put this ‘American icon’ back at the fore of material/ecocritical studies.”
—Rochelle L. Johnson, ISLE

“The themes of this collection are cheeringly unexpected. This is not just the ‘modern’ Thoreau of the environment or political action. It is a Thoreau of modernities across time and space: a timely untimely Thoreau. At the volume’s close, we are left provoked once more by a Thoreau whose writing can change the way we see our modernity just as he had hoped to change the way people saw his own modern moment.”
—David Greenham, Emerson Society Papers

"Several of the sixteen contributions present compelling new ideas on hotly debated topics in recent Thoreau scholarship, particularly regarding Thoreau’s intense preoccupation, in his later life, with recording the particularity of his natural surroundings. . . . An important addition to Thoreau scholarship for the way its contributors’ views overlap in the questions raised, and dramatically diverge in the interpretations offered."
—Johannes Voelz, Amerikastudien / American Studies

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Description

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.