Friday, January 13, 2012

Another gay teen suicide. Alan Helms, Take Note

This is my comment on the story, one of many comments. Anyone reading this and wanting to know more can go to my name and "Live Oak, with Moss" on Google. A great disappointment of my career is that professional gay teachers of criticism and theory did not embrace the joyous, liberating poetic sequence as Whitman wrote it.

Hershel Parker
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2012

This is heartbreaking. Let me tell you my story. In the 1990s I had a kind of “institutional power” as an editor of THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE. I could put texts into classrooms. I realized that Walt Whitman’s “Live Oak, with Moss” was an unknown sequence for which a complete manuscript survived. It told a story of homosexual love, fulfillment of that love, then loss of that love and a final regrouping and going on. It was almost a gay manifesto, and almost unknown, never before anthologized. I learned in the next years of young gay students who felt comforted and encouraged by the poem. It became a standard anthology piece. Now, what is the problem? I was attacked not by rabid homophobes who did not want Whitman to be outed as gay but by professional queer theory people who would not read what Whitman wrote. Instead, they derived a text the poems as they appeared in CALAMUS, where he had deliberately separated the sequence and put them, slightly altered, in places where you could not see the open love story. And because one little revision for CALAMUS mentioned the disapproval of the world these critics and theorists used their fabricated version of the sequence to drum into readers the idea that the sequence was about homosexual repression. Why would gays want students to see something negative instead of what Whitman wrote, which was joyous and life affirming, even after the loss of the first lover? You can look on Google for texts and discussions. My point here is that every gay person has an obligation to seize on whatever great literature is legitimately life-affirming and let young people cherish it and be nourished by it. Don’t let the professional controllers deny what is simple and brave and life-affirming.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this wonderful post. I have visited both the Whitman Homestead in Huntington, NY and Camden, NJ and both have almost nothing about Whitman's homosexual affairs on 'dsiplay'. When I broached the subject with the directors of both museums, I was met with hostility and rudeness. So much for Scholarly debates.

    Not sure if you know Arnie Kantrowitz [spelling?]--He was a Professor at the College of Staten Island (CUNY) for many years, and openly gay. He and other activists/scholars organized a protest against the Homestead in Long Island decrying the invisibleness of Whitman's homosexual affairs at the museum celebration during the Centenary of Whitman's Birth.

    A few of my professors in the past have also met my theories about homosexuality and American letters with hostility and dismissiveness, in particular, when discussing Melville's Billy Budd. Cheers!