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Reviews361 Waiden: Volatile Truths, by Martin Bickman; xv & 139 pp. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992, $20.95 cloth, $7.95 paper. This thin volume appears as part of Twayne's Masterwork Studies series, a series designed to present clear, readable explorations of classic texts that will stimulate and inform students new to the work, while simultaneously reengaging knowledgeable scholars. Through close readings and evocations of historical context, Martin Bickman does precisely that. Bickman argues that truths for Thoreau are volatile in that they fluctuate and resist easy formulation. He takes his tide from a line in Waiden: "The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of residual statement ." The truth behind those residual statements, "the meaning . . . that ... is really in the act of thinking," eludes us, and Bickman argues that Thoreau seeks not to capture truth and render it static, but to present itin all its complexity and eccentricity. Bickman wants us to appreciate that, and continually does so by stressing Thoreau's own volatile words and truths. The first chapter places Waiden in the context ofnineteenth-century America and locates it in the transcendental tradition, reminding us of Walden's uniquely American properties: it tries to get the American experiment right, at once declaring itself separate from the past and history while being firmly rooted in both, building a finer world elsewhere while remaining resolutely at home in this one. The next two chapters discuss the importance of the work as a critical, historical, and cultural product, and then its composition and reception. The remainder of VoMiIe Truths is devoted to a reading of Waiden, with separate chapters on structure, language, and philosophy. Chapter 7, "Paradise (To Be) Regained: The Visionary Gleam," and Chapter 8, "Philosophy: Heaven Can Wait," offer close readings to explain the methodology behind the Thoreauvian search for truth. Volatile Truths offers the perfect marriage between subject and critic: Bickman 's prose has the humor and nuance of Thoreau's, and in his pursuit of trutii and meaning he is as relendess as Thoreau and equally unwilling to settle for easy answers. In his sensitive and sane close readings, he manages to preserve the text's intricacy and quirkiness. More importandy, he does not dull Thoreau's message in the process: instead, he models how to read Thoreau for us, so that we can confront the old crank's cranky text for ourselves. This latest series from Twayne appears far superior to some of their earlier projects. Like die other volumes in Masterwork Studies, this one contains a chronology of the author's life and work and an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary works. A student new to Waiden could hardly wish for a better introduction; in addition to the apparatus just mentioned, Bickman offers crystalline discussions of concepts like "structure" and "form" that often prove elusive to beginners. 362Philosophy and Literature But this work should also prove delightful to the most erudite Thoreau specialists. Quite apart from the pleasure of seeing afresh Thoreau's humor and integrity, we have the pleasure ofreading about them from a critic perfecdy attuned to Thoreau, who approaches thinking and writing in the same spirit. Bickman's lucid readings impressively attend to Thoreau's rich language— etymological puns being one example—but he, too, writes richly allusive prose. We thus enjoy reimmersing ourselves in Thoreau's search for ways to search for trudi. True to his subject, Bickman denies us the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow we have ridden: "Waiden cannot be reduced to a single oudook or set of propositions about the world. Its meanings reside, rather, in the rich, fluid, often unsettling experience of reading it, not in detachable statements suitable for sticking on buttons or bumpers." But he has given us an enjoyable, rewarding ride. University of California, Los AngelesRichard Kaplan "Candide": Optimism Demolished, by Haydn Mason; xvi & 111 pp. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992, $21.95 cloth, $7.95 paper. Twayne's Masterwork Studies offer critical readings of "the classics" by renowned "experts" for the use of students and teachers from the secondary through the university level. A dubious industry at best, such collections are seldom to be recommended; but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 361-362
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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