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 Amerikanische Lyrik und Prosa des 19. Jahrhunderts
NietzscheIsDead Offline




Beiträge: 119

31.05.2005 19:40
Walt Whitman on Democracy antworten

Good afternoon across the ocean

Whitman understands history to be a radical process of change that moves in stages. He is highly attuned to the radically contingent nature of modern times and to the dizzying speed with which market forces and new forms of technology are progressively burying traditional ways of life. This view of how history unfolds animates his belief that cultural phenomena are ephemeral and thus capable of being destroyed and replaced by new kinds of practices. Whitman writes:

"While, current and novel, the grandest events and revolutions
and stormiest passions of history, are crossing today
with unparallel’d rapidity and magnificence over the stages
of our own and all the continents, offering new materials,
opening new vistas, with largest needs, inviting the daring
launching forth of conceptions of literature, inspired by
them, soaring in highest regions, serving art in its highest,
(which is only the other name for serving God, and serving
humanity,) where is the man of letters, where is the book,
with any nobler aim than to follow in the old track, repeat
what has been said before—and, as its utmost triumph, sell
well, and be erudite or elegant? (Complete Poetry)

Here Whitman describes the incredible forces which are tearing the old forms of life asunder, inspiring new literature and art, and rendering traditional views of knowledge (the “man of letters”) useless. Seen in this light, history is progressive, opening “new vistas” or ways of life that are fully compatible with the new, democratic era. Whitman links knowledge with the past, denigrating it for perpetuating old ways of life and,in contrast, lauds literature whose aesthetic properties better serve God and man. Inspired by vast changes taking place during his life, Whitman, like so many other nineteenth-century thinkers, is captivated by the idea that human beings can make their own history. Along with his dynamic conception of history, Whitman introduces a notion of historical will that provides human beings with the belief that they can will themselves beyond the past, transforming present ideals into future, concrete realities. Whitman understands all-too-well that history is radically contingent or, in more poetic terms, that “we sail dangerous seas of seething currents, cross and under-currents....”


NID
_____________________________________________

"Is not all life the struggle of experience, naked, unarmed, timid but immortal, against generalised thought?" (W.B.Yeats)

TemporarySilent Offline




Beiträge: 231

31.05.2005 22:00
#2 RE:Walt Whitman on Democracy antworten

Good evening, NID

Great to have you with us again,


we might expect that Whitman would come to the same conclusions about action in history as Marx:
that humans make history but not always as they choose.Instead, Whitman takes a much more optimistic and, consequently, more radical stance toward change. Speaking to the spiritually-inspired reader of Democratic Vistas, Whitman writes:


"You said in your soul, I will be empire of empires, overshadowing all else, past and present, putting the history of old-world dynasties, conquests behind me, as of no account — making a new history, a history of democracy, making old history a dwarf—I alone in inaugurating largeness, culminating time."



Whitman maintains the very confident belief that humans can make their future. The relationship between the past and the present is radically challenged by Whitman’s account of time.


kotc

Temp=)

¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
is it to be or not to be
and I replied:"so why ask me?"
_______________________________________

NietzscheIsDead Offline




Beiträge: 119

04.06.2005 02:48
#3 RE:Walt Whitman on Democracy antworten

Dear Temp,

The past, being dwarf-like, is of no account to the makers of the present. Whitman has no fear that the past will hamper the aspirations of those living in the present. Humansare neither bound by the mistakes nor the successes of their predecessors, nor are they chained to a historical process whose end is predetermined. They are instead free to act and create without historical restriction. Understood in the context of Whitman’s notion of history, contemporary American democracy is only the seed of a full, spiritual democracy that has yet to sprout. This new beginning, however, is imperiled. Whitman’s cultural critique is aimed at illustrating to Americans that they have not yet generated a uniquely American culture to complement the formal democratic institutions which they already possess. This new culture is essential for the democracy of the future, but its emergence has been impeded by the corrupting influence of older forms of European culture that continue to influence literature and the arts. He writes:

Never, in the Old World, was thoroughly upholster’d
exterior appearance and show, mental and other, built
entirely on the idea of caste, and on the sufficiency of mere
outside acquisition-never were glibness, verbal intellect,
more the test, the emulation-more loftily elevated as head
and sample-than they are on the surface of our republican
States this day. The writers of a time hint the mottoes of its
gods. The word of the modern, say these voices, is the
word culture.

