Cover: Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau, from Harvard University PressCover: Bird Relics in HARDCOVER

Bird Relics

Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau

Product Details


$58.00 • £50.95 • €52.95

ISBN 9780674088474

Publication Date: 01/04/2016


480 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

47 halftones, 2 line illustrations


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In Bird Relics, Branka Arsić delves into Thoreau’s writings, with particular attention to the Indian Notebooks and unpublished bird notebooks, to trace the way his thinking about nature developed over the years into a kind of pan-vitalism, which sees the generative forces of life at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, The New York Review of Books

[Bird Relics] reorients our understanding of Thoreau’s materialist vitalism. Arsić’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, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Arsić 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

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

Arsić 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

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