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lizmoser for 9.27

Elizabeth’s Post for 9.24: Individualism

Generation Y is very comfortable with its sense of individualism.

Nicknamed the ME, or millenium generation, each one of us has been taught to prize our own sense of self, often to the point of overindulgence.  Whitman is also a subscriber to individualism, but his poetry takes the concept far from its modern selfish bent.

Each of us is, in a sense, our own universe, encompassing a whole galaxy of senses and institutions.  Each world is unique, which means that each of us perceives everything around us differently.  Our common world is fractured into billions of singular variations, attuned to each man or woman’s view and experiences.

Although this may sound abstract, Whitman explains this individualism concretely in the latter part of Leaves of Grass (1855.) Not only are our legislative laws and world religions secondary to the great immortality and power of man, but even the laws of gravity and physics are subject to him.  Man is his own poem, and he holds a poetic power capable of god-like creation, as Whitman states, “leaves are not more shed out of trees or trees from the earth than they are shed out of you” (p.93.)

Without man, art, architecture, music, sculpture, would have no meaning.  History, politics and even civilization is dependent on the individual, and like the early sketches of the celestial bodies rotating around the earth, all of these institutions revolve around the individual.

We are not put on the earth by chance, Whitman claims, and we are not subject to fate or the rise and fall of fortune.  Divine powers do no exist to dwarf us or withdraw something essential from us at whim (92.)  The very fact that we exist on earth is heavy with significance.  Imagine a world with billions of souls, each capable of creating an entire universe to carry around with him through life and beyond death.

In the face of this great creative potential, in the powers we have with these universes in our pockets, the cohesiveness of the world seems to fall apart.  How is it possible that man can connect to his fellow man if what we experience is so different from person to person?  Would this not lead to certain isolation?  The concept of the mad writer trapped in his own head is not an uncommon figure in literature.  Is it still possible for us to get in touch with mankind?

Whitman assures us that these splinters of reality are drawn together with one look in the mirror:

Will the whole come back then?
Can we see the signs of the best by a look in the lookingglass?  Is there nothing greater or more?
Does all sit there with you and here with me? (p. 94.)

One look in the mirror shows us the perfect combination of the universe of our thoughts and experiences–we are met with the image of our own face.  Only we know the intricacies of the way we see the world, but everyone we meet is able to see our face: a highly condensed but nevertheless true symbol of our selves.

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