- Whitman and Dickinson
This year’s work on Walt Whitman, more modest than that devoted to Emily Dickinson, mostly takes the form of articles and book chapters, including substantial content in John Michael Corrigan’s American Metempsychosis: Emerson, Whitman, and the New Poetry and Laure Katsaros’s New York–Paris: Whitman, Baudelaire, and the Hybrid City. Dickinson on the other hand is the subject of three major book projects: Cristanne Miller’s Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century, Alexandra Socarides’s Dickinson Unbound: Paper, Process, Poetics, and Marta Werner and Jen Bervin’s The Gorgeous Nothings: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing. Whitman scholarship, building on trends of the last several years, generally focuses on how he was influenced by and influenced international writers and thinkers, his attitudes toward the American South, and the unparalleled importance of national violence to his work. Scholarship on Dickinson emphasizes the materiality of her work, the role of philosophy in her poems, transatlantic affiliations, and technology. One notable similarity in the work on both authors is a significant expansion of digital archival sources, particularly the addition of many Civil War and Reconstruction materials to the Whitman Archive and the dramatic increase in the number of high-quality scans of Dickinson materials now available at the Emily Dickinson Archive and through major repositories.
Amanda Gailey is responsible for the Whitman portion of this essay, and Daniel Manheim for the Dickinson. [End Page 51]
a. Whitman and Violence
Several articles focus on Whitman’s attitudes toward violence, particularly the carnage of the Civil War. In “Remains of War: Walt Whitman, Civil War Soldiers, and the Legacy of Medical Collections” (Museum History Journal 5: 7–28) Lenore Barbian et al. study Whitman’s Civil War materials alongside medical specimens held by the National Museum of Health and Medicine. The specimens are “the mementos mori for generations of museum visitors who see not only the bone fractured by a gunshot wound but also the symbolic refuse of a nation divided by war.” Some of the specimens can specifically be linked to Whitman, “the chief mourner on behalf of the nation” who also provided a record of “the suffering of the wounded.” The authors look specifically at remains of Pvt. Oscar Cunningham, who was shot, underwent an amputation, and was cared for by Whitman for months of painful decline until he died. Another soldier was injured by a shell and died while in Whitman’s care, and Whitman’s notes add more information about his medical condition as well as a humane contextualization. The essay persuasively explains how bringing these pieces of forensic medical evidence together with the perspective of Whitman’s words enriches both of them.
In “‘A Day of Most Heartfelt Sorrow’: Death and Texas in Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’” (WWQR 29: 66–80), Cliff Hudder argues that Whitman’s source for the historical information included in the Goliad Massacre section of “Song of Myself” was a letter from a Mexican officer, and that this section, often overlooked by critics, is an important one. Here Whitman experimented with literal and figurative border crossing, revising his depiction of the event over the years, especially after he was transformed by his experiences tending wounded soldiers in the Civil War.
A special symposium, “Whitman in Washington,” appearing in the spring issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review (88) features several short pieces reflecting on Whitman’s crucial experiences while living in Washington, DC, during the Civil War. Linda Gregerson’s “The Self in the Poem” (pp. 17–21) explored the “dissonant parts” of Whitman’s identity during that period, including some benighted comments about race even as he seemed to be defining himself the champion of all Americans. David Baker’s “Song of Sanity” (pp. 7–12) asserts that Whitman’s Civil War experiences made the political abstraction of war a concrete [End Page 52] reality, and that we can see the way he talks about death and violence shift over this period, with more specific, tactile details: “Touch—the knowledge of bodies—is made human, is given exact names, faces, and bloody hands by the war and by...