Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Democratic Vistas

Okay, here it goes.... I had a very dfficult time trying to wade through the verbose and pretentious writings of Walt Whitman in Democratic Vistas. Gasp if you will, but I did not enjoy the point of his ramblings. As I understand him in this essay, he is theatrically lamenting the demise of American society. He complains bitterly of the superficiality that permeates American life and considers people to morally bankrupt. He does make a point of comparing the industrialized world with "Nature" and criticizes the tendency of the U.S. to subdue nature to the artificial world. He points out the irony in belonging to one of the most wealthy and desireable countries to live in with it rather shallow soul. Whitman stresses the importance of what is to come rather than what has already passed. I found some of his ideas a bit eerie at times, in light of the recent attack on the World Trade Centre. For instance, "Subjection, aggregation of that sort, is impossible to America..." and "...the republic must soon...dominate the world." Perhaps I am pulling these quotes out of context. Perhaps this is not what Walt meant and I have failed to grasp it. Whitman criticizes what he sees as the lack of growth and the enfeeblement of the moral conscience and offers the explanation that the answer lies in Nature. I think this is a considerable oversimplification on his part. Dashing people out to the countryside to breath in the fresh air on a regular basis is not the cure for a morally depraved world. He also tries to tie everything into a grand idea/theory/spirituality that supercedes everything, which comes off sounding like a cheap knock-off of Buddism. I don't know if there is one grand master plan, several or even none. Maybe none of this is destined to make sense and fit nicely together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Is it humanity's nature to seek out a continuous fabric to represent life? I realize everyone, to some degree, has a fear of the unknown. I pose the question, What if the unknown is the point? But I digress and feel myself becoming esoteric. Walt Whitman's discussion of democracy is not what you would expect. He does not discuss the pros and cons of democracy or even really define it except to say that it is an IDEA. Maybe he should have argued that democracy is an IDEAL. I take offence to his claim that America=Democracy. I find that there are plenty of examples in their own backyard where this is decidedly not the case. Perhaps democracy really is in its infancy, as is history and nature. We can toss ideas around forever, but in the end, i don't know if we are capable of realizing all that Walt Whitman asks of us.

After reading some of the blogs of some of my classmates, I was glad to see that I was not the only one who found Whitman hard to read. I also agree with Alicia who argues against Whitman who says that we are "vulgar" for focusing on material goods. Really, who is he to make that kind of a judgement? Did he really turn down all those royalties he reaped from his books? Did he donate all the proceeds to charity? Or better yet, did he use the money for forest conservation? I also agree with Agnesa who writes disagrees with Whitman's view that we should focus on the future. I once had a very smart Geography professor who believed it was the responsibility of his generation to clean up the mess they made. Hoping and praying that your future generations are going to be able to make do with the world you have left them is a bit selfish, to say the least. Focusing on the here-and-now is just as important as the future. It could also be that I just like to agree with anyone who disagrees with Whitman.