Americans, it seems, are more European, more “cultured” in the pejorative sense of the word, than the Europeans themselves. Concerned with appearance rather than essence, hierarchy rather than equality, and refinement rather than sincerity, Americans appear to Whitman to be the embodiment of a particular conception of European aristocratic culture. He writes that this form of European culture is the “enemy” because it consists of practices and moral perspectives which are hostile to the democratic principle of equality and to a life of “simplicity” and “transparency,” to borrow two notions from the cultural critic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I invoke Rousseau in comparison to Whitman because, as I shall discuss in more detail below, they share a similar hostility toward an idea of aristocracy which includes notions of effeminacy, decadence, cosmopolitanism, falsity and inauthenticity. In lieu of what Whitman considers to be anexhausted aristocratic culture, he is convinced that American society is pregnant with an original, purely American and democratic culture that it can create ex nihilo in order to spiritualize an age that has lost its way.
Whitman’s distaste for a particular kind of aristocratic culture is linked to his position on conformity. Following in a long tradition of anti-democratic thinkers traceable back to Plato, Whitman believes that America suffers from conformity that is produced by its principle of equality. He thinks that most democracies level their citizens, stifling all that is great in them and reducing them to a mediocre, herd-like status.

kotl

NID


_____________________________________________

"Is not all life the struggle of experience, naked, unarmed, timid but immortal, against generalised thought?" (W.B.Yeats)

TemporarySilent Offline




Beiträge: 231

04.06.2005 03:01
#4 RE:Walt Whitman on Democracy antworten

In Antwort auf:

Whitman’s distaste for a particular kind of aristocratic culture is linked to his position on conformity. Following in a long tradition of anti-democratic thinkers traceable back to Plato, Whitman believes that America suffers from conformity that is produced by its principle of equality. He thinks that most democracies level their citizens, stifling all that is great in them and reducing them to a mediocre, herd-like status.

Dear NID

Whitman, however, does not believe that all forms of democracy need suffer the social effects of conformity. Ironically, in the case of the U.S., Whitman inverts the Platonic critique of democracy by arguing that it is in fact European aristocratic culture that has been contributing to rather than inhibiting the forces of conformity which he believes to pervade American society. Whereas we might expect, following Plato, that the culture of the best (aristos) would counter-balance the culture of the people (demos), we instead find that Whitman’s characterization of European aristocratic culture (what he calls simply “culture” below) leads
him to the opposite conclusion.

He writes:
...are not the processes of culture rapidly creating a class of
supercilious infidels who believe in nothing? Shall a man
lose himself in countless masses of adjustments, and be so
shaped with reference to this, that, and the other, that the
simply good and healthy and brave parts of him are
reduced and clipp’d away, like the bordering of box in a
garden? You can cultivate corn and roses and orchards
— but who shall cultivate the mountain peaks, the
ocean, and the tumbling gorgeousness of the clouds?


kotc

Temp=)


¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯
A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
is it to be or not to be
and I replied:"so why ask me?"
_______________________________________

NietzscheIsDead Offline




Beiträge: 119

04.06.2005 03:17
#5 RE:Walt Whitman on Democracy antworten

Dear Temp

In Antwort auf:

You can cultivate corn and roses and orchards— but who shall cultivate the mountain peaks, the ocean, and the tumbling gorgeousness of the clouds?

Refined aristocratic culture distracts democrats from themselves, persuades them to judge themselves only in reference to others, and thus subjects them to the worst kind of social conformity. Whitman is concerned that a culture such as this will prevent Americans from achieving literary greatness and thus the development of the spiritual democracy which he desires. In other words, Whitman thinks that only the elimination of aristocratic culture will permit America to give birth to a democratic one that, paradoxically, counteracts democratic leveling.
George Kateb has written the best explanation of Whitman’s paradoxical belief that there is some unique form of democratic culture that is anti-democratic in the sense that it curbs the conformity produced by the principle of equality. In, “Walt Whitman and The Culture of Democracy,” Kateb attempts to define loosely what Whitman means by democratic culture:
First, democratic culture is (or can be) the soil for the creation of new works of high art - great poems and moral writings, in particular. Second, democratic culture is (or is becoming) a particularist dress,
ceremonies, folk traditions, and historical memories. Third, democratic culture is (or can be) the soil for the emergence of great souls whose greatness consists in themselves beings like works of art in the spirit of a new aristocracy.

Although Kateb’s description of democratic culture is not Whitman’s per se, it captures the essence of what Whitman is trying to convey about spiritual democracy and helps us to unpack this peculiar concept of democracy.
When Kateb claims that democratic culture contains the “spirit of a new aristocracy,” he seems to be contradicting Whitman who clearly has no affinity for aristocratic culture. But, Kateb’s notion of “new aristocracy” is a distinct departure from Whitman’s critique of aristocratic culture. Kateb is referring to a form of individualism that is indeed aristocratic, but not of a refined or “cultured,” again in the pejorative sense, nature.


kotl

NID

_____________________________________________

"Is not all life the struggle of experience, naked, unarmed, timid but immortal, against generalised thought?" (W.B.Yeats)

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