Courtney for 10/20

October 18th, 2009

Whitman himself warned an admirer, “You must not construct such an unauthorized and imaginary ideal Figure, and call it W.W. and so devotedly invest your loving nature in it.  The actual W.W. is a very plain personage, and entirely unworthy such devotion.”  I think that this quote reveals a lot about Whitman and his attitudes about himself as a person and as a public figure.  Clearly not comfortable in the spotlight, Whitman struggled with his persona.  He seems like the type to shy away from the limelight.  I shutter to think how Walt would deal with today’s constant media attention.  For him though, his work was deeply personal and had such an emotional effect on his readers.   In his work he revealed a quite private part of himself, creating an intimate relationship with his readers.  He gave readers what they needed most, an honest portrayal of America’s history that they could connect with.

It seems odd to me, however, that Whitman was so fast to give out love and affection but so reluctant to accept it.  At the army hospital, Whitman gave out his affections freely.  He wrote brazenly about kissing the soldiers and touching them but also about really caring for them in a very innocent and loving way.  He calls everyone to connect with each other as comrades and lovers, yet he seems uncomfortable with the idea of people reaching out to him.  I wonder how Whitman would have felt if he had been a wounded soldier.  Some accounts of his relationship with the soldiers indicate that the feelings were not mutual.  Is it possible that Walt could dish it out but not take it?

Much like the wounded soldiers in the hospitals, the reader too does not have a choice but to accept Whitman’s ideas.  Sometimes when I’m reading a rambling list or diluted resolution I feel like I’m just laying there having it thrown at me.  There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but listen.  Whitman, it seems, is more comfortable in the more powerful position in a relationship.  He thrives when he is a caregiver and can control his audience.  However he seems shy with anyone who can challenge him or mirror his madness.  Even with his brother George, he was far more affectionate and open about his concerns for his brother.

Whitman has the ability to capture his audience regardless of who they are.  He was magnetic in person, an excellent listener and a careful observer.  He was a classic introvert who craved relationships and interaction but needed time alone to reflect.

One Response to “Courtney for 10/20”

  1. Avatar of chelseanewnam chelseanewnam on October 20, 2009 4:20 pm

    Thinking about Whitman’s reluctance to accept adoration is interesting, though I think in the case of Gilchrist that you mention, he just seems not to want her complete and unadulteraed adoration as she was a little, how shall we say…off her rocker with the whole thing.

    I do think, however, that you bring up some important points about Whitman as lover, not lovee. It seems almost as if allowing one person to love him completely would limit him to other people and thereby limit his message and his ability to be prophet and savior or America and this would seem counterintuitive to everything else he has been “preaching”

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