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Walt Whitman's Mystical Ethics of Comradeship

Homosexuality and the Marginality of Friendship at the Crossroads of Modernity

Juan A. Hererro Brasas

Publication Year: 2010

Recovers Walt Whitman as a self-conscious religious figure with an ethic based in male comradeship, one at odds with the temper of his times. A giant of American letters, Walt Whitman is known both as a poet and, to a lesser extent, as a prophet of gay liberation. This revealing book recovers for today’s reader a lost Whitman, delving into the original context and intentions of his poetry and prose. As Juan A. Herrero Brasas shows, Whitman saw himself as a founder of a new religion. Indeed, disciples gathered around him: the “hot little prophets” as they came to be called by early biographers. Whitman’s religion revolved around his concept of comradeship, an original alternative to the type of competitive masculinity emerging in the wake of industrialization and nineteenth-century capitalism. Shedding new light on the life and original message of a poet who warned future generation of treating him as a literary figure, Herrero Brasas concludes that Whitman was a moral reformer and grand theorist akin to other grand theorists of his day.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-

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Introduction

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pp. 1-6

In their introduction to David Kuebrich’s Minor Prophecy: Walt Whitman’s New American Religion (1989), Catherine Albanese and Stephen Stein com-plain about the total absorption of Whitman’s fi gure by the literature depart-ments as much as about its abandonment on the part of religious scholars. Th ey point out that Kuebrich is the fi rst one to off er an extended analysis of Whitman’s work from the perspective of religious studies.1 The abandonment ...

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CHAPTER ONE: Literature As Religion: Whitman’s Messianic Enterprise

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pp. 7-31

After reading, at the request of a dying soldier, the biblical passage describing the crucifixion of Christ and his resurrection, Walt Whitman—a volunteer nurse during the Civil War—was asked by the young man if he “enjoyed religion.” His reply ...

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CHAPTER TWO: The Mystic Hypothesis

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pp. 33-55

In a handwritten note, Whitman calls himself a mystic and compares him-self, to his own advantage, to William Blake. He states that although “Wi-liam Blake and Walt Whitman Both are mystics,” the difference between the two of them is that while in Blake the subjective “seat on an absolute throne, wilful & uncontrolled,” in Whitman “[t]o the pe[rfect] sense, it is evident that he goes off because he permits himself to do so [ . . . ] able to stop the wild tee-...

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CHAPTER THREE: A Gospel of Beauty

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pp. 57-82

On May 16, 1888, a young labor agitator came to see Whitman at his home in Camden. He was a handsome young man, and the impact he made on the ailing poet was such that he confi ded to Horace Traubel that the impression would never go away. Political, literary, or other considerations were of secondary importance for Whitman before the beauty of his young visitor. Moreover, one gets the impression that no matter what the young man’s political ...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Love of Comrades

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pp. 83-116

Whitman said the basis of his poetry was “human fraternity, comradeship,” adding that “the idea of my book is conveyed in that one word ‘comradeship.’”1 The concept of comradeship is at the heart of Walt Whitman’s religious and moral enterprise. In the words of Mila T. Maynard, “[t]he circle of Whitman’s thought fi nds its perfect round in the idea of comradeship.”2 In his work, Whitman elevates the idea of comradeship to quasi-mystical levels. ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Whitman, the Moral Reformer

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pp. 117-142

Whitman said of Leaves of Grass that it is “a book for the criminal classes.” When asked by Horace Traubel about the meaning of that statement, he replied: “It is a fact. Th e other people do not need a poet.” Th is is the brief dialogue that followed: [Whitman asked Traubel:] “Are you in the criminal class yourself?” “Yes, certainly. Why not? [ . . . ] Let me in?”1 Whitman’s statement that his work—his bible—is a book for the criminal classes, the ones in need of ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 143-153

To Paul Zweig, Whitman was “an astonishing combination of poetic genius, street theater and fraud.”1 Zweig’s remark is not to be taken as derogatory. Whitman’s poetic genius is acknowledged. Added to that is the dramatic (or “theatrical”) aspect, and finally the illusory, the deceptive, the fraud. Still, what has survived of Whitman is his poetic genius and his enduringly original message. Neither Whitman the messiah nor the wound dresser are much ...

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A Queer (Theory) Postscript

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pp. 155-159

The publisher has asked me to add some Queer Theory refl ections to my Whitman book. When it was still a proposal for publication, virtually everyone who reviewed my manuscript made the point that it was lacking in Queer Theory. For the benefit of the author, who might be unaware of the intricacies of such a field, some of the reviewers summarized in their reports the main tenets of Queer Theory. The publisher felt that uneasiness over the lack of Queer Theory in my book, a book that deals ...

Abbreviations and Special References

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pp. 161-162

Notes

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pp. 163-188

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 189-198

Index

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pp. 199-206


E-ISBN-13: 9781438430126
E-ISBN-10: 1438430124
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438430119
Print-ISBN-10: 1438430116

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Relations with men.
  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Friends and associates.
  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Ethics.
  • Poets, American -- 19th century -- Biography.
  • Gay men -- United States -- Biography.
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