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Walt Whitman's Song Of Myself Essay

3562 words - 14 pages

Walt Whitman's Song of Myself

This paper deals with Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in relation to Julia Kristeva's theories of abjection--my paper does not point to abjection in the text, but rather the significance of the abscence of abjection. This abscence, looming and revolting, arises from Whitman's attemt to refigure a conception of sublimity which delimits the material which can trigger the sublime moment. Whitman's democracy of the sublime is inclusive of those figures on the American landscape, their lives and voices, which are functionalized into his world. This paper employs the theories of George Lukacs and Julia Kristeva allow the unearthing of the archeological layers of Whitman's text.

The most literal adjective that could be applied to them is arresting. We are seized by them. (I am aware that there are people who pass the over but about them there is nothing to say.) As we look at them, the moment of the other's suffering engulfs us. We are filled with either despair or indignation.

John Berger, on Photographs of Agony.

Here I am, bent over the keyhole; suddenly I hear a footstep. I shudder as a wave of shame sweeps over me. Somebody has seen me. I straighten up. My eyes run over the deserted corridor. It was a false alarm. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Jean Paul Sartre

If in the paneled objectification of Eakin's Whitman there lies something in the (re)presentation which unsettles, one could suffer the seizures of revulsion. The viewer stays to uncoil the snare, to locate it outside of one's own "perversion" and locate it inside the text; the viewer indicts the bleached figure who stands as stark harpee against the shadowed relief. For Kristeva, "there looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable. It lies there, quite close, but it cannot be assimilated. It beseeches, worries, and fascinates desire, which, nevertheless, does not let itself be seduced."[1]

The strange elegance of this specter looms in the relief, in the archaic layers of Song of Myself. It is beyond the foregrounded inversive space--at times utopic and sublime, the space is permeated with universal brotherhood, happiness, the "compelled-sentimental"-- that I attempt to delve into, that source from which generates the repulsive, hidden quivering of a text which, though cast out and forced into absence, looms in the shadowed relief. The edification of his text and of his readership is attempted through the construction of an inversive space which refigures the sublime: the apex of the "cultured." I have chosen those moments in the text in which the poet nears the threshold of bordering abject in order to construct his sublime utopian vision. It is here, this marked refigurement where ecstasy occurs, where material which triggers the sublime is the signal of...

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