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Whitman's LifeandArt: ThePrecariousBoundary Dennis Bertholdand Kenneth M. Price, eds. DearBtother Walt: The Letters of TlwmasJefferson Whitman. Kent, Ohio: TheKentStateUniversity Press, 1984. 202 +xxxviipp. C.CarrollHollis.Language and Style in ''Leaves of Grass." Baton Rouge: Louisiana StateUniversity Press, 1983. 277+xiiipp. PaulZweig.Walt Whitman: The Making of thePoet. NewYork: Basic Books, Inc., 1984. 372+xipp. Douglas Babington In the first chapter of Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway offers crucialadvice to himself and to all other conscientious witnesses of life and death:"If they sense the meaning and end of the whole thing even when they knownothing about it; feel that this thing they do not understand isgoing on, thebusiness of the horses is nothing more than an incident." 1 The context of thisstatement is a defense of bullfighting, which-as ritual-must not, he believes,be viewed fragmentarily; rather, the goring of picadors' horses must besubordinated to the deadly confrontation between man and bull. Hemingway 'sstatement aligns strikingly with David Lodge's definition of metonymy: "representing the whole by parts, parts which are contiguous (because they belongto a larger complex of phenomena taking place at the same time) ratherthan similar."2 The metonymic stylist-inductive, syntagmatic, denotative, prosaic-is finely represented by both Hemingway and his self-acknowledged mentor,Mark Twain, either of whom discovers meaning through the artful accumulation-or conjunction-of vivid images and incidents. The strongest chapter in C. Carroll Hollis' Language and Style in "Leaves of Grass" concludes with the assertion that Walt Whitman "is the best metonymic poet in the business" (p. 203). Along the way, Hollis mentions both Hemingway and Twain, whose "paratactic" styles began, he claims, withWhitman. Quoted as an exemplary poem-in its entirety-is "There WasA Child Went Forth," which the author sees as a model of the young Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 17, Number 3, Fall 1986, 337-345 338 Douglas Babington Whitman's innovative genius. Like others in the 1855 edition, this poem challenges itsown generic identity bystringing phrases into unwieldy yetgraceful verses and by inserting consecutive dots (not ellipses) to indicate breath pauses fororal reading. Hollis admires Whitman's ability artistically tochallenge Victorian America ("the lovely surprise of the 'sow's pink-faint litter'") and suggests, in a persuasive moment of linguistic sleuthing, that the semicolon which concludes line 8 is very deliberately placed in order simultaneously to distinguish and fuse the child's nonhuman and human encounters. Most remarked, however, is the poem's abundance of metonymic language and dearth of metaphoric language, which leads Hollis to the controlling thesis of his study: that Whitman "was at his confident best, in the years from 1855 to 1860, when writing in the metonymic mode" (p. 194). Hollis contends that, apart from the larger metaphor of Leaves of Grass itself, Whitman consciously abjured the semantic process of selection - or similarity -in favor of combination-or contiguity. Hollis' theoretical elaboration includes references not only to Lodge but also to Lacan, Freud, Burke, Jakobson and Bloom. Tightly packed but stimulating, the chapter on metonymy leads to a harsh judgment of Whitman's post-Civil War poetry. Hollis concludes his book by performing linguistic autopsies on the likes of "The Mystic Trumpeter," noting, correctly, the poet's "entrapment in an elaborate, nonconversational, heavily Latinate, intentionally complicated style" (p.224). Hollis is a literary detective, indefatigably concerned with what he calls "those seven traditional investigative questions: who, whom, what, when, where, why,and how" (p. 27). He presents evidence with precision and aplomb, but the analytical method employed is daunting, since he scans stanzas with an odd collection of symbols: x means an auxiliary, N stands for a negative,d is the demonstrative pronoun, etc., etc. The result, by his own admission, resembles "military secret code," and often his conclusions are anticlimactic: "In a somewhat loose and offhand sense, it might be said that less than halfof the words ... are devoted to the informational" (p. 245). Nevertheless, the meticulously compiled tabulations, which furnish the percentages of lines with Romance-Latin vocabulary in Whitman's early poetry (12.6%)and in his late poetry (21.5%),lead to significant, though overwrought, conclusions: Whitman eventually lost the urgent, enchanted, American voice which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 337-345
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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