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W. C. HARRIS Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the Problem of the One and the Many eaves of Grass represents a life-long endeavor. Between 1855 and '1892 Whitman produced nine distinct editions of Leaves, not simply expanding it by incorporating new poems but extensively revising and rearranging the predecessor-text.1 Considering the differences between editions in format, typography, and content, and the changes in tone and subject matter introduced by new clusters as diverse as Calamus , Sea-Drift, Drum-Taps, and Autumn Rivulets, one might be led to argue that Whitman's compositional "theory" changed just as often (PW 2: 739).2 On the other hand, it would be difficult to dispute the fact that, whatever motive one can ascribe to any particular edition, Whitman remains faithful throughout to at least one "object" (PW 2: 738).' In his own words, that object is the "combination of] these Forty-Four United States into One Identity, fused, equal, and independent" (PW 2: 738).4 To resolve the paradox of this chain of adjectives—how disparates can be at once "fused, equal, and independent"—would be to work out the one-and-the-many problem differently than the federal model (as epitomized by E Pluribus Unum and the founding documents), to conceive of unity neither as the relation of an abstract (Union) to particulars (states) not as a structural compromise between centralization (Congress) and decentralization (state legislatures), but instead as a relation of pluralization whereby integrity, identity, and differentiation are guaranteed.1 The difference pluralization makes—its advantage over decentralization—is that it never risks, as the Articles of ConfedArizona Quarterly Volume 56, Number 3, Autumn 2000 Copyright © 2000 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN ???4?610 3oW. C. Harris eration had done for national government, subjugating the good of the one to particular wills, never allows the horizontal elaboration of structure (democratization) to overreach the capacity of management (totality ). It also permits, as centralization does not, some independence of operation, a certain capacity for interference with hegemony's singular imperatives. Indeed, it turns out to be the case, in the third edition of Leaves (i860), that, as long as the overarching commitment to totality , to the one, is maintained, ancillary, more sublunary commitments are permissible. In terms that emphasize the continuity of Whitman's work with that of Poe and Melville, Whitman's object is the resolution by literary means of the problematic of the many and the one as it impinges on identity and state formation. What Whitman is seeking, poetically as well as politically, is an answer to the problematicity of unity. His project, which his language presents as a continuation of the federal project, is the unification of disparates, the forging of compositional, political, and social unities that manage to preserve the identities and autonomies of their constituents. Without the allegory of either Poe or Melville , Whitman presents his writing as an explicit modeling of American social formation, a response in kind to the contemporary debate over the relative political and social value of persons. Whereas Poe and Melville offer a critique of relations between persons as they currently stand, Whitman offers Leaves of Grass as a praxis, a manual for their transformation. This essay explores the poetic means by which he is able to make that offer, specifically, ( 1 ) the tropes of pluralization and fragmentation that act as remedy for what Whitman sees as the essentially distributive problem of the one and the many, and (2) the acts of mediation and translation by which Whitman represents hierarchy as ineluctable on some level, as the sacrifice, the death of the organic, required for the attainment of symbolic life.6 Following the development of this remedy through the early editions of Leaves allows us to compile an inventory of the alternative models of social formation by which Whitman seeks, in turn, to actualize fantasies of unmediated relation, to extend representation to the previously unrepresented, and finally, when confronted with the inexorableness of hierarchy as a precondition of unity, to secure integration by the only available means. For Whitman, as for Lincoln, that means is violence: representational violence, for Whitman; actual violence, for Lincoln. The sacrifi- Whitmans Leaves...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 29-61
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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