American Culture as Collage - 2 February, 2017
• “Talk poet” to look up: David Antin (“Poetry is the language art”)
• On Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
o What does a firm foundation look like?
▪ Is it related to a physical place? Are humans made to be nomads—
sojourners? Is “settling down” just settling for less? We originally lived as
a nomadic species, before trading that for civilization (the accumulation of
people and wealth centered around farming).
▪ Originally, people had much more free time in their lives, but agriculture
limits us and requires a tremendous amount of constant work, so the
benefits of civilization are not absolute.
o “Let us settle ourselves”. Thoreau is looking for what is real to be his foundation,
which will enable him to live well. This foundation is rooted in only the essential
facts of life, not the slush of regular society. Walden pond provides a place for
him to try and sort these things out.
▪ What makes something real?
• It’s substantive, it matters to the individual.
• It resists materialism and conforming for the sake of conforming
(parroting what others in society says just because they say it).
• It’s intentional, with every task performed fully in a way that
society often doesn’t require.
▪ Is his experience universally applicable, or only individually?
o Thoreau claims that understanding a single fact for all that it means would be
enough to cut you through to the core, and all you would ever need to know.
▪ This is what scientists study when they dive more and more deeply into
what we know.
▪ Philosophical method of setting aside the non-essential to only look into
the experience of one thing: phenomenology.
o Where does the U.S. find its grounding, given the culture that rejects tradition?
▪ Early Americans running around trying to make something new, forging
ahead and inventing our own reality instead of being held back by
• Here, landowners could be anybody, not just the aristocra