Thoreau's Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild

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Thoreau's Nature: Ethics, Politics, and the Wild explores how Thoreau crafted a life open to 'the Wild,' a term that marks the startling element of foreignness in every object of experience, however familiar. Thoreau's encounters with nature, Bennett argues, allowed him to resist his all-too-human tendency toward intellectual laziness, social conformity, and political complacency. Bennett pursues this theme by constructing a series of dialogues between Thoreau and our contemporaries: Foucault on identity and power, Haraway on the nature/culture of division, Hollywood celebrities on the Walden Woods Project, the National Endowment for the Humanities on politics and art, and Kafka on the question of political idealism. The pertinence to the late 20th century of Thoreau's pursuit of independent judgment, ecological foresight, and moral nobility becomes apparent through these engagements.

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Editorial Reviews

Thoreau Society Bulletin
Well-written, provocative, and altogether one of the most interesting books on Thoreau to come out in the past decade. Perhaps this fascinating volume will now get the attention it deserves.
George Shulman
In a graceful and personal way, Jane Bennett offers a reading of Thoreau that is fresh and intellectually provocative. Most broadly, the book is important because it is sensitive to Thoreau's claim on our attention: it shows the 'postmodern' resonance of his concerns with self-fashioning and care of self, with the experience and representation of nature, with the power and limits of art. Of more specific importance is Bennett's exploration of the political bearing of the avowedly 'anti-political' ethos that Thoreau shapes from these concerns. In this regard, she uses her own ambivalence about Thoreau in a way that exemplifies the fruitfulness of intellectual honesty: she reads with and against Thoreau, to hold in tension his untimely idealism, and the genealogical critique she discloses in an extended discussion of Kafka. Bennett's reading of Thoreau, then, serves to articulate a political ethos that both defends and chastens political commitment. The result is a special book that theorizes politics by taking seriously the insights of literature and the practices of art.
Timothy W. Luke
This remarkable book rescues Thoreau from readers intent upon reducing him to a sentimental nature-worshipper. By re-examining his writing in a series of dialogues with a wide array of postmodern critics, contemporary writers, and nature philosophers, Bennett elegantly represents Thoreau as an important thinker of subtle complexity and radical insight. Bennett's reading of Thoreau is a striking achievement that will revitalize discussion about the interpretations given to the realms of 'nature' or 'wilderness' in contemporary debates about ethics and politics.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803938687
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Series: Modernity and Political Thought Series, #7
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Bennett is a political theorist at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of The Enchantment of Modern Life and a coordinating editor of Theory & Event.

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Table of Contents

Series Editor's Introduction
Bibliographical Key
1 Why Thoreau Hates Politics 1
2 Techniques of the Self 16
3 Writing a Heteroverse 47
4 Art and Politics 78
5 Fronting Thoreau 105
Index 139
About the Author 141
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