March 15, 2005

Revisiting Thoreau - A Great Figure

When I read Walden for the first time during my Junior year in high school, I hated it. I remember thinking after I was finished that I had never been so happy to finish a book in my life. Little did I know what awaited me in Media Aesthetics...

As I began to reread the chapters entitled "Sounds" and "Solitude" I hoped that I would enjoy these chapters more the second time around. No such luck. But I was able to look at them with a more educated and mature outlook and make some deductions that I was completely unwilling to make in high school.

In "Sounds," Thoreau tells us that we should not be content with merely reading about life and learning academically, but that we should make an effort to "see what is before you." In Walden Thoreau makes that effort by escaping society and living by the pond. He is able to listen to the sounds of nature and distant society and make assessments based upon his observations. I envy Thoreau's ability to escape into nature and wonder if I could be content simply listening.

In "Solitude," Thoreau has spent some more time by the pond and reflects upon his time alone and away from society. He notices that although he has no human company, he is never alone in nature. He even goes so far as to claim that:

"I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, and infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since."

I wondered how his neighbors, who had just left him notes and gifts, felt about this attitude. I would be offended.

While reading this section, I began to think about all the times that I was alone and disconnected from any society save nature. I could not think of any. When I'm home I always have my sisters around, when I'm at school I have my roommates, and even when I'm alone in my room I like to have my TV on in the background. I do not like being isolated from society, and because of this I have rarely stopped to listen to the sounds around me. Would I find insight there? I may never know.

After I finished Thoreau, I read Williams' short poem "The Great Figure" and its accompanying commentaries. Since I was still thinking about the lack of solitude in my life, I perceived the number 5 to exist in complete solitude. The painting by Demuth showed this solitude well by making the number five stand out from the rest of the painting. Although "the figure" is surrounded by chaos and a bustling city, it is still distinct and separate, existing very solitarily. It made me again assess the amount of time I spend alone, and I decided that although I may be surrounded by others, I very often find inner solitude.

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at March 15, 2005 02:19 AM | TrackBack

Hey Johanna,
I also found myself feeling alone even though I am surrounded by people. Just wanted to relate with you. Great post.

Posted by: Denishia Salter at March 15, 2005 09:19 AM
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