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Posts Tagged ‘Walt Whitman’

Please Hire Walt Whitman, and Other News

May 12, 2014 | by

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The guy needs a job. Portrait of Whitman by Thomas Eakins, 1887.

  • In 1847, Charles Dickens founded a “home for homeless women”: he “flung himself into organizing every detail of it, from the food to the flower garden, and the piano around which the women would gather for wholesome evening entertainment … when he learned London society was particularly shocked about the piano, [he] spread a rumor that there would not just be one but many pianos, one for each woman.”
  • And in 1863, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a recommendation letter for Walt Whitman, who sought a government clerkship: “He is known to me as a man of strong original genius, combining, with marked eccentricities, great powers & valuable traits of character: a self-relying large-hearted man, much beloved by his friends; entirely patriotic & benevolent in his theory, tastes, & practice.”
  • A look at Alt Lit, “an online writing community that emerged in 2011 and harnesses the casual affect and jagged stylistics of social media as the basis of their works … Its members have produced a body of distinctive literature marked by direct speech, expressions of aching desire, and wide-eyed sincerity. (‘language is so cool. i can type out these shapes and you can understand me,’ or ‘Yay! Dolphins are beautiful creatures and will always have a wild spirit. I have been very lucky because I have had the awesome experience of swimming with dolphins twice.’)”
  • The problem (or at least a problem) with superhero movies: “the visual and rhythmic sameness of the films’ execution … Despite their fleeting moments of specialness, The Avengers, the Iron Man and Thor and Captain America films, the new Spider-Man series and Man of Steel treat viewers not to variations of the same situations … but to variations of the same situations that feel as though they were designed, choreographed, shot, edited and composited by the same second units and special effects houses, using the same software, under the same conditions … Shots of people fighting inside and atop collapsing and burning structures all feel basically the same.”
  • Misha Defonseca’s 1997 Holocaust memoir, which sold millions of copies in Canada and Europe, is entirely fabricated; a court has ordered Defonseca to return $22.5 million.
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The Illustrated Walt Whitman

May 8, 2014 | by

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Beautiful/Decay has a striking selection of images from Allen Crawford’s illustrated, hand-lettered new edition of Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” a long poem included in Leaves of Grass. Crawford writes in the introduction,

I’ve tried to make the vigor of “Song of Myself” tangible. I’ve attempted to liberate the words from their blocks of verse, and allow the lines to flow freely about the page, like a stream or a bustling city crowd. The text and imagery in this book are intended to be in keeping with Whitman’s unfurnished sensibility … Whitman’s verse concerns itself with epic sweeps and grand gestures, which means including nearly everything and everyone. Walt did indeed contain multitudes, and I had to follow his lead if I was going to properly serve his words. At times, this could prove exasperating: Keeping up with Whitman’s torrents of people and places sometimes felt like riding a bee-stung bison down the aisle of a bus. I found that in order to add anything at all to Whitman’s panorama of people and places, I had to add a dimension of my own. Events in my daily life affected my approach to each spread, and the Philadelphia of today seeped into the Philadelphia of Whitman’s day. Thus, you’ll find a variety of contemporary or near-contemporary images in this book. Not doing so would have been a disservice to Whitman’s work, which attempts to create a new form of verse for The Here and The Now.

You can see more of his work here.

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What We’re Loving: Dead Poets, Dead Magazines, the Dead Zoo Gang

April 4, 2014 | by

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A still from Jean-Pierre Léaud’s 1958 audition for The 400 Blows.

In December of 1891, Walt Whitman contracted pneumonia. He was by then a celebrity poet and his deteriorating health had for a long time been media manna. The New York Times sent a reporter to Camden in 1888, and updates on Whitman’s health were published continually over the next few years—see 1890’s “Walt Whitman Has a Bad Cold.” By 1891, the end was within sight, and the paper published daily dispatches with headlines like “Walt Whitman Slowly Dying,” “Walt Whitman Still Lingering,” and “Walt Whitman About the Same.” Readers were made privy to such personal details as Whitman’s caloric intake (two oysters one day; a mutton chop another), his mindset (“he is perfectly rational”), and his doctor’s solemn belief that Whitman would last but a handful of hours more. He died on March 26, 1892. —Zack Newick

The best part of The 400 Blows is when Jean-Pierre Léaud ad libs an intake interview at reform school. Over the weekend a friend sent me the film test that got him the part. You can just feel Truffaut’s excitement at having found the child actor who would become his alter ego. The kid is pure heartbreaking charm. —Lorin Stein

Every couple of years, I revisit this documentary on the late broadcaster Victor Packer—hands down, one of the best things I have ever heard on the radio. Packer was, to put it mildly, a man of tremendous energy and varied interests. The portrait that emerges, by the Yiddish Radio Project, is that of an eccentric—but also of another era. It’s twelve minutes very well spent. (Packer, incidentally, is voiced by Christopher Lloyd.) —Sadie Stein

