Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman

Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective

GÜNTER LEYPOLDT
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r1wz6
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman
    Book Description:

    This book deals with narratives of cultural legitimation in nineteenth-century US literature, in a transatlantic context.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3575-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: WHITMAN AND THE ‘LAWLESS MUSIC’ OF AMERICAN CULTURE
    (pp. 1-14)

    Contemporary critics continue to be intrigued by the idea that Walt Whitman’s ‘language experiment’ (Matthiessen 1941: 518)¹ embodies a radical politics – as a ‘lawless music’, in Whitman’s own terms (1996: 583), that emerges directly from the Democratic Muse.² The musical trope is significant because it relates a ‘pure’ aesthetic form to a political practice, implying that Whitmanian poetry does not merely talk about democratic issues but transforms the essence of democracy into a stylistic embodiment that constitutes the founding moment of a genuine American aesthetics (see Kerkering 2003). What interests me here is not the truth value of such narratives...

  6. TRANSNATIONAL CONTEXTS OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY US DISCOURSE
    • CHAPTER 1 THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY INTELLECTUAL FIELD
      (pp. 17-48)

      In his discussion of Robert Southey’s Sir Thomas More (1829) in the Edinburgh Review of 1830, Thomas Babington Macaulay takes issue with what he considers Southey’s untenable critique of England’s economic progress. What Macaulay deems most deplorable is the Poet Laureate’s crossing over from ‘those departments of literature in which he might excel’ into the domain of social criticism, where ‘he has still the very alphabet to learn’ (1830: 528). Southey’s judgment of modern society proceeds as if ‘politics’ were not ‘a matter of science’ but ‘of taste and feeling’ (1830: 533). His rejection of industrial progress is not derived...

    • CHAPTER 2 US DISCOURSE AND THE EXPRESSIVIST TURN
      (pp. 49-70)

      The Whitmanian moment combines post-Kantian claims to privileged sensibility with expressivist models of nation- and selfhood that emerged between the 1750s and 1800. The question of cultural self-reliance preoccupied American intellectuals well before the so-called period of ‘literary nationalism’. Yet nationalist poetics have little use for Whitmanian cultural parallelism before 1800. Eighteenth-century American intellectuals, steeped in theological regionalism and socio-religious variants of the translatio imperii idea (Ellis 2002; Freese 1996), are confident that the political and economic advantages of the newly-won independence will entail a flowering of the arts and letters and transform the United States into a cultural center. But...

  7. REPRESENTATIVE AUTHORS
    • CHAPTER 3 THE POET AS ORPHIC SINGER: RALPH WALDO EMERSON
      (pp. 73-100)

      Emerson’s self-conception as a literary intellectual hinges on his definition of the ‘Poet’, a term that shifts between literary artist, scholar, philosopher, priest, cultural critic, and man of letters (Buell 2003: 40–3). Emerson rarely uses this label to distinguish between the poetic in a strictly literary sense and other intellectual pursuits. Instead he prefers to apply ‘poet’ as an evaluative term that signals not only skills of poetic composition but also depth and universality of vision as well as heightened powers of perception.¹ Versed in cultural criticism and artistic expression, the Emersonian poet is above all a ‘doctor’ (1903:...

    • CHAPTER 4 WALT WHITMAN AND THE POETRY OF THE FUTURE
      (pp. 101-128)

      In ‘Song of the Exposition’ (1871, then called ‘After All, Not to Create Only’), Whitman calls upon the ancient Muse to ‘migrate from Greece and Ionia’ and to leave behind her ‘Gothic European Cathedrals, and German, French and Spanish Castles’ for a ‘better, fresher, busier sphere’ in the American West (1871: ll. 15–22). She is ‘[r]esponsive’ to the poet’s ‘summons’, not because of his powers of persuasion, but because of the inevitability of her westward course (‘her long-nurs’d inclination’ and ‘irresistible, natural gravitation’ [1871: ll. 22–4]). Westward lies historical growth: the Muse has ‘changed, journey’d considerable’ (1871: l....

