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A Desire Called AmericaBiopolitics, Utopia, and the Literary Commons$
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Christian P. Haines

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823286942

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823286942.001.0001

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The People and the People: Democracy and Vitalism in Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass

The People and the People: Democracy and Vitalism in Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass

Chapter:
(p.74) Chapter 2 The People and the People: Democracy and Vitalism in Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass
Source:
A Desire Called America
Author(s):

Christian P. Haines

Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823286942.003.0003

This chapter examines the relationship between politics and philosophy in Walt Whitman’s 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. It focuses on Whitman’s articulation of two different concepts of democracy: a vitalist version, based on the organic life of the nation, and a revolutionary version, based on transforming the political culture of the people for the sake of fulfilling the American Revolution. The chapter traces Whitman’s reception as a Spinozist (an inheritor of the radical philosophy of Baruch Spinoza), a pantheist, and a monist. It argues that this philosophical legacy enables Whitman to reimagine the nation as the common property of the people and to reconceive of national belonging in terms other than citizenship. The chapter pays particular attention to Whitman’s commitments to labor politics and the abolition of slavery.

Keywords:   abolitionism, biopolitics, democracy, labor, queer theory, Baruch Spinoza, utopia, vitalism, Walt Whitman

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