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r-----------------------------.-----------------------------, OR, I I By IIENRY "A THE os 'r 0 Tl KNOR A D Ii'IELDS. Title page to the first edition ofWalden. Courtesy of the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. (Un)Framing the Mind: lWhere on is Walden? FRANQOIS SPECQ My practice is "nowhere," my ~.....;-n;r,Y> is here. D. Thoreau, Walden (1854) Am.erican audiences have an almost fetishistic relationship with VlTalden, whose powers as a "sacred place" and site of pilgrimage have played a formative role in national and personal I That attitude has worked to generate or at least strengthen a misleading identification of Walden as book with Walden as place. To be sure, the book's title has also fostered such. an identification: the plainness of Walden-as opposed to more oblique titles such as Sarah Orne Jewett's Country ofthe Pointed Firs (1896) or Mary Austin's Land of Little Rain (1903)-creates an apparent clarity and immediacy that paradoxically obscures the relationship between Walden as place and Walden as text, to which this article gives extended consideration.'2 Even as it tends to bracket-but not utterly erase or deny-the facticity of form, the idea that language reflects and contains experience, this approach to Thoreau's work will seek to recover its radical agency as activating and enhancing the human capacity to perceive and inhabit the physical world. III THRESHOLDS ex"pect(itlOTIlS and conditions the A book's title creates reader's response to the text. It is of the liminal space of ESQ I V. 52 14TH QUARTER I2006 319 FRANrOIS SPECQ the text, what Gerard Genette calls its seuil or threshold-that is, a space :mediating between the outside of the text and the inside, ~~not only a place oftransition but oftransaction" between a writer and his or her readers.3 A first difficulty arises here, however, since the title of Thoreau's book changed over ti:me. The title of the r854 first edition included as subtitle "or, Life in the Woods," which at Thoreau's bidding was dropped for the r862 second edition . 4 This was but the ulti:mate :modification to a text he had extensively reworked over an eight-year period prior to its first publication.5 The fact that Thoreau eventually settled on just Walden suggests that he attached great significance to the question of titling and thus invites analysis. Original Title Thoreau's original title, with its purely functional appearance, ai:med to :meet several essential needs. First, through the title and the text it introduced, Thoreau asserted authority over his own experience at Walden-an experience whose :meanings :may have partially escaped hi:m at first. This is particularly visible in the universalizing of his experience through the addition of the subtitle: Thoreau did not write "Walden; or, My Life in the Woods," but "Walden; or, Life in the Woods," a wording that created a relation of exe:mplarity. Second, the title :more straightforwardly fulfilled a basic function, that is, the identification and description of the book's contents: indeed, who could have understood such a title as Walden outside the town of Concord? The addition of the phrase "or, Life in the Woods" :more clearly defined the content; it enabled Thoreau to capitalize on the taste for nature books and pioneer narratives and thus induce the public to read his work. And third, the title prom.ised fa:miliarity--especially for local readers, Thoreau's avowed pri:mary target-an effect reinforced by the i:mage of his cabin that appeared on the title page: after the abstraction of the book cover, which reduced place to a word, that naive i:mage reinscribed the external world into the internal world of the book and suggested the unthreatening co:mfort of ho:meliness. Thoreau's authorial strategy for the threshold of Walden 320 WHERE ON EARTH IS WALDEN? thus appeared to contain the meaning of Walden as place by making it act as a metaphor for commonplace experience. Any subsequent reading of Wadden, of course, reveals how shrewdly misleading the familiar look ofthe title page was, suggesting an ironic appropriation of an ancient tradition-locodescriptive literature-and of a well...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 319-338
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-11
Open Access
No
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