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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume IX, Number 2, Fall, 1978 Three Thoreaus (in One?) ~,:hJrd Lebeaux. Young Man Thoreau. Amherst: University of \!J~~ai:husetts Press, 1977.1262 + x pp. Mever.Several more li\·es to /i\•e: Thoreau's Political , rz,ta11on in America. Westport. Conn.: Greenwood Press. 1977. :'~+\II pp. ,,,t,ertF Sayre. Thoreau and the Arnerican Indians. Princeton: '•:ni:eton University Press. 1977.1240 + xx pp. Lauriat Lane, Jr. Inonewidely-accepted map of the literary situation, there are four recognized rnordmates:the work, the world, the artist, and the audience. M. H. Abrams links these four coordinates with four emphases in literary criticism: mimetic theoriesbased on the world imitated; pragmatic theories based on the .rnd1ence affected; expressive theories based on the artistic personality or :dentity;and objective theories, based on the art object itself. 1 In our day, it hasbeen usual to place the art object at the center of this map, relating centripetallyand centrifugally to the less central coordinates of world, artist, andaudience. 2 For some modern critics of literature, however, the specific literaryobject almost disappears within a whirling total complex of world, \\Ork, audience, and artist, all four interacting, combining, even fusing into a ~mgle locus of meaning often called a "myth." To quote Leslie Fiedler, who ~bewherecalls his work "a venture in literary anthropology": '"There is no·workitself,' no independent formal entity which is its own sole context; the poem is the sum total of many contexts, all of which must be known to know it Jndevaluate it."3 Thoreau obviously conceived and carried out his literary careerwith an intense awareness of all four coordinates of his literary terrain. The three books about Thoreau under review here fall almost perfectly under thethree headings of audience, author. and world, respectively. Together, theypose two questions: how meaningfully can our Thoreau be considered meach of these contexts? how relevant can each context be made to the fourth and-for many of us, the most important object of our attention- to 202 Lauriat Lane, Jr Thoreau's own formal published writings? If we do place the work itself in the center of our literary map, then these books by Meyer, Lebeaux and Sayre can be located by both the direction and the distance of their removal from Thoreau's writings and our interest in those writings. Several more lives to live is Number 29 of a series in American studies and winner of a prize in that field. In his "Introduction" Meyer makes his intentions explicit: ''This study describes the American critics' attempts to find a 'usable' Thoreau .... The purpose of this study is to chart a historvof Thoreau criticism rather than to produce a reading of Thoreau" (pp. 8,·11). Yet the question remains: is "Thoreau" as named here his writings? Or ishe.as he plainly was for some of the critics examined by Meyer, a mythical being whose Word is but shadowed forth in the fragments that come down to u: under his name? What relation can this mythical Thoreau have to the writing, which are, after all, all we have? We can, of course, assume that Meyer is not really writing about Thoreau at all. Instead, Meyer is using Thoreau as a means to other legitimate ends·a survey of various American social and political stances from 1920 to the present, say, or an anatomy of the ironic relativity of most, if not all, critical commentary. Meyer examines this commentary in "the historical context in which the criticism was written" (p. 8), and· observes that "Thoreau 1s particularly useful as the focal point of this kind of study because of the range of his interests" (p. 8).' Whether this commentary might also be relative to other contexts would call for other branches of metacriticism, 4 so-called. perhaps less charitable and more impertinent ones. Meyer's more lm11ted. historical context has the "virtue" that it both contains us all and explains away any critical follies, perhaps rightly so (for these other contexts Thoreau might also be "particularly useful"). Meyer's survey, taken on its own terms, is lucid, systematic, thorough, and as readable as material and approach allow. It is also (especially in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 201-208
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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