Revisions in “Higher Laws,” a Section of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

Group 5 – Alyssa Harrington, Danielle Crowley, Madison Jackson, Mitchell Pace, and Noah Lieberman

For our revision timeline, we selected the “Higher Laws” chapter of Walden. This chapter, containing much of Thoreau’s ideology and attitude towards nature, is about the titular “Higher Laws” which govern humanity to a greater degree than societally codified ones. Thoreau proposes to exist above those made by the legal system and government. The chapter serves as a particularly good example for understanding Thoreau’s philosophy as it is dense with his thoughts on the forces compelling mankind as we exist in nature. Throughout the revisions made in the multiple versions of Walden that Thoreau made, “Higher Laws” remained very unchanged until very late versions of the manuscript. With that in mind, what few revisions we can see within his manuscripts are omitted in his final draft.

The lack of revision within this chapter is interesting because it demonstrates the consistency with which Thoreau remained dedicated to the wisdom contained in these passages. With exception to vocabulary used, most of the general ideas Thoreau pushes forward are the same in all versions. This idea shows Thoreaus commitment to the “Higher Laws” that he chooses to follow.

While the majority of this chapter revolves around Thoreau’s own set of rules that he uses to govern himself, there is an interesting development that is made during his time in the wilderness can be observed. In this section of the text, Thoreau comments on his sanity and the state of his mental wellbeing. While writing about his experiences during his prolonged time in isolation, Thoreau discusses the primal and animalistic thoughts he had toward his environment. As he adds to his line, in pencil, “Once or Twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me”. These lines are a notable revision, in very stark contrast with the language Thoreau otherwise uses to describe his time at Walden Pond. By comparison to the ordinarily serene and pastoral imagery his language conveys when writing about his connection with the land, these lines are brutal and wild. We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. “It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies. Possibly we may withdraw from it, but never change its nature.” The way Thoreau describes these animal-like urges is very different from the way he describes his guilt and concerns over consumption of animal products. In his final draft he writes, “I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect”. By comparing these lines, our timeline illustrates a certain change of character in Thoreau. In spending time immersed in nature, he becomes more sensitive and feels more toward the living environment around him. The line, “But practically I am only half-converted by my own arguments as I still fish,” displays this shift in character best as it only appears in version A of the chapter’s seventh paragraph. As time goes on and more revisions are made, it seems as though he convinces himself more and more.

We also see examples of Thoreau’s seemingly deteriorating mental health in version E, paragraph one in “Higher Laws,” which is the first place within the chapter where we see significant revision. A complete rewrite of the paragraph is present where Thoreau details another example of his thinking during his immersion in nature. Thoreau writes: “not that I was hungry, but for the wilderness which he represented”. This line follows the description of the beaver crossing in front of Thoreau on his walk home. In this line, it seems as if Thoreau did not want the reader to think of him as a savage and wanted to provide justification – Thoreau was so immersed in Nature at this point in the text he wanted to be a part of it as much as possible. He ends the portion of revisions by noting, “I love the wild not less than the good”. This revision is important because of the way it further demonstrates the mental effects Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond is having on him. As a fluid text, we gain insight into the changes in the man through changes in the text.

Thoreau also changes the use of first person to the use of third person when he is revising this chapter of the manuscript. During his first drafts, Thoreau writes of these “Higher Laws” as they apply to himself and is daily life, as these “laws” are a personal code for Thoreau alone. Later in the revisions, he changes this by changing the use of “I” to the use of “he”. By doing this, Thoreau applies that his “Higher Laws” should be used in a more general sense, applying them to everyone rather than just himself. With this revisions, one can speculate that Thoreau, through his time in the woods, spent a lot of time thinking about how things ought to be and began to feel that these “Higher Laws” he has been using to govern himself are the very ones that should govern all. These are interesting revisions Thoreau makes and they reveal that Thoreau obeys this particular set of “Higher Laws” that he developed and is looking to make them more common throughout society.

Overall, what is profound about looking at “Higher Laws” is just how much one can learn by looking at the many revisions Thoreau made to Walden over the years and by looking at the way in which he made those revisions. In analyzing the text and understanding its fluidity in a developmental context, we can track, revision by revision, the ways in which the author of that text develops themself. Through the process of tracking revision, the human element of the humanities is revealed to us. The changes and developments we undergo as people are reflected within the things we create over time. It’s a profound thing that technology has given us to be ability to witness those stories playing out over the course of a human life and to see the ways our favorite authors change through their work. These revisions give us a deeper context for understanding the feelings, progress, and formation of ideology that Thoreau underwent in his lifetime.

Following changes within Walden, we can see Thoreau’s own advice for living in action, “Live in each season as it passes; breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau’s journey of self discovery being preserved in this way for his readers to track and appreciate is something which gives the text a valuable lesson even greater than those contained within its final draft. Walden as a fluid text shows us that our past experiences do not define us. In trying to do what is best and right for the world around us, we learn things which change our perspective and our values. Living in the moment and staying fluid ourselves is the right way to live. Through revision of our ideas and ourselves, we can all change for the better.

Working Collaboratively, Apart

I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t quite sure how working on a group project without being able to meet with your group in person was going to work. However, I was presently surprised with how well everyone was able to work and how productive the tools we had at our disposal were.

I’m new to GitHub and the command line of my computer. These tools were invaluable when working on this group project and they are very powerful in terms of what they can do. Being able to pull changes from the master branch on Dr. Schacht’s repository, editing the files, and then pushing them back to Github to merge the changes was actually kind of a fun process to complete and a highly effective one.

I think in general I have learned throughout this course that there are very few limits to the things Technology can do. I think I particularly liked this course and the work we did in it because it was process-based. I learned the steps to a sequence and did them over and over – for someone who craves routine as I do, this was rather enjoyable to complete. On top of that, given the current status of the world, being able to push Github journal files every week or so gave a sense normalcy to everyday life.

Throughout this semester, we spent a lot of time talking about the things technology can do. Little did we know that by the end of it, we would be relying on technology as heavily as are now. Using Zoom to meet with our groups, collaborating on TEI files, working in Google Drive to make edits to the timeline and the blog post, each group was able to complete their project. Technology can just do so many amazing things and connect people from where ever they are to complete something they can be proud of.

While getting started on this process was a rocky start I’m sure for some groups, the transition to working solely online, and then learning how to work together on a goal from different places was hard to do, I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish. Finals are stressful, but I think, despite the workload that this project was, I was able to relax while completing this project because the processes were the same in the TEI file and the Timeline. There were steps you follow to complete the Timeline and the tags in the TEI file don’t change, the coding language doesn’t change, so it felt more straight forward than other final exam group project have been.

Working with a group during a period of social distancing has certainly been a learning curve for me and hasn’t always been the easiest thing to do, but being able to get closer to technology and see all the amazing things it can do has been the most enjoyable part of this process. Technology can do anything you can put your mind to at this point, you just have to take the time to learn it. This course has given me the platform to learn a lot more about what my computer can do and it has been an enjoyable one for those purposes. I look forward to learning more about the different things my computer can do and what else I can do with technology to work on things with a variety of different people from the comfort of my own home.

Stay safe everyone, good luck on finals, and cheers to our seniors.

Literature and Technology: The Connection

Over the course of this semester in Literature and Literary Study in the Digital Age with Dr. Schacht, I feel as through I was given a unique opportunity to not only learn more about the things I can do on my computer, but also to think about literature, books, authors, and English as a discipline through a different lens.

For starters, as we near the end of the semester, I feel as through I have learned more about what my computer can do and have been given tools to help me manage my computer more effectively. With the use of github and the command-line, I not only have an online space to upload and store files that may be taking up valuable space on my computer, but I also have a collaborative workspace that may come in handy in the future. Additionally, I’ve learned valuable skills about the markdown coding language and how the python coding language works. These skills are obviously in high demand in many fields in todays society, so having this basic understanding will surely only help me post undergraduate education.

While learning all of the new things I can do on my computer were interesting, I think the most valuable lesson I learned this semester is in regard to how I view literature and what tools myself and other people can use to further understand it.

I don’t think I ever fully realized the amount of work that goes into creating a work of literature. Obviously, I knew that in order to get published, authors go through an intensive revision process that often times takes several different attempts to get it just right. I don’t think I understood that those revisions can be as intensive and tedious as simply changing one word to a different one until the author is satisfied. This idea has given me a greater appreciation for all the novels that sit on my bookshelf and around my room.

Going off of this idea, I also have found an appreciation for how easy it is to track these changes using technology. Using Voyant Tools and the Fluid Text reader, I feel like I have been able to connect more deeply with literature. Being able to find specifics about a text in Voyant Tools and then to be able to track those changes over a series of manuscripts has only deepened my understanding of the pieces of literature that we have worked with this semester. On top of that, its just pretty darn cool to see all the revisions to a text and how a manuscript may have started versus how it was published.

Overall, I think there is a huge connection between English as a discipline and technology. I think before I use to think of English more as just reading and writing – now I think of it more as a way of communication, a diffusion of ideas, and how we get from one point to another with the impact of technology. English is about how we communicate and how ideas are shared through reading and writing, rather than just reading and writing. Technology plays a very unique role in this, as the more advanced we become with our computers and our phones, the more we can do to communicate. From talking drums to the first telephone created by Alexander Graham Bell to the ability to group facetime, ideas are spread at a fast rate through talking. On top of that, the invention of the printing press has enabled us to share ideas through writings at a much faster rate than ever before, and it has just gotten faster as time has gone on – the use of a printing press is not even required any more, blogs, such as this one, and other online sources give you the same way to communicate through writing.

The connection between English and technology is a great one. The more you can do with technology, the more english enables you to do, share, write, read, and communicate. We have a web of information at our fingertips to learn and improve. Without the diffusion of information that english enables and the use of technology enabling more people to access it, the world would most likely be very different than it is today. This course, learning all these skills, and being able to have access to the tools that have been shown to us has ultimately changed my view on both English and technology; it has opened my eyes to how english, as well as other disciplines, and technology have a connection to one another that leads to improvements and advancements in all fields.

Reverse Walden

As of Saturday, March 14st, 2020, I have been at home social distancing myself amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with my computer, my phone, my tv, and Netflix. Between moving from my bed, to my brothers room, to the couch, and then back to my bed, I’ve begun to think a lot about Henry David Thoreau and his experience with isolation in Walden. More specifically, how different the two are and how much I seem to be struggling with this sudden change.

Thoreau writes Walden about his feelings in isolation in the woods, completely away from technology. Thoreau is close enough to a town to be able to have human interaction and is in an area where people frequently visit his cabin. While I am surrounded by my family, I am in no way disconnected from technology. In this way, my experience is completely different from Thoreau’s experience in Walden. In fact, it almost makes me wish I did not have to be glued to my computer to complete my studies for the remainder of the semester.

Just during spring break alone, I spent two days over the phone and online trying to reschedule a trip, then, I spent a significant amount of time reading the various emails sent by the administration, and, most agonizingly, I spent time in front of the tv listening to President Trump and Governor Cuomo give various updates about New York State and the COVID-19 situation. I have been home for nine days – I am ready to throw my laptop out the window.

Thoreau, while in the woods, seemed to greatly enjoy being with nature and being alone – at least, that is what I have seen from his writing, for the most part, thus far. He would tend to his bean fields, entertain visitors, and travel into town. While being away from technology, he still was able to lead a somewhat normal life in the woods. I, however, and everyone in New York, simply cannot do that right now. We have to stay home to flatten the curve. We cannot see people who are not in our inner circle. We shouldn’t be taking trips into town to go to the store or the mall (not like we could if we wanted to since all unnecessary businesses are closed per the states mandate). Instead, as students, we get to sit at home in front of our screens, learning how to learn using a new style, and be surrounded by just our family.

My eyes are tired. I can’t rewatch another episode of Stranger Things. I can’t read another email about COVID-19 and the procedures to follow during te four days I had to collect my belongings from campus. I can’t watch videos of my professors teaching, I know I struggle to learn that way. On top of that, I need social interaction. I should be at Geneseo right now, rooming with my best friend from High School and preparing for midterms. Instead, I’m at home, in my childhood bedroom, with my brothers and parents down the hall.

The last time my whole family was home for an entire week on vacation was in 2007 – I was in Second Grade. That was when my oldest brother was a Senior in High School; it was the last time we all had a spring break at the same time. This upcoming week, while I begin to attend classes online, my entire family will be home, scattered throughout the house going about their day with a new routine. I can’t go to a library, a Starbucks, even just a random café – its all closed and I shouldn’t be leaving the house anyway.

At first, the thought of isolation was kind of fun, in the context of our readings for this course. I was going to really see what Thoreau discussed in his text. But this just isn’t it. I feel like I cannot escape technology no matter how hard I try. Five days of my week will be spent in front of a computer doing school work and going to classes. I know in this day and age we all use our computers to get work done frequently, but something about the prospect of taking classes online gives it a different feel. Before, I was able to put the laptop down and just relax with friends around campus, or I could take breaks in between classes from technology. Now it’s all technology.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful here. I love my computer, I love Netflix, I love being able to have information at my finger tips on my phone. But this whole thing? It feels more like a burden than a blessing, more like a hardship than a way of making something easier – you know, what technology was suppose to do in the first place.

The Alphabet: An Algorithm

James Gleick in his information novel entitled, The Information, touches on the different forms of communicating, and in turn, computing and understanding the information that we encounter in our lives. From the use of “talking drums” in Africa, to the use of the Alphabet, Gleick is able to provide thought provoking analysis about how communication has changed over the course of his novel.

In the course of reading the novel so fair, I’ve noticed the amount of time that Gleick spends on discussing the Alphabet, how it has used, and how it has changed since its invention. Particularly, in chapter 3, Gleick writes,

“That Crawdrey should arrange his words in alphabetical order, to make his Table Alphabeticall, was not self-evident. He knew he could not count on even his educated readers to be versed in alphabetical order, so he tried to produce a small how to manual…

Thou shall learn the alphabet, to wit, the order of the letters as they stand, perfectly without booke, and where evert Letter standeth: as b neere the beginning, n about the middesti, and t toward the end. Nowe if the word, which thou art desirous to finde, begin with an a then look in the beginning of this table, but if with v looke towards the end. Againe, if thy word beginne with ca looke in the beginning of the letter c but if with cu then looke toward the end of that letter. And so of all the rest. &c” (57).

Crawdrey, who sought out to write the first dictionary (although that wasn’t what it was called at its creation in 1604), struggled with how to format his work by the alphabet because during the time period, few knew the alphabet and how to use it. In fact, according to Gleick, even the very words and definitions that Crawdrey was recording were commonly disputed and no one was quite certain what the exact meanings and spellings were.

In the above quoted passage, the reader, finds not only can find roots in computer science, but also in the humanities and the english language. The reader finds what is possibly the first algorithm, created by Crawdrey, as well as language itself, the very thing that humans use to communicate and facilitate the spread of ideas that we still use today.

The way in which Crawdrey decided to instruct users on how to use his dictionary using alphabetical order can be likened to one of the first algorithms used in society. By follow those step by step instructions, Crawdrey expects the user to get a certain result – finding the particular word that they are looking for. The steps done change in regard to the word you are looking for. Today, when we think of algorithms, one may think of a robot being given a certain input to complete a job, like flagging tweets or facebook posts for deletion. However, algorithms are also step by step instructions that you use to complete a task. For instance, anyone can learn how to solve a rubiks cube if they learn the different algorithms. The algorithms to complete the task don’t change depending on how the cube is mixed up, they’re always the same serious of terms. Crawdrey’s instructions to look up a word are the exact same type of process, just with different wording.

Crawdrey’s dictionary can be viewed as representing the first algorithm, but it is also inherently a way of communication and has a distinct connection to humanities. A core feature of humanities is the way that human beings record, share, and spread new information. By creating the first dictionary, Crawdrey recorded, intended to share, and facilitated the spread of not only the alphabet, but a more uniform and common way of defining and spelling words. Now, obviously, we know that from previous class discussions that the humanities don’t have one exact definition, goal, and study – the humanities are inherently a combination of multiple things lumped into just one category to explain human nature and thought. With this in mind, we know that while Crawdrey’s dictionary was never reinvented, we know that it was changed, edited, and adapted and time went on, human nature changed, and humans learned more information. The human race doesn’t have just one dictionary, we have more concrete definitions and spellings for each word then we did in 1604, and we have more then one producer of dictionaries (Mariam Webster, the Oxford Dictionary, The Cambridge Dictionary, etc.), we even go as far to have dictionaries that translate different languages into English.

In general, one of the most interesting thing about Gleick’s novel, The Information, is that, as a reader, it opens your eyes to not only what technology was before the age of smartphones and computers, but it opens your eyes to the way information itself has transformed since the beginning of time. Crawdrey’s dictionary, his explanation and steps used to understand alphabetical ordering, and the various interpretations and editions that were created after its original publications shows signs of not only the beginnings of computer technology, but it is a perfect example of the humanities and the way in which this form of study allows for interpretation, communication, and the spread of information.