Thoreau?s Democratic Withdrawal: Alienation, Participation, and Modernity

Paperback | January 21, 2010

byShannon L. Mariotti

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Best known for his two-year sojourn at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau is often considered a recluse who emerged from solitude only occasionally to take a stand on the issues of his day. In Thoreau’s Democratic Withdrawal, Shannon L. Mariotti explores Thoreau’s nature writings to offer a new way of understanding the unique politics of the so-called hermit of Walden Pond. Drawing imaginatively from the twentieth-century German social theorist Theodor W. Adorno, she shows how withdrawal from the public sphere can paradoxically be a valuable part of democratic politics.
    Separated by time, space, and context, Thoreau and Adorno share a common belief that critical inquiry is essential to democracy but threatened by modern society. While walking, huckleberrying, and picking wild apples, Thoreau tries to recover the capacities for independent perception and thought that are blunted by “Main Street,” conventional society, and the rapidly industrializing world that surrounded him. Adorno’s thoughts on particularity and the microscopic gaze he employs to work against the alienated experience of modernity help us better understand the value of Thoreau’s excursions into nature. Reading Thoreau with Adorno, we see how periodic withdrawals from public spaces are not necessarily apolitical or apathetic but can revitalize our capacity for the critical thought that truly defines democracy.
    In graceful, readable prose, Mariotti reintroduces us to a celebrated American thinker, offers new insights on Adorno, and highlights the striking common ground they share. Their provocative and challenging ideas, she shows, still hold lessons on how we can be responsible citizens in a society that often discourages original, critical analysis of public issues.

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Best known for his two-year sojourn at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau is often considered a recluse who emerged from solitude only occasionally to take a stand on the issues of his day. In Thoreau’s Democratic Withdrawal, Shannon L. Mariotti explores Thoreau’s nature writings to offer a new way of understanding the u...

Shannon L. Mariotti is assistant professor of political science at Southwestern University, Texas.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:264 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.6 inPublished:January 21, 2010Publisher:University Of Wisconsin PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0299233944

ISBN - 13:9780299233945

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Preface: Reclaiming Spaces of Withdrawal for Democratic Politics   
Acknowledgments   

Introduction: Reading Thoreau with Adorno

Part 1. Two Interlocutors for Thoreau: Adorno and Emerson
1 Damaged Life, the Microscopic Gaze, and Adorno's Practice of Negative Dialectics   
2 Alienated Existence, Focal Distancing, and Emerson's Transcendental Idealism   

Part 2. Thoreau's Democratic Withdrawal
3 Man as Machine: Thoreau and Modern Alienation   
4 Huckleberrying Toward Democracy: Thoreau's Practices of Withdrawal   
5 Traveling Away from Home: Thoreau's Spaces of Withdrawal   

Conclusion: Alienation and the Anti-Foundationalist Foundation of the Self   

Notes   
Bibliography   
Index   

Editorial Reviews

“Shannon Mariotti joins the ranks of Stanley Cavell, George Kateb, and Jane Bennett with this remarkable rethinking of Thoreau. Her creative use of Adorno’s critical perspective, brought to bear on the conventional understanding of Thoreau’s supposed antisocial bias, allows us to think again about his vision, one that is not simply democratic, but tragically so.”—Thomas Dumm, author of Loneliness as a Way of Life