[Jan 31, 2015} Rethinking Walden
Originally Published in Lantern: Volume 3 Issue 4 on Dec 21, 2014
Walden Pond as a Temporal Aperture:
What defines Walden? and Thoreau?
An aperture can behave as an opening into the past. If an aperture - as an opening within a barrier - is a connection, or portal, between two seemingly distinct and distant worlds, and it also has the potential to also serve as an evocation of memory through immersion. As such, can understanding Walden Pond itself elucidate a deeper reading of Thoreau's Walden?
Walden Pond as the Embodiment of Thoreau:
When he retreated into the woods, it was not an arbitrary place unidentifiable from any other within any generic forest, Thoreau's locale was specific. The pond was his genius loci. Today, the pond not only embodies this aspiration of his, but also serves as an aperture through which his silence speaks. More importantly, perhaps, is that it most closely embodies the memory of Thoreau, his writings, and his philosophy. When we think of Thoreau we do not think of an absent cabin (which today exists as a mere memorial of fictitious foundation stones), nor do we think of winding paths within trees on land. Although both are triggered in us through mnemonic frameworks within which his writings are imbedded, we fully conceptualize Thoreau through his pond. It is an absence of Thoreau's presence.
Land is indecipherable from any one vantage point, as if an arbitrary marker on a map. With land, terrain is endless. Water is delineated. But how?
The Earth itself delineates the pond - its edges marked by the land/water horizon Topography of land and the surrounding area delineates the edge of the pond. In other words, the pond itself, as the embodiment of past and present, is dictated by the height of the hills and valleys that converge. Thus, to think of Thoreau is not to think of a memorial spot on land, but the lake itself. If the pond is what trumps land, manifesting the memory as embodiment of Thoreau, then its edge condition - as a response to the height and topography of the land - is what informs the siting of our temporal aperture. The aperture heightens the theoretical framing of Thoreau through topography. Walden Pond itself manifests this memory. It is a temporal aperture.
Aperture as an Evocation of Memory:
Thoreau famously wrote of the unknown in Walden, 'I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.'
An aperture is really a bridge. It is the liminal connection between two worlds: man and nature, reality and fantasy, known and unknown. The bridge is a portal, an aperture from one place to another. On a bridge we exist in three places at once: the place where we came from, the place where we are going, and the place where we are. When we peer through an aperture the relationship is the same. We become the aperture, the liminality between here and there, or rather, between there and there. We transcend our existence and see ourselves looking, yet also see where we are looking, all while aware of ourselves in a liminal state of place, and time. The pond itself reifies this event of liminality as a temporal memory of Thoreau, manifest through the form-making topography of the land, at this particular locale, in this particular time.
As such, the pond makes visible that which cannot be see. It hints at knowing that which cannot be known. It manifests the relationship between the surrounding hills and the depth of the pond, yet, also demarcates the vertical dimension of land with the temporal horizontality of life. And somehow, the ultimate unknown, death.