The lecture makes use of clips from Ric Burns’s film New York: A Documentary History, which does a marvelous job of offering both insightful commentary (including choice words from Allen Ginsberg) and wonderful period images.
We read Whitman’s poetry in the light of Tom Bender’s essay “New York as a Center of Difference,” presenting Whitman as a cosmopolitan thinker who embraces difference in a variety of different forms. Near the close of the lecture, we’ll listen to what is thought to be the one recording of Whitman reciting that survives, a 36-second wax cylinder recording of the poem “America,” published in the New York Herald in 1888:
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
[The last two lines, not in this recording, are:
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.]
You can listen to the recording here at whitmanarchive.org.
And we’ll close by thinking of Whitman as a realist, an inspiration to the painter Thomas Eakins. This gives me an excuse to talk about the French Realist painter Gustave Courbet (that’s “Realist” with a capital R) and to show his painting The Origin of the World (1866), currently on view at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris:
I’ll suggest that Courbet’s painting is analogous to Whitman’s poetry in terms of its shock value, using Le Printemps, painted by the “academic” artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau in the same year as Origin to offer a contrast:
This, by the way, is probably the painting that Edith Wharton was thinking of in The Age of Innocence, when she described the scandalous painting by Bougereau that Julius Beaufort has the “audacity” to hang in plain sight for his guests to see. But I’m getting ahead of myself …