Walt Whitman's Native Representations

Walt Whitman's Native Representations

by Ed Folsom
     
 

Moving through Whitman's career four times from four different perspectives, this book investigates several major American cultural developments that occurred during Whitman's lifetime - the development of American dictionaries, the growth of baseball, the evolution of American Indian policy, the development of photography and photographic portraits - and tracks the…  See more details below

Overview

Moving through Whitman's career four times from four different perspectives, this book investigates several major American cultural developments that occurred during Whitman's lifetime - the development of American dictionaries, the growth of baseball, the evolution of American Indian policy, the development of photography and photographic portraits - and tracks the ways these cultural actions became essential components of Whitman's innovative poetics. Resisting the usual critical temptation to present a totalized, one-dimensional Whitman, this study views him instead as multiple and contradictory, a gatherer of discordant tones and clashing approaches from a variety of surprising cultural arenas. From Webster's and Worcester's continually expanding dictionaries, Whitman learned about the possibilities of an unbounded and infinitely absorptive language, out of which a new kind of expansive poetics could emerge. He saw in baseball the inception of a national sport, one that had a rhythm, movement, and ethos distinctively American, and in it he sensed the presence of the democratic crowds and camaraderie that he would celebrate in his poetry. From the time of the Great Removal when he was a boy on through to the massacre at Wounded Knee just before his death, Whitman saw in American Indians an autochthonous otherness that he tried to absorb even as it vanished under the imperialistic hand of his expanding nation. And in photography, he found the technological counterpart of his poetics of wholeness and inclusiveness, offering the possibility of turning the world and his life into an endless series of cluttered representations. In such cultural activities, Whitman found not his poetic subjects so much as his poetic tools and techniques. These cultural actions taught him how to make native representations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ed Folsom has written a fine book that adds significantly to our knowledge of Walt Whitman's relationship to his times. Folsom provides interesting discussions of dictionaries, baseball, American Indians, and photography as they touch on the poet who repeatedly called for a historical understanding of his works....For Whitman scholars, Folsom's book is a must. And its influence should extend beyond Whitman circles. Anyone interested in the contextual study of literature will find a good example to follow in Walt Whitman's Native Representations." David S. Reynolds, The New England Quarterly

"Folsom is able to demonstrate more effectively than perhaps any previous critic how deep Whitman's investment in American culture actually was and how, instead of applying some established poetic technology to the cultural ore of his times, Whitman drew upon a diverse set of activities and energies from every corner of American life to transform the practices and principles of poetic art....The story is all the better because of Folsom's prose style (always engaging and readable and often eloquent) and his critical technique, which gently probes the theoretical issues surrounding the concept of cultural representation while offering frequent illuminations of the specific language and images in Whitman's writings. With scholarly care and critical energy, Folsom transforms what might have seemed four marginal topics into four crucial issues with subtle interconnections." M. Jimmie Killingsworth, Walt Whitman Quarterly Review

"Ultimately a book about language, Native Representations is impressive scholarship, one of the best studies ever published on Whitman. If any reader, academic or nonacademic, has been wondering if there exists a thoroughly accessible, richly informative, and profoundly stimulating book on the poet regarded by many as America's greatest—well, here it is." Choice

"...a linked series of beautifully written and meticulously researched essays....studded with arresting examples of how the forms and the textures of Whitman's culture were textualized in his writings....Walt Whitman's Native Representations is valuable for the scrupulous way in which it searches out and documents Whitman's engagement with several of the most important issues and developments of his period." M. Wynn Thomas, American Literature

"Folsom is original not in claiming primacy for his sources (which as a good historian he does not) but in arguing for their metonymical value...this book is an excellent example of a study of material culture and literature because it never asks too much of its evidence or becomes fashionably neo-Marxist in its criticism of the system the 'Poet of Democracy' celebrated...Folsom has been both scholarly and imaginative in showing how the material gets into the culture, or the cultural experience into the poetry. For this reason alone, not to mention the way the study provides an enlivening perspective for future anaylses of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman's Native Representation is one of the best studies of Whitman since the era of the New Criticism..." Jerome Loving, Resources for American Literary Study

"I thought that nothing new remained to be disclosed about the life and work of the poet until there burst upon the horizon Ed Folsom's insightful study....Folsom's volume Walt Whitman's Native Representations is destined to take its place alongside the classic studies of Gay Willson Allen and Roger Asselineau." Robert Strassburg, The Walt Whitman Circle

"This lucid and engaging study examines how four nineteenth-century cultural events — the development of American dictionaries, the growth of baseball, the evolution of American Indian policy, and the development of photography — helped shape Walt Whitman's democratic poetics....Folsom demonstrates with equally suggestive detail the effect of other cultural activities on Whitman's democratic poetics and outlook....Such insights consistently reward the reader with a rich sense of how Whitman, as Folsom says, composts the materials of a changing and conflicted democratic culture to compose the stuff of his poetry." Martin Klammer, American Studies

"..an entertaining and well-researched critical commentary on Whitman..." Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780521453578
Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Publication date:
04/01/1994
Series:
Studies in American Literature and Culture
Pages:
215
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 8.98(h) x 0.79(d)

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