Leaving the M/Other: Whitman, Kristeva, and Leaves of Grass

By Beth Jensen | Go to book overview

1
1855 and 1856 Editions: Blissful Union

IN THE 1855 AND 1856 EDITIONS, THE POET REMAINS IN INTIMATE CONtact with nature. His often erotic entwinement with the physical world corresponds with the pre-subject's early existence with the M/other, before any sense of self or [other] develops. In these early poems, what will eventually be identified as the [abject]1 in the emerging ego's development has no effect on the poet. He embraces dung, disease, and death as he revels in his union with nature. The poet in the 1855 edition experiences nothing but physical sensation similar to the pre-subject before it has any inkling of self. Kristeva describes these early sensations as [jouis- sance,] an extreme pleasure she associates with the [orgasmic maternal body] ([A,] 147). Even though the term has no adequate translation in English, it does suggest the ecstasy of orgasm, as Juliet MacCannell notes in Feminism and Psycho- analysis:

[Jouissance] connotes the bliss of sexual orgasm. Psychoanalytically
jouissance is opposed to 'LACK'.… Kristeva only intimates or al-
ludes to a feminine jouissance, specified as 'maternal'. She assigns
jouissance to that portion of woman that exceeds the bounds of oedi-
pal laws, especially the law of language: it remains almost within her
range of vision and experience, but can never be articulated within
oedipus, where the woman is imprisoned.2

This intense orgiastic pleasure permeates the first two editions of Leaves of Grass as the poet finds himself, at times, in the throes of passion, experiencing almost unbearable pleasure in his union with nature. Numerous poems in the 1855 edition focus frequently on touch, such as [Song of Myself,] [The Sleepers,] and [I Sing the Body Electric,] all of which emphasize the erotic

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Leaving the M/Other: Whitman, Kristeva, and Leaves of Grass
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Acknowledgments 9
  • Introduction - Whitman's [Mother] 13
  • 1: 1855 and 1856 Editions: Blissful Union 30
  • 2: 1860 Edition: Ambivalent Struggle 55
  • 3: 1867 Edition: Mater Dolorosa 80
  • 4: 1871 and 1876 Editions: the Symbolic 99
  • Notes 112
  • Bibliography 128
  • Index 132
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