American renaissance Poetry and the Topos of positionality: Genius mundi and genius loci in Walt Whitman and William Gilmore Simms.
EVER SINCE F. O. MATTHIESSEN PUBLISHED AMERICAN RENAISSANCE: ART AND Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941), the phrase "American Renaissance" has provided both an organizing principle for the study of nineteenth-century American literature and a lightning-rod for that study's critique. (2) These critiques have challenged Matthiessen's focus on just five authors (Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman), a canonizing gesture that excludes other prominent writers of the "renaissance" period (1850-1855) he addresses. In addition to challenging the exclusion of this period's women writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe and African American writers like Frederick Douglass, critics have more recently questioned the northern bias of Matthiessen's canon, and the author consistently invoked in order to redress this sectional imbalance is the southern writer William Gilmore Simms. In a recent issue of Southern Quarterly, a special issue devoted to Simms, David W. Newton observes that "the construction by Matthiessen and later scholars of the American Renaissance as a critical concept has contributed to the diminishment of Simms's literary reputation," a consequence that "is particularly ironic since the height of Simms's own literary career corresponds precisely with that crucial moment in American letters between 1850-55 which Matthiessen defines as the American Renaissance." (3) Newton's proposed correction, his assertion that "by any measure of literary achievement, [Simms's] poems clearly belong as an important part of the American poetic tradition" (p. 24), underscores the larger point made in the introduction to this issue of Southern Quarterly, where Peter L. Shillingsburg presents Simms as "a literary giant of proportions unacknowledged by--indeed, unknownto--the bulk of Americanist scholars." (4)
For my purposes here, this effort to renew critical attention to Simms is of interest not for the institutional circumstance it seeks to effect--the delayed justice of Simms's literary canonization--but for the historical circumstance it registers: Simms's Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary, and Contemplative was published in 1853, a date significant less for its coincidence with Matthiessen's "American Renaissance" than for its proximity to the 1855 publication date of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Simms, these dates show, was an established figure in belles lettres and a prominent member of the nativist Young America group well before Whitman gave that literary nationalist stance its currently most celebrated articulations. (5) The eclipse of Simms by Whitman might call for more nuanced explanations than Whitman's own populist declaration, in the closing line of his 1855 "Preface," that "the proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." (6) Yet Whitman's affectionate absorption of his country made his work particularly relevant, as Allen Grossman has demonstrated, for a nation on the brink of civil war. Grossman presents Whitman's poetry as a kind of "policy" for preserving union, characterizing the formal innovation of Whitman's line as "an unprecedented trope of inclusion": "Whitman has devised a universal 'conjunctive principle' whose manifest structure is the sequence of end-stopped, nonequivalent, but equipollent lines." (7) At a time of national crisis, the reason a country absorbs a given poet--in this case, the reason the United States absorbs Whitman rather than Simms--has more to do with that poetry's social policy than its literary quality.
Compelling as Grossman's analysis continues to be, the question it raises is why--apart, perhaps, from a failure to register Whitman's policy or to grasp its ambitious scope-do we hear new calls for inclusion, calls like the ones that challenge Matthiessen's restricted set of writers? If Whitman's linear catalogues do indeed amount to "a massive trope of inclusion" (Grossman, p. 187), what are the grounds for challenging Matthiessen and calling for greater inclusion? Should not Matthiessen's emphasis on Whitman--whom he calls "the central figure of our literature affirming the democratic faith" (Grossman, p. 189)--amount to an assertion of Whitman's own policy, the unavoidable or inevitable inclusion of everyone? (8) Grossman's work answers this question by identifying a "severe criticism ... of Whitman's indeterminate realization of the person--'You whoever you are'" (p. 197). "Whitmanian celebration by pluralization," that is, "extinguishes all personhood which has only singular form" (p. 199), so Whitman's policy--a "reciprocal internality, of persons one to the other ('What I shall assume you shall assume')" (pp. 188-189)--eliminates "the presence of the person as a singular individual; and this Whitman could not restore" (p. 189). But critical resistance to Matthiessen involves more than a defense of "untranslatable individuality" (p. 200); the individual writers Matthiessen excludes-Stowe, Fuller, Douglass, Simms--imply a much broader exclusion of the constituencies whom these individual writers represent, constituencies-for instance, women, African Americans, and Southerners-larger than a singular person but smaller than Whitman's totality. Thus if, for Grossman, the criticism of Whitman is that he excludes the individual, the criticism I am identifying is that Whitman--and his champion, Matthiessen--excludes groups. And if Grossman finds this criticism articulated by a contemporary of Whitman, Abraham Lincoln (p. 197), the criticism I am identifying finds articulation in writings by another of Whitman's contemporaries, William Gilmore Simms. Simms, that is, provides a way to characterize collective entities that--just like the individual persons of Grossman's analysis-would lose their distinctiveness if viewed in Whitman's terms: if Whitman presents "a taxonomy of which the sorting index is mere being-at-all" (p. 188), as Grossman argues, mere being does not acknowledge different ways of being, such as being a woman, an African American, or a Southerner. (9) These varying ways of being, I want to argue, can be accommodated by the poetry of Simms.
