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On "I Hear It Was Charged Against Me"

Roger Asselineau

[Whitman] proclaimed the right to revolt and recommended permanent disobedience: "I hold up agitation and conflict"; "Resist much, obey little." . . . The danger of such a doctrine is that by depreciating and undermining institutions, it may eventually lead to anarchy. Whitman foresaw this objection and answered it in advance in "I Hear It Was Charged against Me". . . . The letter of the law mattered little to him. In his eyes, the only thing that really counted was the spirit of democracy. Brotherhood seemed to him to be a sufficient tie between men.

from The Evolution of Walt Whitman (Harvard UP, 1962; rpt. U of Iowa P, 1999), 2:150-151.

Tenney Nathanson

These lines offer an instance of the paradoxical anti-institutional institutionalism . . . central to Whitman’s work. Here, this ambivalent stance might be understood as a particular response to a particular predicament: Whitman is simultaneously seeking to establish a tradition of homosexual ritual and struggling to distinguish it from the entrenched mores and ceremonies of the dominant heterosexual culture. The strain involved in this adversarial stance, and more especially in the attempt to authorize it by romanticizing it, shows up in the oxymoronic notion of an institution devoid of institutional paraphernalia.

from Whitman’s Presence (New York UP, 1992), 417.

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