Sunday 17 April 2016

A Thoreau morning

This was a Thoreau morning - the kind of morning which always makes me think of Henry David Thoreau - his Journals, the memoir Walden, or some of the essays. The weather was sunny, the temperature below zero (unusual for this time of year), the birds were singing - spring just becoming visible even in the trees.

For decades, ever since I first encountered him in my mid-teens, Thoreau represented a kind of ideal for me - the life he described always eluded me, was always beyond my grasp - but it was about the best I could imagine (especially if I was trying to do without other people as much as possible - to be autonomous).

Always out of grasp because it required a certain kind of person to be content and fulfilled with that life of solitude, contemplation, walking and writing (mostly journalizing - for private consumption) - and I am not that kind of person: not really.

But then, neither was Thoreau. The life, and the person who was fulfilled by it, was a literary creation - not something which Thoreau actually did, any more than I myself did (i.e. momentary glimpses only). Thoreau's real life was very different - and indeed much more mundane and normal.

But even as an ideal, with the perfect Thoreauvian person living in the ideal situation and everything going according to plan - is not enough, is indeed radically incomplete and does not make sense even by its own account.

It is a vague and appealing daydream - a daydream in which the epiphanic moment is somehow expanded into forever - yet the same daydream itself denies the reality of 'forever' and claims that the momentary epiphany is enough (and all that there actually is).

As a guide to life Thoreau was the best I had, for a long time: the pinnacle - yet paradoxical, self-refuting, incomplete - and based on a literary creation and aspiration; not on achievement. 

The Thoreauvian perspective still retains a powerful appeal to me - but to suppose it is enough now seems absurd; to suppose it could replace and go beyond Christianity seems ludicrous... Clearly the Christianity of Thoreau's time was one which saw God more as a tyrant than a loving Father, clearly it was a Christianity which depicted this world as dead, purposeless, unmeaning, uncommunicative. It was almost intolerable (a kind of living death) for a man of Thoreau's sensibility.

But how I wish Thoreau had put his genius into expanding and refocusing Christianity - so it could contain those wondrous attributes he had in his writings - rather than in mocking, rejecting and attacking it...

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