Collage of Myself: Walt Whitman and the Making of Leaves of Grass

By Matt Miller | Go to book overview
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Whitman after Collage /
Collage after Whitman

After Whitman discovered his groundbreaking approach to literary composition he struggled with how to define and describe it, even in his notes to himself. The word collage had not yet been invented; nor did Whitman have recourse to related terms such as pastiche, montage, or found art. Lacking a critical lexicon for his creative method he worked with the tools at his disposal.1 In an early notebook often described as a kind of homemade dictionary he offers this puzzling definition for the Italian rifacimento: “riff acciamento-rumble (sort of mosaic work mixture mess.” The word, which Whitman likely encountered in reference to operas, refers to a modernization of a musical or literary artwork, and Whitman’s misunderstanding (there is no intrinsic mosaic-like quality to rifacimentos) seems to reflect his preoccupation with his evolving creative process.2 Introducing his prose collection, Specimen Days, he described a creative backstory in which he would “go home, untie the bundle [of notebook fragments], reel out diary

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