English 230 - Fall, 2016

Study of a Major Writer

Class Information

Instructor: Ziser, Michael
CRN: 53677
Time: M 12:10-3:00
Location: 120 Voorhies


    Thoreau and Environs

    That recent New Yorker article denouncing him as “pond scum” and fingering his major work Walden as “the original cabin porn” notwithstanding, Henry David Thoreau was really not such a bad guy. In this seminar we will grapple with the entirety of his writings: from early pieces of journalism to translations of scripture to original poetry, essays, long nonfiction, and of course The Journal. (Pretty much everything except the recent collection Bonds of Affection: Thoreau on Dogs and Cats.) We will be careful to put Thoreau into the contexts of New England literary culture, “Transcendentalism” as a religious and literary phenomenon, antebellum natural history and agricultural writing, proto-environmentalism, abolitionism, pacifism, and the history of labor. Alongside scholars like Stanley Cavell, Wai Chee Dimock, Barbara Johnson, Peter Coviello, Nick Bromell, Rochelle Johnson, and others, we will explore questions surrounding Thoreau’s utility as a philosopher, his status as a translational node between East and West, his anticipation of contemporary materialist poetics, his queerness, and his influential mode of alienation. Significant attention will be paid to Thoreau’s immediate influences and contemporaries, as well as his evolving meaning in American culture since his death in 1862.

    Sample Texts

    A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
    Cape Cod
    The Maine Woods
    Resistance to Civil Government and other Essays
    Faith in a Seed
    Wild Fruits
    Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination
    Laura Dassow Walls, Seeing New Worlds
    Branka Arsić, Bird Relics
    Jane Bennett, Thoreau’s Nature


    A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, HDT
    Walden, HDT
    Cape Cod, HDT
    The Maine Woods, HDT
    Resistance to Civil Government and other Essays, HDT
    Faith in a Seed, HDT
    Wild Fruits, HDT
    The Environmental Imagination, Lawrence Buell
    Seeing New Worlds, Laura Dassow Walls
    Bird Relics, Branka Arsić
    Thoreau’s Nature, Jane Bennett
    The Senses of Walden, Stanley Cavell