Many readers are responding to our look back at Atlantic essays written by Henry David Thoreau, as well as Kathryn Schulz’s recent smackdown of the transcendentalist writer. Regarding the latter, a reader writes:
I never understood the accusation of “contradiction” of Thoreau. Should we throw away a whole philosophy because he didn’t always practice what he preached? That’s silliness. Also, I think what many people identify as contradictions are in fact misunderstandings of his ideas. For example, he enjoyed solitude and he enjoyed company. Those are not mutually exclusive in life, just at any given moment.
I would never recommend him as a standup comic, but there is humor in his writing. It is all tongue and cheek, but it’s there.
Most of all, Thoreau had far more guts than most people and questioned everything. In a time where people are being squeezed harder and harder financially, and when the latest electronic gadgets are considered to be a necessity rather than a luxury, Thoreau is a must read. He would have raged against our compulsion to respond instantly to every beep and buzz from our phones. Our devices have gone from convenience to burden.
On that note, the photo seen above was taken today by a good friend of mine, “one last pic before I hand over the phone” to begin a long meditation retreat located, as it happens, in the woods of Massachusetts less than an hour from Walden Pond. Another reader provides a meditation of sorts on Thoreau:
Addressing the many points and quotations Schulz’s essay takes out of context goes well beyond the scope of a letter. Instead, I offer this partial counterpoint, perhaps just as willful in its misreadings, but known and felt from years of reading and teaching Walden: