Scott Hess, “Walden Pond as Thoreau’s Landscape of Genius” (pp. 224–250) This essay explores how Henry David Thoreau’s identification with Walden Pond was influenced by the nineteenth-century discourse of the literary landscape and by William Wordsworth’s association with the English Lake District in particular. Wordsworth was a central figure for the transatlantic development of the “landscape of genius”—a new form of literary landscape in which the genius of the author, associated with a specific natural landscape, mediated the spiritual power of nature for individual readers and tourists. Wordsworth’s identification of his authorial identity with the Lake District landscape had a formative influence on both Thoreau’s self-conception and his subsequent reception and canonization, as Thoreau and Walden Pond as his landscape of genius entered the canon together. The essay concludes by exploring the ongoing significance of Thoreau’s association with Walden for both his scholarly and popular reputations, including proliferating discourses of “Thoreau Country”; cultural and political disputes over the Concord and Walden landscapes; and invocations of Thoreau as an ecological hero and inspiration for responses to climate change.
This essay argues that William Wordsworth's poetry constructs a subject position analogous to that of the photographic viewer: hence, a photographic subjectivity. Critics have often read Wordsworth's writing as opposing imagination against visibility and mimetic realism. Many of the visual structures of his poetry, however, continue the structures of the picturesque, whose desire to capture the landscape as framed image culminated in the technology of photography. These structures of perception include the stationed point of view of the observer, focusing the scene from a single location; the tendency to reduce the multisensory, ambient experience of lived environment to pure vision; the separation of the observer from the landscape; and the resulting general disembodiment of that observer. Much of Wordsworth's poetry positions the observer in these ways in order to capture images that can then be viewed in private isolation (as in the ““spots of time””), like a series of internalized photographs. These structures of visuality construct what would emerge, after the invention of photography, as a photographic subjectivity, complementing (rather than opposing) the objectivity of the photographic image. They define the viewing subject, in the manner of photography, as a mobile, seemingly autonomous self in an appropriative relationship to landscape——the paradigm of the modern self, taking a ““view from nowhere”” on a world captured as image. The stability, unity, and autonomy of the Wordsworthian self ultimately depend on these photographic relationships.