Conclusion



If it is the fate of the myth and symbol school to be defeated by its own reductionistic schema, that is not Walt Whitman's fault; Walt Whitman did all he could. Perpetually moving, polymorphisly perverse, in possession of an aesthetic that it nothing if not omnivorous - Whitman's poetry defies reductionistic criticism more completely and more joyously than perhaps any other body of work by an American writer. There is no single word which even hints at the multivalence of the Whitman persona, unless "pan-erotic" is a word. If it has any quality as distinct from its others, it is its capacity to attach - madly and tenderly - to almost anything.

This is important when considering the Whitman we encounter in Virgin Land, because Whitman is saying all the things that Smith would have him say; but he is saying more, and any serious consideration of Whitman must take into account the incessant auto-subversion of his words. Stability is a luxury of the East, but it is one which Whitman seeks, even in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, to undermine with connections between people - connections which are unstable because they take place over years and rely wholly on the mysterious connections between ink on paper and beautiful meaning. When, in Passage to India, Whitman inverts the relationship between the built and the un-built, he also inverts the role of the poem, which is not to subvert stable forms, but to capture (though mimesis) the instability of the un-built world thereby rendering it - if only for a moment, only for long enough to proclaim a "passage to you" - apparently stable. Passage to India articulates chaos, creating the illusion of stability. Crossing Brooklyn Ferry subverts stability thereby exposing it to be the illusion that it always was.

I think Whitman would have approved of the world wide web. It is full of things which are constantly changing and which are constantly making and unmaking their relationships to one another. It is huge and complex and dynamic, yet it is essentially a word in which the infinity of possible connections between ideas and between images and between idea-producers and idea-consumers has built itself into the most basic governing logic of the place. It is a world very much like Whitman's, in which "seas inlaid with eloquent gentle wires" make all the more possible and all the more mutable the connection between reader and text which he wanted so badly to insure. Each time you click on a hypertext link you remake the text which you are reading, you lay bare the inherent democratic nature of meaning-making which meaning-making has always covertly enjoyed. Whitman would be glad of that; and he would be glad, though not a bit surprised, that we continue to read, to ponder, and to be moved by his poetry. The technology in which he had so much faith, is finally beginning to meet him on his own term - to invest in the very medium which presents the poems the infinite, omnivorous capacity to cathect that was implicit in every line he wrote.