This semester I am also taking the Walt Whitman Seminar class, and one of the things that we’ve discussed is Whitman’s additions and revisions to Leaves of Grass. He released several editions of the text throughout his lifetime, adding in new work each time. Each new work was a response the changing world and ideologies around Whitman and in America. In this way, Whitman’s work was able to maintain a sense of relevancy and timeliness (though he rarely cites specific worldly events or things in his work). I really like his philosophy when it comes to revision; one of the theories that I’ve drawn from his work is that humanity is in constant revision. We will never reach a point of perfection because there is a consistency to progression and regression based on the cyclical nature of life. By being faced with struggles and regressions he’d encountered before, Whitman believed it to be a way to formulate a more clear identity of ourselves. We can’t not be who we were yesterday, and thus our identity comes from a formulation of who we were yesterday in conjunction with who we are today. Together, these two separate moments create a pathway for what our future will be.
I really like this philosophy in the context of Piers Plowman, which was also revised several times throughout its life as a manuscript. Each new revision was a response to the changing world and ideologies surrounding the manuscript. For example, the C manuscript (before 1385) is responsive to the Peasants Revolt. The text was able to survive and maintain a relevancy in Medieval culture because like Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, it was responsive and timely. I think the copious amounts of different manuscripts and its long, active life during its time speaks to the necessity of revision overall. For the necessary advancement of culture and ideology, it is wise and at some points necessary to look back and revise what has already existed. By evaluating who we were and who we are now are necessary to create a new pathway for the future.