Masculine Landscapes: Walt Whitman and the Homoerotic Text

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Southern Illinois University Press, 1992 - Literary Criticism - 306 pages
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Scrutinizing the weave and texture of Walt Whitman's earliest poetry and fiction, the notebooks of 1845-54, the first edition (1855) of Leaves of Grass, and the Calamus poems, Byrne R. S. Fone demonstrates that from the beginning and throughout, Whitman's homoerotic muse, his "Fierce Wrestler", dictated the shape, tone, and message of the poetry. In this first full-length study of homosexual textuality--the homosexual text, the homosexual tradition--and Walt Whitman's central place within that tradition and within that textuality both as a participant in that textuality and as a creator of it, Fone dismisses as irrelevant the question as to whether Whitman actually had sex with a man. His interest lies elsewhere, in how Whitman's imagination fueled the poems. What, he asks, are the "consequences that homosexual desire had for Whitman's text"? To answer that question and to clearly discern how Whitman transformed homosexual desire into an informing aesthetic, Fone shows how Whitman's sexuality is reflected in the work. He identifies the definitive signs, symbols, metaphors, and structures unique to homosexual texts as he examines ways in which the social, emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, and sexual facts of homosexuality shape and define the text. Further, he places Whitman in the contexts of nineteenth-century literary/social homosexual life as well as in the context of homosexual fantasy as expressed in certain nineteenth-century texts. Fone deals with issues that "speak to the specific nature and the larger resonances of those textual elements Jacob Stockinger so suggestively described as 'homotextual.' More intriguing questions concern the paths--and the obstacles thereupon--thatWhitman took to the site where he could celebrate this substantial life and sing his manly songs". Noting that Whitman and others frequently speak as eloquently through what they choose not to say as through what they include in their works, Fone seeks to "listen to and translate the erotic voices, both hidden and evident, in Whitman's texts and to try to discern also the message of the silences that so enhance that remarkable voice, those remarkable voices". In so doing, he establishes homosexuality as a dominating metaphor and the primary subject of this "bard of comrades together".

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About the author (1992)

Byrne R. S. Fone is professor of English at the City University of New York. He is the author of Hidden Heritage: History and the Gay Imagination, numerous articles, and a novel American Lives.

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