Read The Foreword to ‘Thoreau, A Sublime Life’

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In recognition of the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau, we’ve decided to share the forword of our book, Thoreau, A Sublime Life, written by it’s author M. Le Roy.

For more information about the book, as well as digital postcards inspired by Thoreau, click NBMPub.com/Thoreau.

 

Foreword

The name Henry David Thoreau is known throughout the world. His renown is probably strongest in political and activist circles. For good reason: Henry David Thoreau is the father figure of civil disobedience – an individual and occasionally collective endeavor that seeks to stand up to illegitimate or authoritarian power (or decree, law, etc.) by refusing to consent to it. More concretely, Thoreau opposed slavery and the Mexican-American War. Even so, his name suffers from regrettable pre-conceptions. We always hear his name under the descriptors pacifist and non-violent. He is portrayed as a peaceful, even inoffensive thinker. Really? A dreamer who had it in him to try to bring down the state? Any attentive examination of his work, of his work’s underbelly, and of his biography refutes these attributions of comfort.

Thoreau was a philosopher, a writer, and a poet for whom ideas were meaningless before taking shape in concrete, everyday experience. He could not have been bothered to mince words and abstractions for a brood of intellectuals and specialists. His works invite the reader to live a daily philosophical life and not to carve out concepts simply to fill libraries. This philosophical life is for whomever wishes to latch onto it. And for those humble enough to accept his ideas, we can only hope that they will continue to share them with new readers. In April 2010, I went to the United States—specifically to Massachusetts—to learn about where he lived and to start writing the work which you now hold in your hands. A.Dan—who with his training as a biologist and ethologist fits very well with Thoreau’s interest in nature—then undertook the task of bringing Thoreau’s tale to life.

Thoreau’s texts have had a profound influence on many of the greatest disobeyers of our time. Mahatma Gandhi discovered Thoreau’s work in prison, then accepted him as his mentor; Martin Luther King claimed to have given life to the philosopher’s teachings in his work with African-Americans against racial segregation. From ecologists and environmentalists to anti-globalists and anarchists, many hard-headed and restive people found weapons against oppression and injustice in the writing and life of this American born in 1817.

Was Thoreau an anarchist? Scholars from all over the world have identified him as such for decades. Like others before him, Thoreau rose up against the constraints and the limitations of his time. In his writing, he hoisted his flag: that of the marginalized and of the road less traveled.

The biographical forum can be an inspiration to readers when relating the way of life of an individual like Thoreau which followed closely his thinking. When viewed through a philosophical, political, or artistic lens, this form can provide a foothold to understand his thought process, still very much alive in our times. Biography does not replace direct knowledge found in the work, but it proposes a theoretical life raft trained on practical horizons. From this, Thoreau sustains his subversive potency.  Against the accelerated mercantilization of societies and of the men who form them, against productivism and unbridled growth, against the reign of an oligarchy in a democratic field, against the stranglehold financial capital and finance have on independence and the sovereignty of the masses, against renewed imperialist expeditions with total impunity, his work still holds strong meaning.

It is no longer enough to be indignant.

M. Le Roy