Catastrophic thinking: the Whitman-Hughes Alliance

So I am trying to get a head start on my final paper for this course and I’m trying to generate ideas on how I believe Langston Hughes acts as an extension of this umbrella that Whitman embodies as a poet. Stay with me people….

Now, I know it may seem far-fetched, but hear me out. In studying Whitman and how he (if at all) attempts to connect the American experience to the Native American history and tradition, I found an ample amount of similarity in what Hughes attempts to do for African-Americans. For example, there are hints of Whitman throughout Hughes poetic license to include cataloging and his attitude in the presence of crisis and/or recovery.

More so, in class I do believe, there was a suggestion made that what comes off as Whitman’s failed attempt to connect and understand the Native American experience, his failure to be in touch with his history is what leads critics to believe that Whitman lacks commitment to any given thing. However, I believe that it is that very same notion that allows Whitman to be the pioneer of such great poetics, to symbolize and embody America. I don’t think that I believe that Whitman can both commit to a particular thing and remain what he represents now, which is a transnational, universal, omnipresent, “I am large” poet and literary figure.

Moving forward and drawing from my initial assertion that Langston Hughes stems from this umbrella that Whitman creates, Hughes does for the African-American voice and experience what Whitman cannot. Hughes makes a commitment where Whitman can’t or won’t. He speaks to the history and tradition of African-Americans. He searches for a connection. He understands the cultural beliefs.
SN>>>I think Neruda does this as well for the Latin American experience.
I would like to examine how Whitman’s “failure” permits authors such as Hughes and Neruda to commit and represent larger concepts in relation to other contemporary poets of their time as well as other poets who have derived from Whitman’s cannon.

I know this a very broad and generalized overview of my ideas, but this is my starting point.

What do you think? Is this catastrophic thinking?? I am VERY open to suggestions, criticisms…:)

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2 Responses to Catastrophic thinking: the Whitman-Hughes Alliance

  1. Joshua Goddard says:

    Nope, I don’t think it’s catastrophic thinking at all Kiwanee. I understand a lot of the debate surronding Whitman and his apparent lack of commitent to various causes, and I think those are legitimate criticisms. Commitments in and of themselves are not bad things; yet, I feel that once someone commits to something, they run a risk of mentally pigeonholing themselves into that commitment and acquiring tunnel vision. Critics may say what they will, but I would find it hard to agree with anyone who would posit that Whitman was all about tunnel vision and a fixed cultural perspectives.

    However, I don’t have any qualms believing that Whitman was unable to totally represent the multitude of cultural voices that comprised America, because I think this is a given for anyone who tries to empathize with another person, much less a group of people. No matter how hard you try to “walk a mile in anothers shoes” (and how hard Whitman tried is certainly up to debate) you’re never going to “be” that person or group and understand the totallaty of their experiences. So misunderstandings and shortcomings are maybe implicit when trying to take someone else’s point of view, but should the possibilty of failure have prevented Whitman from trying to understand cultural perspectives that he didn’t, and maybe never could, entirely understand? That’s another question I suppose the critics wrangle with, but asking ourselves these sorts of questions certainly wouldn’t be catastrophic.

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