No writer is received the same in any place. I found Whitman’s reception particularly interesting because Whitman is regarded as the American Poet. When I began this project, I wanted to do something that combines the technological and social networking of “The Digital Whitman” Project, as well as place Whitman in a modern context. So, I began research on Whitman’s modern global reception, hoping to answer questions such as, “What do people think of Whitman now without him to speak for himself?” and “How have the constructs of technology and events like the World Wars shaped the readings of Whitman?”

Reception theory in regard to Empirical Study attempts to find reception through the use of questionnaires. This theory, like Reader Reception theory, also takes the response of the reader as an equally valid, if not more valid, response than authorial interpretation. This means that the response and reception are not necessarily limited to the “text” or literary work. Rather, it “can make use of the influence of the reader’s ‘life experience’” and cultural background (Fokkema 157). Thus, it is also assumed that readers within the same cultural contexts will produce similar results.

Reception theory in a Socio-Political context places different critical stances toward the text and displays the different assumptions of the critical opinions. These opinions, like those in an empirical study, are assumed to reflect the various socio-political attitudes and cultural backgrounds of the critical analysis. Because of this, the literary scholar can “study which elements of the text work appear dominant as a prevailing code and which other elements appear…foreshortened or even completely hidden” (163). Both were used in the context of this study.

I anticipated many things throughout the project. First of all, I believed there to be a plethora of responses; in the digital age, I assumed and believed in the vast powers of social networking. I assumed that with a figure as large as Whitman, there would easily be a plethora of responses (I was hoping for 40-50).

Secondly, I had assumptions about Whitman’s reception. I expected there to be a great deal of dissention for Whitman. Whitman is the classic American stereotype. With his “turbulent fleshy sensual” self (LoG 210), Whitman embodies everything American that the rest of the world seems to hate. Whitman is lewd. He is egotistical and expansive and believes in no nation is greater than America. He is a proponent of manifest destiny and the promotion of things American throughout the globe. I expected responses like this in the New Age Journal, which remark that “it was only Walt Whitman who gloried in a marching people,” a comment on Whitman’s American militarism. Therefore, I also expected many individuals around the world to relate to him as an American (in which I may have been experiencing the same qualities as Whitman with my American egocentricity). Serbians did not resume political relations with the US until 1999 (State Department), so I was curious if the United States-Serbian strain would produce influence on Whitman’s reception. Historically, Whitman has had a rocky perception within China, waning and waxing in his popularity with the tide of governmental change. For example, in 1989, the new edition of Leaves of Grass was withheld by the Chinese government during student demonstrations because they felt that “Whitman at the moment seemed like a dangerous fuel on the fires of democracy” (Huang 407).

For these reasons, I also assumed that Whitman would be seen not necessarily because of his poetry, but because of his ideals. This idea was supplemented by many of the critical responses when Whitman first began to publish. The journal “New Age” supplied that, “The dominant idea of Whitman, for example, is undeniably friendship, or what he calls camaraderie,” implying that the author viewed Whitman on his ideology (Scanlon). Another entry in “New Age” criticizes the English poet Edward Carpenter, commenting that “poets like Carpenter make socialists” and then directly aligning Carpenter with Whitman (Scanlon). Here, too, the author makes little note about the skill of Whitman’s poetry; instead he comments on the ability to read Whitman’s socialist ideals within the text. In an introduction to Walt Whitman in 1868, Rosetti writes, “[Leaves of Grass]…is poem both of Personality and Democracy; and, it may be added, of American nationalism.” He goes on to talk about Whitman’s crudities and originality, but rarely mentions Whitman’s technique. Whitman-as-poet was not as well received, but Whitman-as-Ideologue was an entirely different manner.

Proceed to the Procedure

Skip to toolbar