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310CIVIL WAR HISTORY have achieved the success it did? These questions are not meant to dispute his impressive research and cogent arguments, but to suggest that grappling with them would have made his work more subtle, complex, and appealing to broader audiences. John Stauffer Yale University Whitman and the Romance of Medicine. By Robert Leigh Davis. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Pp. x, 190. $ 35.00.) This literary and social analysis by Robert Leigh Davis challenges traditional studies on Walt Whitman by suggesting that his best work was written after his service as a nurse began in January 1863, when his brother was wounded at Fredericksburg. This is a period when most scholars concluded Whitman was on the decline, symbolized in part by a paralytic stroke he suffered in 1864. Yet Davis holds that this period provided the nexus forWhitman's searching themes on writing, art, political democracy, and homosexual love. Davis provides striking insight into what he sees as Whitman's effort to reclaim a middle ground in literature. He calls this the "liminality" (5) ofconflicting and opposing elements that defy closure. Like the nurse or wound-dresser who works in space claimed by both the living and the dead, Whitman uses his hospital correspondence in a manner that defies the binary struggle of war and secession. In his maturing years, he comes to view the ideal democratic polity as incomplete and unstable, an analogue to the convalescent patient. Similarly, Whitman tracks the controversy over the drug calomel (mercurous chloride), rightly identifying it as a feud between the Enlightenment's faith in a unifying law and the opposing empiricism ofthe Paris clinical school. The epistemology of doubt that entered into the thinking of conservative medicine, argues Davis, was not unlike that which helped shape similar changes in American art and philosophy. Davis likewise draws upon medicine to affirm the primacy ofexperience that defies closed systems of thought. Whitman's view of medicine, eroticism , homosexuality, American democracy, art, and literature are best defined not in whole cloth but within the limitations of a hospital where "an infinite number of currents and forces, and contributions, and temperatures, and cross purposes, whose ceaseless play and counterpart upon counterpart brings constant restoration and vitality" (21). Along with these significant aspects, however, the reader becomes frustrated when Davis reaches too far to grasp something that may or may not be there. Perhaps he could have focused more on Whitman and the romance of medicine (ie., the title) and less on forays into deconstructionist babble. Whitman's reasoning that the political elite's willful violations of the working people on both sides and the rise of industrial capitalism were more a cause for the war than slavery, needs further explanation. This reader, at least, would have preferred to book reviews311 seeWhitmanjuxtaposed against the democratic and post-war concerns ofHenry Adams, Edwin Godkin, or James Russell Lowell, than to read that suture theory "deconstructs the closure of classical narrative, seeing in that closure a key instrument of control" (128). Davis has written an interesting and well-researched book on Whitman's hospital writings. To be sure, he goes against the grain of most contemporary analyses but he offers a persuasive challenge to that thinking. With it, Whitman becomes refreshingly modem in his suggestions and representations. John S. Haller Jr. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale Over Lincoln's Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct ofthe War. By Bruce Tap. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998. Pp. xii, 324. $39.95.) Bom amid the turmoil of secession and Civil War, the Committee on the Conduct of the War quickly became one of the most controversial investigative committees in American history. From its creation, the committee was dominated by three Radicals: Senator BenWade ofMassachusetts, a reformer known for his political combativeness; Michigan's Senator Zachariah Chandler, an uncompromising opponent of concessions to the South; and Indiana's Representative George Julian, an early supporter of civil and political rights for African Americans. Possessing an open-ended charge with the authority to call witnesses and operating behind closed doors, the committee investigated presidential military policy, scrutinized waste and corruption, and promoted wartime propaganda. With no quorum requirements, individual members could travel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 310-311
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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