What enables Simms's poetry to achieve this, I will show, is its concern with what Robert M. Dainotto, in the above epigraph, characterizes as "positionality." Simms's poems consistently explore the possibility that one might "pose as a topologist" who "speaks from one specific place" or, as Dainotto has alternately phrased this pose (referencing "Critical Regionalism" rather than Simms), it amounts to imagining "the possibility to return, in short, to a past idea of culture as cultus, of literature as the local crop of a regionalized genius loci" (p. 17). This interest in positionality-or, as it is sometimes described, "situatedness"--is apparent in much recent criticism of gender and race, criticism that has called for a "politics of location" in which subjects, speaking from various "subject positions," express a corresponding "positional consciousness." This critical embrace of positionality has likewise emerged in recent accounts of the South: in his introduction to the Southern Quarterly issue on Simms, Peter L. Shillingsburg observes that attending to "the 'situatedness' of principles and tastes provides a different picture from the one that has prevailed in this age of judgmentalism" (p. 10), this new picture acknowledging "that there was a national character developing in the literature of America below the Mason Dixon Line ... [and] that it was carried forward largely on the broad shoulders of William Gilmore Simms" (p. 5). Unlike Shillingsburg, however, my point is not to extend to Simms or his positional constituency the benefits of suspending "judgmentalism" (that is, ignoring or forgiving his ownership of slaves and his defense of slavery) but, instead, to reveal how this concept of positionality was itself articulated via Simms's particular approach to writing poetry. By attending to Simms, and by doing so in conjunction with Whitman, my goal is to underscore the differences between their poetic theory and practice, differences important not merely for the historical nuance they bring to our understanding of poetry in this "renaissance" period but, in addition, for the light they shed on current critical practice, practice in which positionality figures strongly as a strategy of resistance (for example, in challenges to the exclusionary "American Renaissance") either to the assimilation or to the exclusion of a given positional entity. Hence the positionality Dainotto underscores is a positionality that I want to distinguish from the poetry of Whitman and to link-for the ultimate purpose of critique-to the "renaissance" poetry of Simms.
I. Poetic Vocation and Competing Forms of Genius
In associating the recent critical focus on "positionality" with the view of "literature as the local crop of a regionalized genius loci," Dainotto references a concept-the genius loci-central to an earlier discussion of literary history by Geoffrey Hartman. This is apparent in Hartman's "Toward Literary History," the concluding chapter of his Beyond Formalism (1970): "The artist's struggle with his vocation-with past masters and the 'pastness' of art in modern society-seems," Hartman asserts, "to be a version of a universal human struggle: of genius with Genius, and of genius with the genius loci (spirit of place)." (10) Hartman's move beyond formalism and toward literary history, then, involves placing this ultimately formal concept, the genius loci, in association with the struggle for vocation that a variety of artists, each in their own way and in their own historical moment, have found themselves confronting. (11) "To begin with the genius/Genius contest," Hartman continues, "in every period there is an ingenu to be tested by vision, to be lead out of the state of natural light by a Muse who opens an 'everlasting scryne' where the 'antique rolles' (roles and scrolls) lie hidden" (p. 373). In addition to being drawn toward this Genius mundi, the artist-genius may also experience a different vocational call:
The dramatic encounter of genius with Genius is accompanied by the commonplace quarrel of genius with genius loci: of art with the natural religion or dominant myth of its age. To the burden of vision which rouses the poet's sense of his powers is added a combat with insidious habits of thought.... The genius loci can rival Genius as an influence, for it suggests the possibility of a more natural (unselfconcious) participation in a preexistent or larger self. England as Gloriana and America as Virgin Land are visionary commonplaces indistinguishable from an "idol of the tribe." (p. 374)
Hartman's account of this second struggle associates it, in particular, with the modern age of national identity: "The genius loci is especially significant for modern--that is, vernacular--art, for it is then that the assertion of a national genius becomes vital and a Dante, Ariosto, or Milton turn to the 'adorning of their native Tongue.'" "Native and national," Hartman continues, "are not always identical, of course, and in the Renaissance this is part of the general problem of constructing a 'national universal' from the genius of different localities" (p. 376). This "general problem" persists beyond the Renaissance to include, Hartman shows, not only British writers from Milton through Wordsworth but also writers in the antebellum United States. (12) A writer like Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, will overtly resist the effort to pose as a topologist, insisting instead on a placeless Genius mundi: "I believe in Eternity. I can find Greece, Asia, Italy, Spain and the Islands,--the genius and creative principle of each and of all eras, in my own mind" (p. 385). But in another example, this Genius mundi is placed in apposition to the topologist's pose of the genius loci; this is apparent, Hartman observes, when we see "Bronson Alcott, Thoreau's friend, praising A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers as 'purely American, fragrant with the lives of New England woods and streams, and which could have been written nowhere else,' then because 'the sod and sap and flavor of New England have found at last a clear relation to the literature of other and classic lands ... Egypt, India, Greece, England'" (p. 376). Here the apposition implies indecision regarding these two approaches to artistic vocation, the genius loci or the Genius mundi.
