Friday, February 4, 2011


In Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself section (15) a lot of interesting things are happening. He list different people and describes an activity they are doing for two and a half pages of the text. As we talked about in class this list is not just something that was constructed randomly; there is a method to his madness. On page 13 is in full swing of the list and he describes a bride followed by an opium eater, prostitute, and the President. Earlier in the verse it goes deacon, spinning-girl, farmer, and lunatic in that order. What I think Whitman was trying to say was that every person is themselves and is part of the cosmos, using Marcuse’s term. At end of the poem Whitman really sums up what he was trying to say.

“The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time . . . . the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am.” (Whitman 14)

I feel that Marcuse would generally agree with Whitman and the things he writes about. This statement is backed up by Marcuse’s quote on page 59, “With its code of forms and manners, with the style and vocabulary of its literature and philosophy, this past culture expressed the rhythm and content of a universe in which valleys and forests, villages and inns, nobles and villains, salons and courts were part of the experienced reality.” He goes on to talk about a pre-technological time that people that produced art had time to think. This quotes more than any I could find shows that Marcuse and Whitman are on the same page when it comes to this verse. Whitman’s last two lines say in non poetic terms, that everyone affects the universe and the universe affects you as a person. This means that every person whether it be the prostitute or the President is part of your world and all having meaning and a purpose. Marcuse believed that in the time where technology wasn’t as main stream the world was a better place. The thing is Walt Whitman lived in the time that Marcuse continuously talks about; a time where people appreciated nature and the power to think. Whitman not only lived in the time he had the presence of mind to realize it. He embraced the lack of business that Marcuse so proudly dislikes. Marcuse, I believe, would have been similar to Whitman if he lived in the same era. The thought of relaxing, thinking, and writing was what Marcuse preached in One-Dimensional Man.

Another way that Marcuse would admire Whitman is the way that Whitman doesn’t get absorbed in the media and mass production. Whitman doesn’t see people for consumers and producers like Marcuse is so afraid during his time. Marcuse talks about cosmos, as in all the universe as a whole. Whitman thinks the same thing at a different time. In his verse number 15 his last two lines are the most important when it comes to the message Whitman was trying to get onto the page. The universe is something that everyone has a role in producing. That’s what he meant in putting a long list together of people that exist in society. Marcuse also did not like the idea of nature being instrumentalities and this falls right into Walt Whitman’s lap. They both looked at nature as more than just a resource to produce something to be consumed just like the universe.

Overall, I feel that Walt Whitman and Marcuse are very similar in there thought process of the ideal world. The pre-technological era was the prime time to live for the both. Whitman actually lived during the time and Marcuse probably wished he did. The thought of the higher culture thinking and free from the economy is what Marcuse drives for. The two might not agree on every detail but I think the concept of the universe and cosmos is very similar. I don’t know exactly if I agree with the two of them. I’m still undecided because I feel the philosophy of all the people making an inward impression on me. The President, the farmer, the druggy, and the prostitute are all the same. The idea of this seems like a stretch to me. Maybe I am just not seeing the light but I am looking at it with an open mind. I hope to gain knowledge and come up with my own ideas just like Marcuse would say.


  1. I like this passage you pick from Whitman, and I think your analysis of what Marcuse would think about this particular passage has considerable merit: that is, he would see it as portraying people who have a more authentic access to nature than we do in our world. That's a great start.

    Now, I also think you're in danger of losing your way with Marcuse. "Marcuse believed that in the time where technology wasn’t as main stream the world was a better place. The thing is Walt Whitman lived in the time that Marcuse continuously talks about; a time where people appreciated nature and the power to think." The thing is, that this is a mostly false description of what Marcuse thinks. He does think that we need time to think, and he does think our understanding of nature needs to be transformed - but he is looking forward, not to the return of an old order, but the to the creation of a *new* order, which builds upon but also transcends current technological civilization.

    As I also noted on Kaeli's blog entry, accusing Marcuse of nostalgia is a smart line of attack - but it's also dangerous, because he is not any sort of conservative looking to return to some past state of being. He wants a *new* state of being, which borrows in some ways from the past, but also gets rid of the oppressive social order, the want, domination, and ugliness *of* that past social order.

    If you revise this, in other words, I think you need to work on your reading of Marcuse, *even though* your understanding of what his likely response to this actual passage would be is quite reasonable.

  2. Matt,

    I was actually planning to use that particular section for my essay as well, but I found it too long and erratic. Also, I couldn't find any obvious connections with Marcuse. That being said, I think you did a great job breaking down the poem and relating it to Marcuse's idea of the world as a whole.

    One thing that I was always told is to not assume how one author would react to another's work, as there are many factors that could go into an opinion. So for instance, instead of saying "Another way Marcuse would admire Whitman...", you can say "Another way I related Marcuse to Whitman...".

    Besides that, I think this is a very well structured essay, and you found the perfect quotes of Marcuse to use for analyzing this poem.