Tuesday, June 9, 2015

If Whitman supplies the hand that the soldier now lacks, however, he also provides the sight that the soldier dare not use: he "dares not look on the bloody stump," but Whitman does and we as readers do with him. In doing so, and in making us do so with him, Whitman supplies the recognition the soldier, token of the People, cannot or dares not supply for himself. That recognition is now one of dismemberment and disunion, which is why the People's innocent lack of self-knowledge has been replaced by a fear of self-knowledge. But the recognition, the compulsion Whitman imposes on himself and us to look, itself supplies a compensatory -- and substitutional -- wholeness. If the soldier cannot complete the visual circuit between himself and his maimed body, a circuit which would provide him with at least some psychological unity even though it would require acknowledgement of his having lost a hand, the poet can complete that circuit for him. If the People cannot acknowledge their division, and thus end up internalizing it, the poet can provide the acknowledgement and thus offer a means of possible amelioration and reunification.

- Whitman Possessed: Poetry, Sexuality, and Popular Authority, Mark Masla