In “The Dead Zoo Gang,” a novella-length article published on The Atavist, Charles Homans tells the story of a group of international thieves known for robbing unlikely targets: taxidermists, antiques dealers, and natural history museums. They steal rhino horns to sell to buyers in Asia, and it’s been the work of law enforcement agents across the world to catch them—a difficult task, mainly because the thieves all seem to hail from an impenetrable subset of an already insular and poorly documented community, the Irish Travellers. Homans’s slow-building depiction of this community fascinates me. The Travellers are Roma-like nomads that exist on the outskirts of Irish society; they move from town to town in their trailers, congregating just once a year for, among other things, wedding celebrations so raucous they spawned a reality series, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. They speak a patois of Irish Gaelic and English and are organized in wildly complicated extended-family groups. And, most important, some of them—patriarchs whose net worth is estimated to be between 275 and 690 million dollars—appear to run scams and criminal activities (to say nothing of the odd legitimate business) on every continent except Antarctica. This a deep rabbit hole, but you won’t regret following it to its conclusion. —Tucker Morgan Read More »

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Seeing Is Believing

November 26, 2013 | by

idaholarge

Sandpoint, Idaho.

ROBINSON

No, a mystical experience would be wasted on me. Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me. One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that there are two sides to your encounter with the world. You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision. 

INTERVIEWER

How would one learn to see ordinary things this way?

ROBINSON

It’s not an acquired skill. It’s a skill that we’re born with that we lose. We learn not to do it.

—Marilynne Robinson, the Art of Fiction No. 198

 

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The Immortality Chronicles, Part 6

September 23, 2013 | by

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What have we not done to live forever? Adam Leith Gollner’s research into the endless ways we’ve tried to avoid the unavoidable is out now as The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever. Over the past six weeks, this chronological crash course has examined the ways humankind has striven for, grappled with, and dreamed about immortality in different eras throughout history. This week explores the nineteenth century. The final installment will run next Monday.

The only secret people keep
Is Immortality.

—Emily Dickinson, poem number 1748

Last week, Google launched Calico, a new company dedicated to fighting “aging and associated diseases.” The idea of aging as a curable disease (rather than a fact of life) can be traced back to the work of Charles Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817–94), the first medical scientist to make the idea of comprehending—if not controlling—aging a respectable aim.

Not much remembered today, Brown-Séquard was the chair of physiology at the Collége de France, one of the most prestigious appointments in nineteenth-century medicine. He is still known for successfully describing Brown-Séquard syndrome, a paralysis caused by severed spinal cords. His late-period research, however, occupies one of the more bizarre footnotes in medical history: toward the end of a distinguished career, he stunned the scientific community by announcing that he’d found a glandular elixir of eternal youth.

His speech on June 1, 1889, at the assembly of Paris’s Société de Biologie, is widely considered to mark the commencement of gerontology. (Gerontology, from geron, meaning “old man” in Greek, is the systematic study of aging.) Most members of the society were in their seventies, as was the swarthy, six-foot-four, bushy-bearded gentleman onstage. In unscheduled introductory remarks, Brown-Séquard confessed that his natural vigor had declined considerably over the last decade.

At that time, many scientists felt that old age was not a natural phenomenon, so a murmur of commiseration rippled through the room. Those graying authorities knew full well what it meant to grow elderly and infirm, nodding as Brown-Séquard lamented his own chronic pain—the lassitude, the insomnia, and, most delicate of all, the decline of his manliness. He had a pretty young wife, he was rich, successful, accomplished—et quand même. Read More »

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When Baseball Isn’t Baseball

May 15, 2013 | by

In Ivan Weiss’s trailer for Bull City Summer, guest photographer Alec Soth says, “What I’m doing here isn’t about the game of baseball.” Soth isn’t the first project participant to say this (or words to that effect). The notion has been with us virtually since Bull City Summer was conceived, more than two years ago. It has since grown into an informal slogan.

It’s curious to say that a project about a baseball team, set in and around a baseball park, isn’t about baseball. But in fact, the diamond has long refracted our attention outward from itself: Walt Whitman compared baseball to America’s laws and Constitution; more recently, Michael Chabon wrote, in Summerland, “A baseball game is nothing but a great slow contraption for getting you to pay attention to the cadence of a summer day.”

The “summer day” part is a little too pastoral for me (the vast majority of games are at night, anyway), but Chabon is right that a ballgame, with its pauses and blank spaces built around what Whitman called the “snap” and “fling” of the game’s energy and action, encourages you to take in everything around it—everything that “isn’t about the game of baseball,” as Soth says. Chabon and Soth are getting at why we call baseball the national pastime instead of the national sport. Read More »

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