The Broken Body Politic

My paper topic has proved quite perplexing. While relating Whitman and Ginsberg in class didn’t seem so hard, there is surprisingly little literary criticism is done comparing the two men. Whitman’s legacy is complex and multifaceted to say the least; so far in my research the Whitman we know today seems equal parts man and myth. This convoluted legacy seems to also be a source of frustration for some of the writers who have looked back to Whitman as a literary forefather. Especially true for modern queer poets, it can be difficult to reconcile Whitman’s ecstatic love of America and all it entails with the America we live in today. Whitman’s concept of the body politic linked the political body with the intimate body in an inextricable way; what message does that send to the marginalized homosexuals of today? Those who have been forbidden by the state to marry and until recently were diagnosed by the state as mentally ill.

Walt Whitman envisioned an America we are only just beginning to work toward over a hundred years later. Often considered a visionary poet of his time, Whitman recognized the interconnectedness of the world around him and realized that this vision must be recognized in order to save the country. But Whitman could not save the country, not from the civil war and not from the conformity, consensus, conservatism that culminated in the tranqulized 50’s.When Whitman wrote, homophobia was just beginning to become an issue of public angst and debate; within only a few years after his death homosexuality was listed as a certifiable mental disorder; by the 50’s homosexuality was considered not only a mental but moral flaw of the worst kind, grounds for alienation and marginalization.

However, Whitman’s vision was never abanonded and ultimately his ideas have been carried into the current era by poets such as Ginsberg who asked in anger, whatever happened to the Whitmanian ideal? Whatever happened to that America? By exploring the ways the country had abandoned its old ideals and created useless division and fear, poets like Allen Ginsberg revived and revised Whitman’s vision of a unified America and carried it into the future, into the arms of a much more open and accepting generation who was willing to try once more to restore the body politic.

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