Professor Nicolas S. Witschi
Universität Regensburg
Sommersemester 2000

    Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Or, Life in the Woods, first published in 1854, has had a vital and lasting impact on American thought and culture. Like the ripples on a pond into which a stone has been thrown, the concentric rings of Walden's impact seem to grow (or at least change significantly) with every generation. This course thus seeks to establish some of the many ways in which both pond and text have been understood, beginning with Thoreau and radiating outward to the present.

    We will begin by examining the details of Thoreau's "experiment of living" and the subsequent writing process that eventually led to seven full and complete drafts before publication. We will also work toward an understanding of the book's contributions to and reception in movements such as New England Transcendentalism; late-nineteenth-century debates over territorial expansion and resource development; the turn-of-the-century boom in nature writing; the radical and environmental movements of the 1950s through 1970s; rock-star activism in the 1980s; and the recent emergence of environmental criticism as an academic discipline. Moreover, in studying Walden's reception we will develop a working familiarity with the methodologies of such critical theories as Formalism, Myth Criticism, Deconstruction, Phenomenology, Reader-Response, New Historicism, Culture Studies, and Ecocriticism. More than simply an introduction to a single text, this course takes a close look at the many ways in which we read and use literature.

Course requirements include: active participation in class discussion, presentations, 20p. paper in English.


Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Ed. William Rossi. NY: W. W. Norton, 1992. (available at Pustet's)

Shanley, J. L. The Making of Walden, with the Text of the First Version (1957).
Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing and the Formation of American Culture (1995).
Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden (1964).
Cavell, Stanley. The Senses of Walden (1972, 1992).
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac (1949).
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire (1968).
Lawrence, Jerome, and Robert E. Lee, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail (1971).
Henley, Don and Dave Marsh, eds. Heaven Is Under Our Feet (1991).

Course materials will also include photocopied packets of:
     1) responses and adaptations by nature writers such as John Muir, John Burroughs, and Mary Austin, and
     2) a selection of reviews and critical essays detailing the history of Walden's reception.


May 8

Introductions; Emerson, "Nature" (1832); White, "At Walden Pond" (1939).

May 15

No class – we will need to discuss make-up options.

May 22

Walden: "Economy" (1-54), "Where I Lived and What I Lived For" (55-67), "Reading" (67-75).

May 29

Walden: "Sounds" (75-87), "Solitude" (87-94), "Visitors" (94-104), "The Bean-Field" (104-12), "The Village" (112-16), "The Ponds" (116-34), "Baker Farm" (135-40), "Higher Laws" (140-49).

June 5

Walden: "Brute Neighbors" (149-58), "House-Warming" (159-70), "Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors" (170-80), "Winter Animals" (180-87), "The Pond in Winter" (188-99), "Spring" (199-213), "Conclusion" (213-23).

June 12

No class – Whit Monday.

June 19

Oral Presentations:

Order and Meaning
1. F. O. Matthiessen (342); E. B. White (359).
2. Leo Marx (377).
3. Stanley Cavell (390).

Deconstructing the Pond

4. Walter Benn Michaels (405).
5. Barbara Johnson (444).

The Journal

6. Sattlemeyer (428) / Making of Walden, ed. Shanley.
7. Peck (451).

June 26

The Cult of Henry:

Lawrence and Lee, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.
E. B. White, "At Walden Pond."
Lawrence Buell: ch. 10 "The Thoreauvian Pilgrimage" (311).
Ch. 11 "The Canonization . . ." (339).

July 3

Buell: ch. 1 "Pastoral Ideology" (31); ch. 4 "Walden's Environmental Projects" (115); ch. 12 "Text as Testament" (370).

July 10

Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

July 17

Abbey, Desert Solitaire.
-- Please focus especially on the following chapters:
     The First Morning 1-8
     Solitaire 9-16
     Polemic: Industrial Tourism and The National Parks 48-73
     Water 141-60
     The Heat of Noon: Rock and Tree and Cloud 161-70
     Havasu 246-58
     The Dead Man at Grandview Point 259-71
     Tukuhnikivats, the Island in the Desert 272-89
     Episodes and Visions 290-312
     Terra Incognita: Into the Maze 313-29
     Bedrock and Paradox 330-37

July 24

Desert Solitaire (cont'd).

July 31

Rock star activism; Academic Environmentalism;
Final comments.

Nicolas Witschi © 2000