David Herd
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Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau's epigraph is rich. Thoreau teaches us is that to approach writing and the world through an idea of enthusiasm has radical implications for thinking about, among other things, economy, epistemology and language. Or to put these categories in terms of the present participles Thoreau preferred, Thoreau's enthusiasm has radical things to teach us about 'circulating', 'knowing' and 'deriving'. Thoreau counts himself an enthusiast, or at least as someone who has enthusiasm, in the opening chapter of Walden. Early in Walden, Thoreau deftly positions his enthusiasm between ideas of knowing (cherishing) and ideas of measuring and calculating (reckoning). The problem with enthusiasm is that it renders 'determining oneself' impossible. It is an enthusiastic gesture, except that where for Immanuel Kant there is a more or less violent derangement in enthusiasm for Thoreau, for whom Eastern religions were among the tributaries, enthusiasm is a moment of serenity.

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Essays on Modern American Literature


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