In setting out this literary history, Hartman applies this pair of options to his own moment, one in which "the rise of the national literatures" (p. 378) gives predominance to the genius loci: "In our own day this model is often dangerously simplified. Art, we are told, seeks to revitalize and if need be to rebarbarize man.... Yet, simplified or not, this model for creativity becomes an animating force, a psychic silhouette with which the artist strives to coincide" (p. 378); the artist, in other words, speaks from a position, expressing positionality: "genius, in expelling a false or discovering a true genius loci, discovers itself and enlarges us" (p. 378). For Hartman, however, this dynamic can lead to extremes which he associates with Nazism in Germany and the differently problematic assimilationism of America: "Now that assimilation has proved to be not false but certainly an imperfect reality, we are facing the agony of pluralism all over again--conflicts of allegiance, cultural transvestitism, a splintered national identity" (p. 382). Hartman's response is to embrace this pluralism, despite its agony: "In reevaluating the prevalence of so many national, religious, or geopolitical ideals-superstitions we still live with despite the universalisms around us-the genius loci concept may help to prevent our collapsing national into nationalistic.... If art is the offspring of a precarious marriage between genius and genius loci, the place of which it is the genius is not necessarily a nation-state. Art can express a people ... a region ... or a speech-community" (p. 384). Hartman's openness to these "superstitions we still live with" sets him against a notion of universalism associated with Emerson and a corresponding notion of globalism associated, here, with Auerbach:
Erich Auerbach's Mimesis ... surmised that we were moving toward a nivellement which would reduce the autochthonous element and gradually eliminate both local and national traditions; and for him this beginning of conformity augured the end of history. When one sees an airline ad with the motto "Introducing the Atlantic River" or hears Andrd Malraux speak of technology creating an "Atlantic civilization," the forerunner of a worldwide humanistic culture, one is almost inclined to agree with Auerbach that historical time and space may be fading into the uniformity of landscapes seen from the air. (p. 386)
Hartman, however, prefers to have his feet planted firmly on the ground: "a pentecostal ideal of the plurality of tongues seems preferable to a one-dimensional, deracinated language" (p. 385). Casting his hopes with pentecostal plurality, and thus with the positionality of the genius loci, Hartman ends "Toward Literary History" with a note of prophecy, anticipating future artists aligned not with Genius but with the genius loci: "Surely in that dubious cultural millennium, in that predicted mass-cult era, a Gloriana will appear once more to a Colin Clout, like another angel to another Caedmon, and say 'Sing to me'" (p. 386).
The scenario that Hartman envisions--a genius loci calling upon a poet-genius to "Sing to me" (which is to say, "sing me")--would seem to link this closing sentence of Beyond Formalism with the opening lines of a poem that Walt Whitman wrote a full century before:
By blue Ontario's shore, As I mused of these warlike days and of peace return'd, and the dead that return no more, A Phantom gigantic superb, with stern visage accosted me, Chant me the poem, it said, that comes from the soul of America, chant me the carol of victory. (p. 340)
If the "Phantom gigantic" would seem to occupy the position of Hartman's "Gloriana" or "angel," Whitman's speaker would then be that phantom's addressee, thus suggesting that the speaker's response--that of a genius wedded to the genius loci of Lake Ontario--would exemplify Hartman's "pentecostal ideal of the plurality of tongues." But tempting as this reading may be, we should consider an alternative account, one in which the "Phantom gigantic" is Hartman himself, an outsider whose ideal of pentecostal plurality leads him to seek knowledge of the locale. Whitman's speaker, in turn, becomes the Phantom-Hartman's addressee, a figure generally familiar with such requests for locally anchored speech: sing for the outsider what you sing for the locals. Whitman's speaker, it turns out, has grasped the general commitment animating the Phantom-Hartman's request, the view that "a pentecostal ideal of the plurality of tongues seems preferable to a one-dimensional, deracinated language" (p. 385). Whitman's speaker, from this perspective, turns out to be a broker of such requests-a middle man through whom all responses to the request must pass: "I eject none, accept all, then reproduce all in my own forms" (p. 340). By the poem's close the Whitman gatekeeper role exceeds the scope of the "Phantom gigantic superb":
Not to call even those lofty bards here by Ontario's shores, Have I sung so capricious and loud my savage song. Bards of my own land only I invoke, Ample Ohio's, Kanada's bards-bards of California! Inland bards-bards of the war! You by my charm I invoke. (p. 355)
