Thursday, May 7, 2009

A personal adventure

Thoreau asks us to read him carefully. To a degree, he warns us that we can only misread him, as he writes: "The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them." But he understands that a reading is often a misreading, that every writer reinvents his own literary predecessors and willfully misconstrues them. And one can only read fully whatever one can fully create, or re-create - in one's own mind and heart. So readers of Walden must commit unreservedly to the text, to the experience described, intuitively grasping whatever truth lies at its core; and some vital part of this truth must come from the reader. Notably, the author does not offer a program of reading; he drops the names of a few well-known writers, including Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, but he understands that reading is a personal adventure, a journey that involves getting lost in the dark woods - the selva oscura - of Dante's pilgrim. It means leaving behind one's preconceptions, reservations, and prejudices. It involves self-liberation as one invites contact with another world, the one created in the revolutionary language of a major text.

~ Jay Parini, Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America


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