The Gossip of Flames: Becoming Opposite Equals in Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance . . . . Always substance and increase, always sex,
Always a knit of identity . . . . always distinction . . . always a breed of life.
[3]

In today’s lecture, I am going to address two seemingly simple questions:

1. How does Whitman’s poetry work in “Song of Myself”?

2. What does Whitman’s poetry mean in “Song of Myself”?

I believe that the answer to the first question, how does it work, is crucial to understanding the answer to the second question, what does it mean, perhaps as much as for any poet before or after Whitman. As we have progressed more than halfway through “Song of Myself”, we have all noticed that Whitman does not shy away from incorporating big questions, about good and evil, life and death, sexual ecstasy and brutal violence.

Continue reading The Gossip of Flames: Becoming Opposite Equals in Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

In a Pandemic, We Need Democratic Deliberation More Than Ever

As our plague year lengthens–we are but halfway through and already the toll of American dead is 200,000–it becomes ever clearer that COVID-19 is not just a threat to our lives and health, but to our democratic institutions as well. What these often have in common is the attempt to muzzle the political bedrock of our deliberative democracy: public debate of public policy.

Continue reading In a Pandemic, We Need Democratic Deliberation More Than Ever

On teaching Achebe teaching on Conrad

Just got done giving a lecture on Achebe’s “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” I’m not sure if there’s a single more necessary essay than Achebe’s when it comes to reading a work of literature and, in fact, I cannot imagine teaching Conrad without doing it from Achebe’s basic starting point. 

Though this semester I taught it in a course with several other professors, I have also taught it in Intro to Lit courses before. It’s always a bit of a struggle, as Achebe’s argument that we should exclude the text from the canon are strong, to say the least. 

Yet it is such a powerful pedagogical text, one that seems worth reading if only because it allows one to introduce Achebe’s succinct, powerful critique of representations of Africa. I also feel as if there are few texts that have a similar ability to undermine our assumptions about civilization and subjectivity. In effect, we still live in the world that Conrad’s novel critique; this past is not, in any real sense, past. Apocalypse now. 

What I’m left with is this: does continuing to reread Conrad, especially when it trades off with reading a book such as Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, simply replicate Achebe’s diagnosis at one remove?