If Henry David Thoreau were around today, do you think he would blog?
I began thinking about this after reading an interview with Greg Perry, editor of The Blog of Henry David Thoreau. The article leaves that impression that there’s a kind of natural correspondence between the Journals and the blog format:
Thoreau’s journal seems particularly well-suited to the blogging format. What similarities and differences do you see between his 19th-century paper journal and our 21st-century electronic blogs?
The similarities are obvious. Daily entries. Personal notes. Natural observations. Runs the gamut really. I don’t think there are any differences except the obvious one. Thoreau wrote his journal as if others would read it eventually. So other than the immediacy of a blog, there isn’t that much different.
One of the joys of reading The Blog of Henry David Thoreau is realizing that some things haven’t changed since his time. What continuities do you see between his era and ours?
Actually, that’s the thing. Most things are the same. He is living in a technological age as well as we are. The railroad and the telegraph are changing the world he knows. The country that he lives in has changed from the primeval days of his ancestors. There is a buried past there as well. And people are people. Politicians are especially politicians. Commerce is commerce. Even farmers are joining that business.
But I wanted to get a few other thoughts on the subject, so I posed the question to a few of my friends who have spent time with Thoreau. Their initial responses are below.
Great question, Tim!
I think he’d blog, but I think he’d equivocate about why he was doing it.
Much like his famous ambivalence with the train that abutted Walden Pond (he
admired the energy of the industry as human accomplishment, but resented the
intrusion on nature and philosophic solitude for the mere sake of
connectedness), I think he’d find the Web a vexing friend.
And I don’t think he’d give up journaling, at all–he might publish his
journals on his blog, in fact, in addition to whatever timely entries he was
And, of course, he’d be doing all of this on a borrowed computer, using a
DSL connection paid for by his parents.
What’s a blog?
Ha ha. I’m not that ignorant.
He would not. His journals were reservoirs of material for his polished, longer work. I don’t think he’d have made his writing process public. Of course, the blog form could have changed his composition process–maybe he’d still keep a journal, and write “publically” in a blog more often. But I think his informal writing/journaling was important as a place of refuge.
I also think he was fairly class-conscious–a naysayer, and one who loved to tweak the establishment, but I think he liked to do so from within, rather than from without. I would guess that a part of him would see blogging as too democratic: that is, unreferreed, lacking true craft. Of course, there’s some good writing online, but he was anal about drafting and language.
Hmmm, would Thoreau blog. An interesting question.
We know that Thoreau was involved with The Dial for some time, and did publish there, so maybe today he would be a contributor to something like n+1.
But what makes me doubtful that Thoreau would be a blogger is precisely the ‘timeliness’ of blogging – the genre of rushed thoughts rapidly written down before their shelf life expires is something that would not appeal to him (cf. “Reading”).
And yet, Thoreau did give talks at the Lyseum, “A Plea for John Brown,” etc., and so perhaps today he would find The Blog to be the successor of the public talk / lecture. I’m not sure.
But if the specific question is: would Thoreau have blogged rather than kept his journal, or would he do his journaling on a blog, I think the answer is no. The journal was a writer’s journal (as you know, most of Walden comes out of it), not something that existed for the sake of public perusal. Near the end of his life, however, he was going back to revise portions of the journal, seemingly deciding that they would be worth preserving.
So, in sum, I don’t know. But I’d be interested to hear what others have thought.
Their responses offer a more nuanced take on what Thoreau’s attitude toward blogging might be.
Anyone else want to weigh in with opinions?
I received a copy of Coming into Contact: New Essays in Ecocritical Theory and Practice (University of Georgia Press, 2007) in the mail early this week, several years after I wrote my contribution, “Composition and the Rhetoric of Eco-Effective Design,” an ASLE conference back in 2003. It’s bizarre to finally see it published after not thinking about it for so long. The more time I spend publishing content online, the longer the print cycle seems, especially for academic books. But it’s good to see the book published, and it looks like an interesting collection.
“A snapshot of ecocriticism in action, Coming into Contact collects sixteen previously unpublished essays that explore some of the most promising new directions in the study of literature and the environment. They look to previously unexamined or underexamined aspects of literature’s relationship to the environment, including swamps, internment camps, Asian American environments, the urbanized Northeast, and lynching sites. The authors relate environmental discourse to practice, including the teaching of green design in composition classes, the restoration of damaged landscapes, the persuasive strategies of environmental activists, the practice of urban architecture, and the impact of human technologies on nature.
The essays also put ecocriticism into greater contact with the natural sciences, including elements of evolutionary biology, biological taxonomy, and geology. Engaging both ecocritical theory and practice, these authors more closely align ecocriticism with the physical environment, with the wide range of texts and cultural practices that concern it, and with the growing scholarly conversation that surrounds this concern.”
Read more about Coming into Contact: New Essays in Ecocritical Theory and Practice
I must be in the front row. That’s what I keep thinking as I bike into spring this week, getting a great view of each gradation of change as I get to work and back.
Last week at this time I was facing 6 degree temperatures with a ferocious headwind, but I felt my body had fully adjusted to these conditions. I didn’t even both to cover most of my face; I just let the frost tighten and tug on my beard as it collected throughout the ride. In this kind of weather, bikers have a love/hate relationship with speed: you have to get going fast enough to generate body heat, but the faster you go the colder it seems. Five minutes into the ride you can reach a place of equilibrium, but you feel the paradox acutely until that happens.
Yesterday I rode without my jacket at the end of the day and I experienced the wind as an amiable presence, much closer in kind to my own body than the alien adversary it’s been most of the winter.
The ponds have been shedding their layers this week, which Thoreau describes in his journal today:
No sooner has the ice of Walden melted than the wind begins to play in dark ripples over the surface of the virgin water. It is affecting to see nature so tender, however old, and wearing none of the wrinkles of age. Ice dissolved is the next moment as perfect water as if it had been melted a million years. To see that which was lately so hard and immovable now so soft and impressible! What if our moods could dissolve thus completely? It is like a flush of life to a cheek that was dead.