“Thoreau’s Arboreal Encounters and Aphoristic Forest Thinking”

Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism​, vol. 25, no. 2, 2021, pp. 390–402 (also available online)


Given the recent turn to literary and cultural plant studies and forest research that illuminates tree communication and even tree cognition, this paper re-evaluates Henry David Thoreau’s arboreal writing in his Journal as a model for thinking with the forest. I argue that Thoreau speculatively thinks and writes with trees in a way that promotes their agency in co-producing meaning. Drawing on the aphorism, not as a short, pithy statement of accepted truth, but rather as an open-ended method of thinking that uses ambiguity to demand constant reinterpretation, this paper suggests that many of Thoreau’s entries in the Journal, particularly where he discusses trees, may be productively read as aphoristic. Ultimately, I claim that Thoreau’s aphoristic writing communicates an affective arboreal encounter to the reader, thus modelling a more sustainable speculative practice for forest thinking.