Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meditation and Poetics - 64 (Whitman - 7)


                                  [Walt Whitman and Bill Duckett, 1886 - Photograph - Lorenzo F Fisler

Gregory Corso: Al, excuse me, how did the Russians take that book (Leaves of Grass). They don’t mention his homosexuality, you know, but they..

AG: No, nor in America was that mentioned. 

Gregory Corso:  (.. did read and admire him..)

AG: Actually, see, until this year [1978], there never was any real documentation of Whitman's erotic life. There is a document published in Gay Sunshine Interviews (in Gay Sunshine magazine),which is an account by Gavin Arthur of San Francisco, the late Gavin Arthur, who had slept with Edward Carpenter.. (who was a post-Victorian, Theosophist, free-love, early Gay Lib, philosopher, (and) former tutor to the Royal Family's children in England, who had visited Whitman). So Gavin Arthur slept with Carpenter and Carpenter had slept with Whitman

Gregory Corso: He made it with the guy who slept with Whitman..

AG: Under the coverlet. Edward Carpenter explained that Whitman had blown Carpenter when Carpenter was a young man. So that was, I think, the first documentation  (which is kind of interesting, that Whitman had been able to - not hide, but - not assert his gross physical situation - if it were to be considered gross - as it was in those days). I always thought that because he couldn't assert his gross physical situation, the emotions then had to be generalized, disguised even, but generalized into comradeship, adhesiveness, empathy, sympathy, universal compassion, then he had to include women, (and) then he had to include everybody, if he was going to cover himself as a theorist…

(But) on the other hand, he's trickier than that. It isn't just a psychological ploy.And when I use terms like "cover", "closet", "psychological ploy",  I don't mean to be insulting. I'm just using common, somewhat vulgar, vocabulary for suggesting the directions that Whitman took to resolve a very complicated social problem and artistic problem and psychological problem and balance things out with a good deal of intelligence. Yeah?

Student: So, in a sense, he was writing for a gay (audience)

AG: Yeah. 

Student: (But secretly...)

AG: I don't know if he had any secret poems. He was trying to extend what was public, as far as possible. He was trying to extend the private into the public, to celebrate himself, or "self", or "Person" (with a capital "P", is his word). He intended to be a bodhisattva poet, that is, a national poet. He intended it [Leaves of Grass] to be an American bible, a bible of American emotions, a bible of the possibilities of emotion in America, or a bible of latent emotions which should be brought out forth (into the) public. He says that over and over again - that he wants to create "comrades", "camerados", or large-bodied healthy men and women. So he's trying to create, he's writing his prophecy, he's writing up his fantasy of what he wants America to be like, what he wants Person to be like, what he wants lovers to be like, what he wants the relations between men to be like, and he even bases a whole politics on that. 

[Audio for the above can be found here, beginning at approximately twenty-four-and-a-half minutes in, and concluding at approximately twenty-eight-and-a-half minutes in]

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