Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 | Author:

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking a lot about the body-soul  claims of Whitman: does the emphasis on body objectify (as surely Whitman’s attempt to write the body does since it becomes basically a ludicrously detailed blazon)?  do we have souls that are separable from our bodies, in ways that Brendon detailed through philosophical history in a post last week, or as common love songs or mainstream religions would tell us?  is there a self for each of us that can transcend our material worlds, the social experiences of living in bodies marked, experienced, and interpreted by race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, etc etc etc?  (I kind of think no, but I live in a house with an active and basically communicative ghost–a story for another day when you are trying to put off real class discussion). . .  No one has yet taken up the “act-poems” of the flesh in tonight’s reading, where not only body and soul but poem become one, but we’ll talk them through tonight.

So, the title of this post is related to the place in which I find myself writing it, which has me thinking more about body-soul: a few hours shy of class, sitting on the playroom floor beside the couch on which my little girl, feverish, is trying to sleep (cold water in a non-spill cup, iced eye mask, sleepytime cd playing close by) but mostly fretting about.  And here is where My Walt Whitman, the nurse Whitman, begins to return to me from the lonely exile into which I banished him this week when I reread “A Woman Waits for Me,” a poem marred at its core by what I experience as rape imagery.  So to the maternal, a soul (body?) Whitman often claimed for himself and that the boys he nursed (okay, now thinking of that image he gives of himself suckling) gave to him as well.

At 7, my daughter is just beginning to understand/believe that she just may be a separate essence and body from her mother.  (I know, a little late according to Lacan, but whatever.)  Though she is (too) fully her own person, the bond is physical in a most intense way.  When she is sleepy or sick, she wants to rest full-length on my body.  When she is sad or happy or honestly just close by, she likes to press her the bridge of her nose into the flesh of my arm, singing little songs (primary words: “love” and “squishy”– okay, very embarassing, but the point is that those are not concepts she sees as different from one another on a very true level.  To touch her body to another’s is more than she can stand.)  She runs her hands over my face, she closes them around my arms or bare legs, she lays her cheek against my face or neck.  The body and soul, love, are all one to her.  So, in conclusion, I believe Whitman.

I feel like I’m in danger of naturalizing the maternal or the mother-child bond, and to be clear, I don’t want to.  I don’t believe in it one whit, man.  I’m speaking about one maternal body, one child, one childlike bearded maternal-man looking for a love pure and essential and unconditional.  A sickbed edition.

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  1. Avatar of garyrichards garyrichards says:

    Dear Maternal Body: the humor theorist in me this semester has to groan: “I don’t believe in it one whit, man”?!?! I’m hoping that Caryn, Virginia, Allison, and Courtney will eagerly explain what our beloved friend Dr. Freud would say about that phrase. P.S. I hope J. is soon better.

  2. Avatar of abcwhitman abcwhitman says:

    Richards, I’m on the fence between slight modification and pun. Either way, I found your little joke and your post to be extremely cute, Dr. Scanlon. It’s easy (as twenty-somethings with our minds in the gutter) to forget that two bodies touching is not necessarily sexual. Though Whitman’s poetry certainly has its sensual moments, his message is much more profound than just “doing it.”

    Also, please illuminate us tonight on the rape imagery in “A Woman Waits for Me.” I’m curious.

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