Thoreau and the Desynchronization of Time

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis
Author: Mark Luccarelli

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Abstract

In “Thoreau and the Desynchronization of Time,” Mark Luccarelli considers Thoreau’s engagements with various configurations of time. Luccarelli shows how Thoreau early on resisted what he calls a synchronization of time, whereby a “progressive, evolutionary understanding of history and nature” imposed a “temporal subordination of all places and peoples to a larger global pattern.” Giving his first examples from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Luccarelli identifies Thoreau’s essential problem with modernity: it created, to his view, a crisis of national character, bolstered as this was by vaunted means toward unimproved ends. Yet at the same time, Thoreau was not immune to the dominant discourses of the day and allowed that some of the aspects of progress they promoted were worthy (exploration, bravery, diligence). Perhaps above all, Thoreau’s becoming aware of industrial development and other human activities in his beloved Maine wilderness left him ambivalent. In Luccarelli’s provocative telling, Thoreau “was caught among colliding time scales” and can be recognized as our contemporary, as we continue to struggle to understand temporality, as well as ourselves as beings, in the complex continuum that we experience as time.