Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

Thoreau is someone most Americans would probably tell you they know, they very well might. We know the name. We know Emerson too. We know both, amongst many others, loved a good walk in the woods. And if the digital age has not completely consumed the world, our entire being, then chances are we share this love with the least to some extent. Perhaps we don't find God or our true meaning or an "Ah" (angels singing with blinding light) moment in the outdoors, but I know for me personally the woods, nature, outdoors, gives me quite the respite. Maybe the same works for others.

If anything, this longing for and this finding of peace, rest, meaning, and freedom in nature that Thoreau outlines in "Walking," could be the case even more so in our historical moment. The difference between nature and our technological world, our computer screens, our Blackberrys, is stark, and it is this difference that could make these ideas greater in the contemporary time--insofar as our longing for, our nostalgic feelings towards, and perhaps even our sense of loss of this bucolic ideal is concerned.

Every time I've walked into the woods I think of how great it is that my phone is off and locked in the car. Thoreau described his appreciation of nature as being influenced by a certain kind of acknowledgment of difference; except for him it was the freedom from the sedentary life of the town, work, and even responsibility.

At the same time, Thoreau's writing should not be spared any critique. He wonders how the women of his time and in his community can bear being "cooped up" (for lack of a better term) in the house. And as with several topics in "Walking," he mentions such a thing in passing only to go on to the next idea. Much Feminist critique of Thoreau and other "walkers" is that this is largely, if not fully, a male experience. Being a male, I do not have the beauty of being objective in this sense. I've always loved the outdoors, nature, so on. Perhaps, this is not the case for everyone, and that is really just fine with me. As for Thoreau, it seems he argues that this a universal.

One must assume the convenience of such statements, the convenience and the ease Thoreau seems to encounter with everyday life. If this were not the case, if he had to work as some others that he mentions, it would be difficult to say that his ideas would not be different. In short, we can't all afford, in all senses of the word, to go take a walk in the woods. But maybe we should try it once in a while.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

American Progress in Technology

Dr. Nye lays out his case for the American progress afforded by certain technologies of the time. He asserts that the American narrative was created, in part, through stories of Americans' interaction with and progress by technologies. This narrative is also one concerned with progress. Progress is, arguably, integral to the American narrative.

Nye also asserts that the American view is one of dominance over nature; that Americans saw and continue to see nature as a place for use, and perhaps rather than a thing to be in awe of. This view, in large part, is a colonial one. The colonial history of the U.S. is an undeniable history, but, as Nye Asserts, this "history" and the narratives formed from it are often intertwined or even mistaken for one another.

I find this aspect of his argument especially interesting and true. Not everyone is a history major or a history buff. And, as William Faulkner demonstrates in Absalom, Absalom, History is extremely difficult if not exceedingly lost. Therefore, we have narrative. Though history and narrative are both "stories," it seems they depart from each other at different and even crucial points. This is not to say that technology in America has not been used to an extreme extent or that it is not part of U.S. history, but that it is the narratives of American use and interaction with these technologies that has become a large part of the cultural narrative.

From this narrative spawns many more ideas and even political views as we know them today. The idea that "progress" is improvement is definitely one of them. Not to get all environmental here, but the proliferation of industrialization in the U.S. and around the world could be seen as something quite contrary to this idea, insofar as nature/environment are concerned.