Friday, July 28, 2006

The voyage out.


Off, now, with my new books and my new knowledge and (in a more figurative sense) my new friends. One night a little further south. And then homeward bound, which means my next dispatch should (d.v.) reach you from lovely Gambier.

Just in case you're feeling bereft by this short post, I'll give you a brief text to discuss. I cut Whitman some serious slack here, on the question of his pronouns' gender. I've excerpted from the Preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass (1855):
The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet. He consumes an eternal passion and is indifferent which chance happens and which possible contingency of fortune or misfortune and persuades daily and hourly his delicious pay. What balks or breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to contact and amorous joy. [...] His love above all love has leisure and expanse ... he leaves room ahead of himself. He is no irresolute or suspicious lover ... he is sure ... he scorns intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills are not for nothing. Nothing can jar him ... suffering and darkness cannot--death and fear cannot. To him complaint and jealousy and envy are corpses buried and rotten in the earth ... he saw them buried. The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than he is of the fruition of his love and of all perfection and beauty. [...]

The greatest poet has less a marked style and is more the channel of thoughts and things without increase or diminution, and is the free channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. I will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is. Let who may exalt or startle or fascinate or soothe I will have purposes as health or heat or snow has and be as regardless of observation. What I experience or portray shall go from my composition without a shred of my composition. You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me.
Now, while I drive off into the sunset, you can talk amongst yourselves.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Michael said...

No one is cutting Whitman any slack about pronouns; he needs no slack. He predates all this cwazy PC stuff.

7:20 PM, July 28, 2006  
Blogger four inches of ego said...

This reminds me of Woolf's assertion that modern women may, at last, be beginning to "use writing as an art, not as a method of self-expression."

While I understand the desire for an art in and of itself, I am also distressed by this separation of art and identity, of claims of giving one's self up to the world unsullied, or to an idealized conception of art. Further, I am suspicious of those who position art as something other than of the world. It smells unpleasantly of Platonism to me.

7:49 PM, July 28, 2006  
Blogger Poking-Stick Man said...

Surely you don't really want me saying things about Whitman!?

Safe journey back.

[[My verification word is "neruf," which reminds me of one of my favorite German words: berufsberater ("career counselor," if I recall correctly). I like how "advising" in Germany apparently equates -- visually if not linguistically -- to "berating."]]

4:08 AM, July 29, 2006  

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