Title

Great Gray Poet or Great Gray Fool?Queries of Whitman's Legacy by Chris Adrian, Sherman Alexie, Andrea Dworkin, and Michael Cunningham

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Fall 2019

Journal / Book Title

College Literature

Abstract

This article analyzes counterintuitive uses of Walt Whitman by four contemporary US writers. Chris Adrian's Gob's Grief, Sherman Alexie's "Defending Walt Whitman," Andrea Dworkin's Mercy, and Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days break from common practice by displaying ambivalence or hostility toward Whitman, questioning his symbolic legacy rather than claiming heritage with him. I argue that their use of Whitman shows that the writers I discuss recognize that the form of twentieth and twenty-first century society presents philosophical and ethical problems with the re-use of longstanding liberal shibboleths, often associated with figures like Whitman. I compare Whitman's treatment by these authors to more conventional narrative uses, in which authors link their characters and narratives to a romantic American identity that Whitman symbolizes. The revisionist Whitman we see in Adrian, Alexie, Dworkin, and Cunningham interrogate this continual turning to Whitman, demonstrating important tensions within the contemporary US's self-conception.

Published Citation

Gonzalez, Jeffrey. "Great Gray Poet or Great Gray Fool? Queries of Whitman's Legacy by Chris Adrian, Sherman Alexie, Andrea Dworkin, and Michael Cunningham." College Literature, vol. 46 no. 4, 2019, p. 829-859. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/lit.2019.0035.

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