Emerson/Whitman today

June 3, 2009 § Leave a comment

I am interested to see–and think through–vestiges of Emerson and Whtiman today: not only in  literature, film, and the arts, but also in other areas of culture. Keep an eye out for their presence; you might even find a seminar paper in one–or at least a provocative introduction or conclusion to one.

For example, the way Emerson was used for a Reebok commercial in the 1980s–very amusing and confusing, since it quoted him from “Self-Reliance” (on noncoformity) to sell shoes. I couldn’t find a copy of the commerical on YouTube, but did see Emerson come up in this blog discussion of baseball uniforms and designs. Go Figure.



Or the way Whitman (and his varieties of sexuality) show up in television [a controversial episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman] or even at the White House [Clinton gave Lewinsky a copy of Leaves of Grass, later parodied  in a New Yorker cartoon]. Or Marilyn Monroe reading him (does it stand in for the cigarette?). In film, “Down by Law” is a must-see, not just for its use of Whitman.

Here is one Emerson example I found: using Emerson on metaphor to discuss ‘dead metaphor’ as it relates to business culture.

Among contemporary writers, the novelist Richard Ford is possibly most Emersonian, even writing him into his novels. Emerson’s essays are #1 on his top 5 list.

Among poets, it might be more difficult to find a poet who isn’t in some way informed by Whitman (he seems that large); too easy, for example, is Ginsberg, though we will have a look at “Howl.” It is also worth thinking about poets who you think of in relation to Emerson. A.R. Ammons’ long poem “Garbage” is a case in point. Many critics will point to Wallace Stevens. Consider this poem by Roethke, particularly after reading Emerson’s “Experience.”


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