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Caryn for September 8th

Thus far in each Whitman piece we have read, he evokes an ethereal view of the nation. It seems metaphysical and metaphorical. He weaves images of nature that seem to represent Whitman’s utopian ideals of national pride or guidelines of what should and should not be.

In his “Democratic Vistas” Whitman notes “Investigating here, we see not that it is a little thing we have, in having the  bequeath’d libraries, countless shelves of volumes, records, &c.; yet how serious the danger, depending entirely on them or the bloodless vein, the nerveless arm, the false application, at second or third hand.” (p1017). This leads me to believe two things, first, that it is important to remember that academia, and scholarly sources are not the “end all be all” of historical, political, and national information. People must consume and interpret this information for themselves rather than regurgitating what others have taught them. The reality is that most historical information is catalogued, researched, and interpreted by middle class white males who do not necessarily provide an accurate account. I believe that Whitman asks us to challenge this authority.

Secondly, that Whitman wants us to remember that we need to understand a broad scope of history rather than surrounding ourselves with the information so that others can see it. A parallel idea that can be found in his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”;

Behold though you as bad as the rest

Through the laughter, dancing, dining, supping, of people

Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash’d and

   trimm’d faces,

Behold a secret silent loathing and despair. (p 306)

Whitman seems to comment on his fellow ferry travelers noting that though they are dressed in their best, they are still in pain, hiding behind a façade.

It is interesting to compare this to the early colonial literature of people like John Smith or Sir Francis Drake who sensationalized the progress of the colonies and their interactions with Native Americans in order to convince further colonization and funding from England. Whitman dares us to look past this embellished façade that Americans hold on to so dearly an d think for ourselves. The poet seems to peel away the layer of humanity to strike the very core of the person or in this case the nation.

~ by carynlev on September 6, 2009.


2 Responses to “Caryn for September 8th”

  1. Caryn,

    I really enjoyed your post, particularly your points concerning “Democratic Vistas.” I think that Whitman is essentially calling for a rejection of all European work, and not only persuading interpretation, but the creation of literature and art uniquely American. Just like you said, I think that Whitman’s “well-trained mind” (1017) is not necessarily an educated one (at least by literary standards), but one that knows to think for itself, and not rely on other cultures. This is especially true since there was no way that every American could be “educated.” Perhaps this thinking for oneself is also something that Whitman could consider uniquely American, considering the nation’s strides for democracy, and the varied ideas of all the nation’s people (although, unfortunately, we never held that belief with other non-Americans, such as the Native Americans).

  2. interesting post. in one of my classes we were discussing what are contemporary american values- we could only agree upon one, that is strength/resiliency. however thinking for ourselves is also one we can debate- especially in light of our application to colonized people- nice point with the american indian!!!

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