An Iranian Scholar Speaks About Thoreau, at Walden Pond

On the day the nuclear deal was announced, a translator on his first trip to the U.S. explained a surprising cultural connection between America and Iran.

Don Henley and Alireza Taghdarreh at Walden (Matt Burne)

A week ago, I tried to convey the experience of an extraordinary evening at the Walden Woods Project, near Walden Pond. Alireza Taghdarreh, a self-taught Iranian scholar and translator of Henry David Thoreau, was making not simply his first visit to the venue Thoreau had immortalized in Walden but also his very first trip outside Iran. He had done his 10 years of work on Thoreau’s writings from a little apartment in Tehran.

Ali’s lecture this past Tuesday evening was on his experience in reading, grappling with, and producing the first-ever Farsi version of Walden. By chance it occurred just a few hours after the announcement of the agreement between Iran and the American-European-Chinese-Russian negotiating team on controlling Iran’s nuclear programs. (For reasons I laid out at length on Monday, I think this deal is superior to any real-world alternative that its critics have proposed.) Although the substance of the talk was purely literary and cultural, the timing gave special resonance to Ali’s emphasis on the appeal he thought this classic American work would have to an Iranian audience.

The Walden Woods organization has just put a video of Alireza Taghdarreh’s full presentation online, starting with the introduction by Don Henley of the Eagles, founder and chairman of the Walden Woods Project. As mediated via YouTube, the experience is not quite the same as being there—my wife Deb and I were seated just beyond camera range to the left—but I think most viewers will find it worthwhile. Here it is: