Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau


Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
6.4 X 9.4 X 1.4 inches | 1.8 pounds

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About the Author

Branka Arsic is Charles and Lynn Zhang Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, USA. She is the author of Bird Relics, Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau (Harvard, 2015), On Leaving, A Reading in Emerson (Harvard, 2010), Passive Constitutions or 71/2 Times Bartleby (Stanford UP, 2007). She is co-editor (with Cary Wolfe) of The Other Emerson: New Approaches, Divergent Paths (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and editor of The American Impersonal (Bloomsbury, 2014).


This book will revolutionize the way serious scholars read Thoreau. Nothing like it exists or is likely to appear in the near future. The work is continuously and exceptionally original.--Edward Mooney, Syracuse University
Arsic constructs a subtle and exhilarating argument in which Thoreau's take on vegetable and animal life, as well as his theory of mourning, becomes a radically novel understanding of nineteenth-century thought in the Americas. Bird Relics will have profound consequences for how we think about personal identity, the distinction between animate and inanimate, human and non-human, sacred and profane. We will never read Thoreau in the same way again.--Colin Dayan, author of Haiti, History, and the Gods
Arsic discovers in Thoreau's corpus a man deeply affected by his brother's death, but also a man who turns his brother's death into the occasion for a renewed understanding of life's vitality--of life as vitality. Her readings are fresh and original; they are also layered through and through with a depth of learning uncommon in contemporary scholarship. To borrow a word she uses in her account of Thoreau, I think this is a 'stunning' book.--Lloyd Pratt, University of Oxford
[Bird Relics] reorients our understanding of Thoreau's materialist vitalism. Arsic's reading of both canonical texts and understudied fragments uncover a radical philosophy of life--a vibrant ontology in which writing about what generates our experience also means blurring conventional distinctions between the realistic and the fantastic, animate bodies and inanimate ones, what it means to live and what it means to die. Readers compelled by turns to materialism, ecology, and ontology in recent criticism could hardly hope for a better introduction to lesser-known features of Thoreau's idiosyncratic body of work...Bird Relics begins by unfolding a stunning, if also heartrending, theory of perpetual mourning that becomes the centerpiece of her approach to Thoreau's philosophy of life.--Mark Noble "Los Angeles Review of Books" (6/12/2016 12:00:00 AM)
In Bird Relics, Branka Arsic delves into Thoreau's writings, with particular attention to the Indian Notebooks and unpublished bird notebooks, to trace the way his thinking about nature developed over the years into a kind of pan-vitalism, which sees the generative forces of life at work in death, disease, and natural decay.--Robert Pogue Harrison "New York Review of Books" (8/17/2017 12:00:00 AM)