  8. CONCEPTUAL FIELDS OF US CULTURE
    • CHAPTER 5 THE MUSIC OF AMERICA
      (pp. 131-159)

      Emerson’s and Whitman’s intellectual personae center around the ambiguous image of the poet as Orphic singer. This image gained currency during the romantic shift towards neoplatonism and expressivism, when the poetic was defined more often by musical than by painterly root metaphors (Abrams 1953: 88–94; Lindenberger 2000). The Whitmanian moment draws from the conceptual appropriation of musical images used in the musicological discussions within the nineteenth-century US literary establishment, which in turn negotiates a transnational emergence of a romantic metaphysics of music as embodied form. Let me briefly sketch this development.

      The Cartesian and empiricist traditions of eighteenth-century aesthetics...

    • CHAPTER 6 NATIONAL IDENTITY AND THE SMELL OF THE WOODS
      (pp. 160-194)

      It is a truism that, for nineteenth-century US cultural critics, the meaning of ‘America’ is deeply rooted in the geographical specifics of the New World.¹ Myra Jehlen has shown how this preoccupation with place encouraged eighteenth- and nineteenth-century models of nationhood based on the idea of ‘incarnation’, where cultural production was considered a realization of the continent’s intrinsic potential. In cultivating the land, the American pioneer created ‘nature’s kind of civilization by cultivating not a telos’ (no ‘predetermined program’ imported from Europe and imposed on the New World) ‘but an infinite entelechy’ embodied in the North American space and to be...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE DEMOCRATIC MUSE
      (pp. 195-234)

      Whitman’s programmatic connection of free verse and political freedom is effective and influential because it draws from a conceptual field that has been central to cultural theory since the Enlightenment debates about the relationship between democratic institutions and the state of the arts and sciences. One prominent standpoint in these early debates is represented by the ‘Whig histories’ of democratic progress that assume (with Shaftesbury) that commercial and cultural efflorescence will increase in conjunction with the transition from social conformity and hierarchy to diversity and equality. In the opposite corner, ‘skeptical Whiggism’ contested or (like David Hume) at least qualified...

  9. INVENTING WHITMANIAN AUTHORITY
    • CHAPTER 8 CONTEMPORARY RECEPTION
      (pp. 237-246)

      ‘Whitmanian authority’ is a discursive space that regulates the enunciation of nationality within professionalizing sites of cultural production. In this heuristic sense, it first emerges in the nineteenth century, but is deeply shaped through the intervention of early-twentieth-century appropriations of romantic culture models. Between the 1850s and 1870s, Whitman’s professionalism is unsystematic enough – a string of moods rather than a fully worked-out theoretical framework. Whitman’s modernist readers highlighted his cultural parallelisms and expanded his contradictory meditations on poetics to a full-fledged theory of national expression that twentieth-century critics reprojected on nineteenth-century discourse. This chapter seeks to reconstruct the heterogeneity of...

    • CHAPTER 9 WHITMAN AMONG THE MODERNS
      (pp. 247-255)

      How did these complex and conflicting nineteenth-century perceptions of Whitman turn into the American-Renaissance consensus? Dowden’s view of the ‘Poetry of Democracy’ proved useful in the modernist quest for a national canon based on Whitman’s ‘spiritual democracy’ (H. A. Myers 1934: 239). After 1900 it became more important to reread Whitman in post-Kantian terms, and to turn Dowden’s praise of Whitman’s democratic primitivism into the modernist image of Whitman’s ‘language experiment’ (Matthiessen 1941: 518). Whitman’s modernist canonizers worked out more systematically what Whitman himself had implied rather than rigorously argued: that Leaves of Grass expresses America’s deepest truths precisely because...

  10. EPILOG: AFTER THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE
    (pp. 256-260)

    During the 1960s and 1970s, the American-Renaissance construction lost a great deal of its credibility;¹ but its underlying notion of representative literariness has retained at least some of its rhetorical appeal. It seems that the post-Kantian Whitmanian moment is most adaptable to contemporary US studies when it is phrased in terms of negativity, disruption, and ‘thirdness’. Whitman’s image of American poetry as a ‘lawless music’ already implies the figure of the sublime, as a reference to a ‘real’ America that in contrast to the ‘genteel’ America is always in process and thus eludes conceptual definition (hence the necessity of voicing...

  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 261-288)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 289-302)