Rupture and profanation

From Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature:

“Thoreau reported a myth that Walden Pond itself, the namesake and center of the book, was another ruptured place. According to that story, Walden was formed when Native Americans, holding a pow-wow on a high hill, ‘used so much profanity’ that, in punishment, the earth broke and the hill became a vast hole, as deep as it had been high. Although Thoreau expresses doubt about this story, protesting that Native Americans did not use profanity, he has nonetheless suggested that Walden is no part of a timeless and perfect nature, but another profaned tear in the world. In the same chapter, he emphasizes that, quite apart from the status of the myth, the pond is entirely profaned:  ‘the wood-cutters, and the railroad, and I myself have profaned Walden.’ Thoreau’s inclusion of himself in this list is especially telling: by the very act of making the pond the object of his meditation, Thoreau has profaned it–though he is only one in a long line of people to do so.

“In Walden, insight into nature seems to arise from, even require, rupture and profanation. These may be the necessary conditions of an appreciative relation to the world. To take another anachronistic phrase from a poet, this time Wallace Stevens, ‘The imperfect is our only paradise.’

“…There is nothing pristine in this place, no basis for a fantasy of original and permanent nature. There is only a choice among relationships with and attitudes toward ever-changed places. These do not just accommodate the damage and ruptures of the landscape: they begin from and depend on them. It may be that even to think of nature, let alone act on it, is to make a joint product of human and natural activity, so that to come to the pond is already to profane it. But profanation is simply the condition of the world, which is redeemed, if at all, by our deeper apprehension of that condition.”

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