U of Vic Philosophy Student Union
Leaves of Us

By Brenda M. Anderson

"Heh," said my Soul,

"From my Body write of Walt (cuz we are one)

That he should fulfill his wish and return,

Across sextillions of connections, the chants continuing their wandering,

Across infinite webs of atoms to this very page,

(Across fertilised lawns, a few trees, a bit of ocean).

With a confused look on my face I sing on,

On and on yet never really capturing Walt in words, and I, Here, Now,

Sign for Body and Soul, and set this essay to my name,

Brenda Margaret Anderson

Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" is Whitman's attempt to sketch a frameless portrait of his 'self.' This portrait allows the reader to see Whitman's ideas concerning identity in such a way that the very process of reading Whitman's poem creates a relationship that parallels his points. The endeavour of defining selfhood has been taken the form of a philosophical debate spanning millenia. Yet, the attempt to grasp selfhood through definition is logocentric, which does injustice to the infinity of what "self" is. The attempt to contain self so as to understand it limits its possibilities. The self not only should not, but cannot be contained as an essence -- the mystery surrounding what "self" may be is part of what is valuable about it. It is neither static nor fixed. Instead of attempting to define, I will instead explore Whitman's poetics and seek to compare his notions of selfhood with certain ideas that have arisen out of the debate. These comparisons will be to Transcendentalist notions, the reaction against Cartesian (and ultimately Platonic) dualism, and the similarities to a kind of "Eastern" idea of self as at one with the cosmos. This exploration can neither take the form of a complete analysis nor a setting up of borders around Whitman's self. He simply cannot be contained in language. But since this paper is also Walt Whitman, hopefully part of who/what (grammar fails me) Whitman is will make itself present - there are many ways of knowing.Only through an exploration can we see part of Whitman and the infinity of selves he presents through the act of literary creation and consumption.

"Song of Myself" opens with the line "I Celebrate myself, and sing myself" (Whitman, chant 1). Seen in the context of traditional epic poetry, Whitman invokes himself as muse, and through that association reveals his status as an eternal god - stirring minds to divine madness and the creation of art (myself not excluded). He later claims that he is filled with divine wind when he speaks - "Th

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