Thoreau Annoys Me More Than Proust

It is my second night reading Walden, and I cannot help but hate Thoreau the man. However, like any great text -and Walden is a great text- his ideas are compelling and brilliant out of context. I agree that we focus too much on our consumer culture and forget to enjoy nature. I agree that we can make do with far less than we imagine. I do not agree that philanthropy is misplaced egotism, that meat and quality food is highly unnecessary, and that we should borrow things from others to pretend that we can make it on our own (Emerson should never have let him squat on his land, the fool).

I support the idea of the self-made man, but deplore the idea of practical education versus higher education only. Especially in our brave new world we would be naive to think that boys would be better off learning how to make their own penknife than learning algebra or grammatical structures. Thoreau’s arguments are strawmen to disguise his own discomfort with his personal wealth and education from Harvard. He would never survive Cormac McCarthy’s Road, Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He is unbending in his luddism cloaked in experimentation, and would be lost in our mechanized realities.

I jest that I dislike him more than Proust, because Marcel ponies up to his ineffectual nature: Proust rambles about the virtue of a cookie, whereas Thoreau would insist on telling how he made the madeleine from sawdust, pumpkin molasses and termites for 2 1/2 cents, but that we would be better off without them altogether. I am heading to the shopping mall to regain my senses before I end up like Christopher McCandless heading Into the Wild because I misread Thoreau.

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