Best known for his two-year sojourn at Walden Pond inMassachusetts, Henry David Thoreau is often considered a reclusewho emerged from solitude only occasionally to take a stand on theissues of his day. In Thoreau s Democratic Withdrawal, Shannon L. Mariotti explores Thoreau s nature writings to offer a new way ofunderstanding the unique politics of the so-called hermit of Walden Pond. Drawing imaginatively from the twentieth-century Germansocial theorist Theodor W. Adorno, she shows how withdrawal fromthe public sphere can paradoxically be a valuable part ofdemocratic politics.
Separated by time, space, and context, Thoreau and Adorno share acommon belief that critical inquiry is essential to democracy but threatened by modern society.While walking, huckleberrying, andpicking wild apples, Thoreau tries to recover the capacities for independent perception and thought that are blunted by MainStreet, conventional society, and the rapidly industrializing world that surrounded him. Adorno s thoughts onparticularity and the microscopic gaze he employs to work against the alienated experience of modernity help us better understand thevalue 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 trulydefines 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 discouragesoriginal, critical analysis of public issues."
Robert Skloot is professor in the Department of Theater and Drama and in the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin Madison. He is the author of the play If the Whole Body Dies: Raphael Lemkin and the Treaty Against Genocide. He is also the author of The Darkness We Carry: The Drama of the Holocaust and editor of The Theatre of the Holocaust, Volume 1 and Volume 2, and The Theatre of Genocide, all published by the University of Wisconsin Press. "