A Nietzschean Approach to Thoreau’s Walden: The Appearance of the Self

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Abstract. This article proposes a study of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854) in the light of Nietzsche’s ideas of ubermensch, self, and the role of the artist to show that the quest of a ‘romantic’ artist like Thoreau as well as an ‘anti-romantic’ like Nietzsche, to use J. Hillis Miller’s terms, is a quest of the discovery and creation of the self. It is argued that the mentioned writers’ main concern is a glorified self with the ability to transcend conventional morality, rather than the appearance or disappearance of God. The disappearance of God seems to be the necessary condition for the birth of the (myth of) the Superman who sees a universe without God, and rather than finding it meaningless and empty, creates his own meaning and true self. The self recreates itself through art, and this desire acts as a propelling force in Walden and Nietzsche’s writings where their art is the desire to survive and recognize the self, for art makes survival possible by converting the horror of a golden world into a pleasing realization of the capacities of the self. Nietzsche and Thoreau seem to be saying that life becomes meaningful only if one’s true self or the will to live is realized and recreated; if one can achieve a higher state of consciousness.


Nietzsche; Self; Thoreau; Walden; Will

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