Cover image for The erotic Whitman
Title:
The erotic Whitman
Author:
Pollak, Vivian R.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
xxiv, 261 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Reading Level:
1550 Lexile.
ISBN:
9780520221895

9780520221901
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library PS3242.S47 P65 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

In this provocative analysis of Whitman's exemplary quest for happiness, Vivian Pollak skillfully explores the intimate relationships that contributed to his portrayal of masculinity in crisis. She maintains that in representing himself as a characteristic nineteenth-century American and in proposing to heal national ills, Whitman was trying to temper his own inner conflicts as well.

The poet's expansive vision of natural eroticism and of unfettered comradeship between democratic equals was, however, only part of the story. As Whitman waged a conscious campaign to challenge misogynistic and homophobic literary codes, he promoted a raceless, classless ideal of sexual democracy that theoretically equalized all varieties of desire and resisted none. Pollak suggests that this goal remains imperfectly achieved in his writings, which liberates some forbidden voices and silences others.

Integrating biography and criticism, Pollak employs a loosely chronological organization to describe the poet's multifaceted "faith in sex." Drawing on his early fiction, journalism, poetry, and self-reviews, as well as letters and notebook entries, she shows how in spite of his personal ambivalence about sustained erotic intimacy, Whitman came to imagine himself as "the phallic choice of America."


Summary

In this provocative analysis of Whitman's exemplary quest for happiness, Vivian Pollak skillfully explores the intimate relationships that contributed to his portrayal of masculinity in crisis. She maintains that in representing himself as a characteristic nineteenth-century American and in proposing to heal national ills, Whitman was trying to temper his own inner conflicts as well.

The poet's expansive vision of natural eroticism and of unfettered comradeship between democratic equals was, however, only part of the story. As Whitman waged a conscious campaign to challenge misogynistic and homophobic literary codes, he promoted a raceless, classless ideal of sexual democracy that theoretically equalized all varieties of desire and resisted none. Pollak suggests that this goal remains imperfectly achieved in his writings, which liberates some forbidden voices and silences others.

Integrating biography and criticism, Pollak employs a loosely chronological organization to describe the poet's multifaceted "faith in sex." Drawing on his early fiction, journalism, poetry, and self-reviews, as well as letters and notebook entries, she shows how in spite of his personal ambivalence about sustained erotic intimacy, Whitman came to imagine himself as "the phallic choice of America."


Author Notes

Vivian R. Pollak is Professor of English at Washington University, St. Louis, and is the editor of New Essays on James's Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw (1992) and A Poet's Parents: The Courtship Letters of Emily Norcross and Edward Dickinson (1988), and author of Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender (1984).


Vivian R. Pollak is Professor of English at Washington University, St. Louis, and is the editor of New Essays on James's Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw (1992) and A Poet's Parents: The Courtship Letters of Emily Norcross and Edward Dickinson (1988), and author of Dickinson: The Anxiety of Gender (1984).


Reviews 2

Choice Review

Providing at once a sustained example of psychobiography, a complex critique of gender politics in 19th-century America, and a frank discussion of the poet's "sex project," Pollak (Washington Univ., St. Louis) argues in essence that "making textual sex [in experimental poetry] emerged as Whitman's solution to psychological, social, and political dilemmas he could not resolve in life." The author recounts how as a young person--in intimate relationships with friends, siblings, and, in particular, his father and mother--Whitman found his emotional needs unmet. Later, in Leaves of Grass, he transmuted the negative experiences of his early personal life into "a song of his faith in sex." Pollak has fresh things to say about Whitman's short fiction (especially his novel Franklin Evans), journalism, and the first three editions of Leaves of Grass (1855, 1856, and 1860), but her most persuasive comments are on his essay Democratic Vistas and its conflicted feminism. Readers who welcomed M. Jimmie Killingsworth's Whitman's Poetry of the Body (CH, Oct'89), Michae1 Moon's Disseminating Whitman (1991), and Bryne R. S. Fone's Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text (1992) will likewise hail the publication of Pollak's book. Recommended for graduate and research collections and for Whitman aficionados at all levels. D. D. Kummings; University of Wisconsin--Parkside


Choice Review

Providing at once a sustained example of psychobiography, a complex critique of gender politics in 19th-century America, and a frank discussion of the poet's "sex project," Pollak (Washington Univ., St. Louis) argues in essence that "making textual sex [in experimental poetry] emerged as Whitman's solution to psychological, social, and political dilemmas he could not resolve in life." The author recounts how as a young person--in intimate relationships with friends, siblings, and, in particular, his father and mother--Whitman found his emotional needs unmet. Later, in Leaves of Grass, he transmuted the negative experiences of his early personal life into "a song of his faith in sex." Pollak has fresh things to say about Whitman's short fiction (especially his novel Franklin Evans), journalism, and the first three editions of Leaves of Grass (1855, 1856, and 1860), but her most persuasive comments are on his essay Democratic Vistas and its conflicted feminism. Readers who welcomed M. Jimmie Killingsworth's Whitman's Poetry of the Body (CH, Oct'89), Michae1 Moon's Disseminating Whitman (1991), and Bryne R. S. Fone's Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text (1992) will likewise hail the publication of Pollak's book. Recommended for graduate and research collections and for Whitman aficionados at all levels. D. D. Kummings; University of Wisconsin--Parkside


Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Citation Notep. xi
Prefacep. xiii
1 The Erotics of Youthp. 1
2 Why Whitman Gave Up Fictionp. 37
3 From Walter to Waltp. 56
4 Leaves of Grassin 1855-56p. 81
5 The Politics of Love in the 1860 Leaves of Grassp. 122
6 The Civil War and Afterp. 153
7 Whitman's Visionary Feminismp. 172
Notesp. 195
Indexp. 245
Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Citation Notep. xi
Prefacep. xiii
1 The Erotics of Youthp. 1
2 Why Whitman Gave Up Fictionp. 37
3 From Walter to Waltp. 56
4 Leaves of Grassin 1855-56p. 81
5 The Politics of Love in the 1860 Leaves of Grassp. 122
6 The Civil War and Afterp. 153
7 Whitman's Visionary Feminismp. 172
Notesp. 195
Indexp. 245

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