Thursday, January 24, 2013

Whitman's Radicalism

All the subtlety and wisdom of Whitman's language...seem like accidents befalling a genial carpenter or fireman or popular journalist. Here is Whitman's radicalism. It is a matter of voice, rather than of ideas. When Whitman spoke, there was no institution supporting him, not even that invisible institution that is an agreed-upon tone, a place on the spectrum of roles. Despite the radicalism of Emerson's philosophy, he was instantly recognizable - whether speaking from a podium or in his essays - as a man of refinement and education. But with Whitman, one couldn't be sure. Maybe he didn't really know what he was doing. Maybe his exquisite poems were really accidents. If so, he might very well be the new kind of man he claimed to be, more in touch with nature than the rest of us; offering in his person and in his poems (an actor and his text?) the spectacle of a man saved from the duplicity of culture, as a saint in former times offered the spectacle of a man saved from the Fall. - Paul Zweig

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