Response 3: Walt Whitman

DUE: September 24, 2013

Focus your third response on "Song of Myself" or "A Song for Occupations." It will be easy to choose a target that's too broad, so work on narrowing your response down to a particular point, theme, metaphor, set of repetitions, or manageable passage(s) from the text. You could also focus your response on Whitman's writing in Specimen Days, Michael Warner's introduction, or James Gleick's history of the telegraph; however, make sure that you are also discussing in depth Whitman's writing. For example, if you choose to respond to Warner's introductory essay, either affirming or questioning something he concludes, you could then find and analyze evidence in Whitman's poetry to back up your claim.

Here are a few prompts if you're having trouble getting started, but there is no expectation that you follow these strictly:

  • You could say that Whitman's litanies or catalogs are an information management tool, i.e. just one way that his writing tries to encompass unfiltered human experience. Choose a catalog (there is one in section 8, 15, and 33 of "Song of Myself" and one in "A Song for Occupations") and consider why Whitman wrote it as he did. Why did he choose that arrangement of items? Or a particular grouping of images and words? Or a certain set of repeated phrases and rhythms?
  • Gleick writes about some transformative effects of the electric telegraph. Choose one or two effects and find echoes of this new technology in Whitman's poetry or prose. Remember that the telegraph was more than a specific device. Electric telegraphy represented a set of revolutionary concepts. For example, "the telegraph did begin to turn human society, for the first time, into something like a coherent organism" (Gleick 126, CR pg. 54). You could work with the assigned sections, or branch out into other poems or sections from Leaves of Grass that were not assigned.
  • In "Song of Myself," Whitman writes "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself" (section 51). Looking at his diary entries printed in the course reader, do you observe any contradictions or differences between the autobiographical Whitman of Specimen Days and the multi-selved Whitman of Leaves of Grass? What about similarities--any resonances or consistencies, in his attitude toward knowledge or information?

Post your response in the comments below, and be sure to save your work in a separate document first. Just in case. As a reminder, here are the response guidelines as they appear in the syllabus.

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