“The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race of men.”
Thoreau has long been part of the canon of Great American Writers, meaning that generations of scholars, some great, have read, taught, and been influenced by him. Do they see themselves in this description? To what extent does respectability involve either: 1) sucking up to those in power; or, 2) being dead long enough that you’re no longer perceived as a threat?
To Henry, the true philosopher is one who stands a little apart from society. I agree that we need people like that. Outsiders show us things about ourselves that we wouldn’t notice otherwise. But can we all be outsiders? Can we even imagine a society in which everyone stands apart from society?
That last question is kind of a moot point. Most people don’t want to stand apart from society. They want to fit in. If you want to stand apart… what are you, some kind of weirdo?
Or… is it possible for some part of yourself to stand apart from society, even while the rest of you lives and works and socializes within it? Is it possible to stand apart in some way even from your own role(s) in society, even from your own identity, and look at things like a detached observer? And if it’s possible, is it desirable, and can someone like Henry help us do this, even if we never move to the woods?
(About “A Year in Walden”)