On Wednesday, as I dutifully got organized for class Thursday morning, I made sure I had ready access to the link for Kathryn Schulz's classic TED Talk, On Being Wrong. I show it to my students every semester before launching them into their research project. I highly recommend it as an invitation to open ourselves up to wider views, risk, and possibility.
After I was set for class, I settled in to read several articles that comprised a minor firestorm in the literary world a few months ago about Henry David Thoreau and particularly Walden; or, Life in the Woods in preparation for a discussion with friends on Thursday evening. I'd glanced at the articles before, but wanted to wait until I'd read Walden before reading them in depth.
I started with the article that set off the firestorm. "Pond Scum" it was called, published in The New Yorker in October. An inauspicious title.
While I agreed with some of the author's points --
I'd long known, for example, how difficult Thoreau was, even for people who counted him a friend. I'd known that his mother baked cookies for him while he lived "on his own" in his cabin in the woods, but that he hadn't included them in his accounting of his experience. I'd witnessed for myself various contradictions in his views (like eschewing materialism but loving the bustling enterprise of downtown Concord). I too believe that "the mature position, and the one at the heart of the American democracy, seeks a balance between the individual and the society."
-- I found myself becoming increasingly agitated with the author's arguments against him.
"That is not the way I read him! You are missing important context! What do you mean he lacks humor? I wrote LOL in the margins of his writing more than once!"
I even shouted, out loud to myself, there alone in my room, probably multiple times,
"You are wrong!!"
When I got to the end of the evisceration, I wondered who wrote it.
And there I saw her name.
The very same On Being Wrong Kathryn Schulz.
So glad she's open to the possibility that she is.
PS: If you read "Pond Scum," I also recommend you read these articles as well: "In Defense of Thoreau" in The Atlantic and "Everybody Hates Henry" in The New Republic, which wisely asks "Literary saint or arrogant fraud--why do we need Thoreau to be one or the other?"