Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Further Exploration: Reviews

The post I intend to develop further is the one pertaining to reviews. There is a great deal of criticism available to analyze, and I am interested in how such an initially controversial work became part of the canon and changed our expectations of poetry. I've considered approaching this chronologically, just tracking shifts in the reception of Leaves of Grass over the years to recognize patterns, etc. but that approach isn't set in stone yet. In my first entry about reviews, what stands out to me the most is Whitman's conviction about the importance of his work to the future of American writing, and the equally strong conviction on the part of the naysayers that his work threatens the definition of poetry. History appears to have vindicated both of these judgments, so the question I most want to answer is "what does this mean?" but it's far too broad in scope for both my time constraints and my expertise. Considering the reactions of reviewers, including Whitman himself, what's more radical, his form or content? Once he demolished the boundaries between high culture and low culture, language and song, intellectual labor and manual labor, writer and reader, individual and multitude, nature and culture, could there be any going back? On a somewhat related note, I wonder whether Whitman's work is so celebrated now that people judge other poetry by his standards, to the exclusion of other traditions or innovations; has his approach been swallowed up and regurgitated by the very literary establishment he defied?

"What does it mean?!"

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