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Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman

Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman American Literature era’s two most prominent national media—print journalism and oratorical address—Whitman soon resolved to fashion a revolutionary expressive form that would combine the two, accommodating both the physical immediacy he revered so much in oratory and the general availability of print.2 By 1855 he had developed an idiom of selfpresentation capable of the most intimate prodding and solicitation yet whose often thrilling interpellating effects depend precisely upon the mutual anonymity of author and reader. ‘‘This hour I tell things in confidence,’’ says the narrator of ‘‘Song of Myself.’’ ‘‘I might not tell everybody but I will tell you.’’ 3 Tugging flirtatiously against the generic inclusiveness of the anonymous ‘‘you’’ in these lines is the sly suggestion that we are, each of us, selected for the poet’s confidences. From anonymity to selective intimacy, this swift telescoping of address is perhaps the signature motion of the 1855 Leaves of Grass, and it is certainly the place where an examination of the coy solicitousness of Whitman’s carefully molded persona ought to begin. For here as elsewhere in Whitman’s corpus, we are offered the strange pleasure of being solicited by an author who, while admitting he does not and cannot ‘‘know’’ http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Literature Duke University Press

Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman

American Literature , Volume 73 (1) – Mar 1, 2001

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2001 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0002-9831
eISSN
1527-2117
DOI
10.1215/00029831-73-1-85
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

American Literature era’s two most prominent national media—print journalism and oratorical address—Whitman soon resolved to fashion a revolutionary expressive form that would combine the two, accommodating both the physical immediacy he revered so much in oratory and the general availability of print.2 By 1855 he had developed an idiom of selfpresentation capable of the most intimate prodding and solicitation yet whose often thrilling interpellating effects depend precisely upon the mutual anonymity of author and reader. ‘‘This hour I tell things in confidence,’’ says the narrator of ‘‘Song of Myself.’’ ‘‘I might not tell everybody but I will tell you.’’ 3 Tugging flirtatiously against the generic inclusiveness of the anonymous ‘‘you’’ in these lines is the sly suggestion that we are, each of us, selected for the poet’s confidences. From anonymity to selective intimacy, this swift telescoping of address is perhaps the signature motion of the 1855 Leaves of Grass, and it is certainly the place where an examination of the coy solicitousness of Whitman’s carefully molded persona ought to begin. For here as elsewhere in Whitman’s corpus, we are offered the strange pleasure of being solicited by an author who, while admitting he does not and cannot ‘‘know’’

Journal

American LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2001

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