Adam L for 10/29

October 28th, 2009

I’m fixated on “Darwinism–(Then Furthermore)” in the prose works. Despite the characteristically unclear, stream-of-consciousness impulse present here and throughout the entirety of the prose works, Whitman relates to the modern reader with shocking clarity exactly how little times have changed since his day.

After daydreaming briefly about prehistory, and summarizing Darwin’s theory and its recent popularization, Whitman describes how “angrily…conflicting advocates…oppose each other” (1084). This line halted the rapidly weaving path of my eyes abruptly; how incredible that over a century later the same debate can continue, despite substantial evidence on one side and…none…on the other.

Whitman goes on to commend the value of Darwinism in countering “tenacious, enfeebling superstitions,” but not before digressing into his thesis, which posits that the opposing theories of human origin, evolutionary science and “ecclesiasticism,” should be “reconciled…even blended.”  His logic behind this thesis? — “the problem of origins, human and other, is not the least whit nearer its solution.”

 Basically, Whitman concludes that Darwinism cannot replace Adam and Eve (or their varying cultural equivalent) because science does not provide ALL of the answers. Why does Whitman give a theory that provides no evidence or answers equal legitimacy to a theory that provides at least some? He explains in the second half–the “furthermore”–of the piece.

Actually, now that I’ve rescanned the paragraph, he doesn’t explain at all – he just offers the opinion that the “priest and poet” are “more needed” in the modern era, that they must “recast the old metal…into and through new moulds.” Whitman wants the clergy to stick around, but keep up with the times. Is he suggesting a rewrite of the Bible? I wouldn’t put it past him. If he were behind such a project, I doubt that the immaculate conception would survive.

I think it’s most important to point out that “priest and poet” are virtually interchangable for Whitman. The ideas in this piece, and the way Whitman seems to relate to religion, reminds me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, and the invented religion in the narrative. The essential tenet of this religion, Bokononism (invented by a homeless man and written in calypsos) is that all religions are entirely composed of lies. Bonokonists are aware of the constructedness of their beleif system, yet they find value in it, follow it, and preserve it anyway. Whitman seems to be a Bokononist – he is entirely aware of the constructedness of religion, but as a poet, he just can’t bring himself to dismiss the beauty of religious texts.

One Response to “Adam L for 10/29”

  1. emilym said:

    I like the connection to Cat’s Cradle.

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