ENGL 40761 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Walden Pond, Stanley Cavell, Claudia Rankine

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7 May 2017
American Culture as Collage Notes
Recapping the Poetry Reading: Claudia Rankine and Solmaz Sharif
Understanding their works as collage: taking old ideas and language and putting them in
a new frame, allowing them to make new statements
The difference in experience between reading the poems on the page and listening to
them: the effect of her calm voice and countenance combined with the powerful words
Think about her in connection to Laurie Anderson (who we’ll look at later in the
‘Double Consciousness’ WEB DuBois, in Souls of Black Folk.
o When you’re in a minority group, you’re always occupying two positions at the
same time: your own experience and the experience of the majority group (in
order to function within the culture)
o Will be relevant when we talk about Langston Hughes
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
1817-1862 (died at age 45); Walden published in 1854
He went to Walden Pond for two years (1845-1847) even though this is presented
artistically in the book as being one year.
A book about nature, not a book about wilderness Walden Pond was not actually that
far removed from civilization. Not a hermit.
What is the genre of this book?
o Part memoir, part self-help
o Philosophy
o Intellectual autobiography
o Journal
o Similar pieces to the political satire in Gulliver’s Travels
o At the time of its publication: seen as sheer escapism
Made connections to: Hesiod / Works & Days and J. B. Jackson
The American idea of having a garden / yard stems in part from Thoreau
Thoreau explaining how to be a writer: Is that the whole point of Walden?
o Stanley Cavell / Senses of Walden: he very carefully reads all of Walden as a
manual on how to be a writer
Panharmonicon that the true orator / lecturer is able to create: Thoreau lectured like
Emerson did
Lyceum, Chautauqua: where Thoreau lectured
Significance of the “I” / first person: Thoreau thinks there’s a reason he should talk about
himself, the only experiences that he has an intimate knowledge of
o Anything you tell me that you have not experienced for yourself, I take as
o Central epistemological question in this book: what can I know, how can I know
it, what can I trust as being real and true?
o Travel writing was the most popular form of writing at this time: Thoreau thinks
that every personal writing is travel writing because it will take you to a different
land; understanding the “people of New England” as if from the outside. Maybe
traveling in Concord is enough. Thoreau would refuse to take grand international
trips because he wanted to stay in Concord and understand every last piece of it.
What is the relationship of economics to freedom? “Free market mysticism”
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