Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective

Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective

Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective

Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman: A Transatlantic Perspective

Synopsis

Cultural Authority in the Age of Whitman puts narratives of cultural legitimation in nineteenth-century US literature in a transatlantic context. Exploring how literary professionalism shapes romantic and modern cultural space, Günter Leypoldt traces the nineteenth-century fusion of poetic radicalism with cultural nationalism from its beginnings in early romanticism to the poetry and poetics of Walt Whitman and Whitman's modernist reinvention as an icon of a native avant-garde.

Whitman made cultural nationalism compatible with the rhetorical needs of professional authorship by trying to hold national authenticity and literary authority in a single poetic vision. Yet the notion that his 'language experiment' transformed essential democratic experience into a genuine American aesthetics also owes much to Whitman's retrospective canonization. What Leypoldt calls Whitmanian authority is thus a transatlantic and transhistorical discursive construct that can be approached from four angles.

This book begins with an overview of transatlantic contexts such as the nineteenth-century literary field (Bourdieu) and the romantic turn to expressivism (Taylor). A detailed analysis follows on the development of Whitman's positions from the intellectual habitus and cultural criticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. A third section on Whitmanian authority is located within three conceptual fields that function as contact zones for European and American theories of culture: romantic notions of national style as a kind of music; place-centered concepts of national aesthetics; and traditional ideas about the aesthetic effects of democratic institutions. A final section on Whitman's reinvention between the 1870s and the 1940s discusses how the heterogeneous nineteenth-century perceptions of Whitman's work were streamlined into a modernist version of Whitman's nationalist program.

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