On the way to this ending Whitman's speaker references "America," but "America" only emerges as the product of many bards whose songs he himself will fuse together:
I heard the voice arising demanding bards, By them all native and grand, by them alone can these States be fused into the compact organism of a Nation, To hold men together by paper and seal or by compulsion is no account, That only holds men together which aggregates all in a living principle, as the hold of the limbs of the body or the fibres of plants. Of all races and eras these States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets, and are to have the greatest, and use them the greatest. (p. 347)
If America speaks through many bards, it does so only after Whitman has put them to their proper use, fusing these many bards' local statements into "my own forms" (p. 340). Or, as Cesare Parvese observes of Whitman, "he wrote poetry out of poetry writing." (13) Any expression of the local must be--through him--tallied with the national, a requirement that resolves the local/national conflict that Hartman observed above. Thus for all his insistence on the local, Whitman's speaker would ultimately seem to be distanced from the genius loci, serving as a monopolistic purveyor of the plurality Hartman desires.
Simms, by contrast, does not function as this focal point for rendering local bards national, but rather ascribes that rendering to another agent, one whose advent he eagerly anticipates. In an 1842 lecture later published as "The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction," Simms writes:
No nation of our magnitude ... can long remain without its Genius loci!. It is in our hearts, that, even now, he breathes and burns.... That genius, thus feebly striving now, and with a faint torch burning in his infant grasp, is yet destined to grow mighty-yea, mightiest among the mighty. Already we behold his chosen altar--place on the blue summits of Apalachy! ... We may see his worshipers, as they march in ceremonial procession from our kindred republics, bringing tribute and music, and incense to his shrine! Nor, last araong these-nor least-we may count among the proudest of these shining hosts, our own dear brothers of the south-our offspring-the blessed sons and daughters of the muse. (pp. 125-126) (14)
Here the phrase "on the blue summits of Apalachy" recalls "By Blue Ontario's Shore" in its centralization of national poetry. But if Whitman's speaker was the agent and locus of that centralization, himself assembling the work of the various local bards, Simms, despite the bombast of this passage, occupies a less prominent position: not only is he distinct from the central entity he foresees, but he is also more locally identified--in this case, with the "south" as one of several "kindred republics." If all of these republics are subordinated to the central (national) "altar-place," they are nevertheless "kindred" to each other, suggesting comparable subordination to the national "Genius loci." In addition to restricting himself to one of these kindred republics, Simms also deviates from Whitman's focus on the present and future: "Others take finish," Whitman writes, "but the Republic is ever constructive and ever keeps vista, / Others adorn the past, but you O days of the present, I adorn you, / O days of the future I believe in you" ("By Blue Ontario's Shore," p. 346). For Simms, by contrast, the genius loci emerges through recovering narratives of historical events specific to his various kindred locales, an archival activity apparent in the title of his lecture--"The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction":
We know that we shall yet behold the advent of this genius of place;--that, penetrating the antique forests, he shall drag the old tradition from his Druid cavern, and compel him to deliver up his secrets. We shall yet hear the incantation uttered by some mighty voice, not unworthy of the great masters who have spelled the departed in their urns. We shall see the cavern unsealed ... [and] we shall number the great spirits of the past, issuing forth and trooping in review before us! (p. 127)
Simms associates this raising of ghosts with the actions of a "priest" at an "altar" (p. 127) whereas Whitman--asserting, "There will shortly be no more priests, I say their work is done" ("By Blue Ontario's Shore," p. 351)--views the poet as someone whose concern is those who live in the present, those among whom he circulates: "Land of lands, and bards to corroborate! / Of them standing among them" ("By Blue Ontario's Shore," p. 343).
II. Simms and the Genius Loci
Simms's distinct understanding of the genius loci is apparent in both his prose criticism and his poetry. A recent discussion of Simms's poem "The Streamlet" by David W. Newton points to the struggle faced by the poem's speaker, who can "hear the sacred words" the streamlet speaks: "They rise melodious, sad, but softly clear,-- / My heart receives the music, not mine ear" (quoted in Newton, p. 32). Presented with the musical qualities of the streamlet's voice, "the speaker must assume his responsibilities as poet and translate the voice of the stream for others to hear and understand" (p. 32), the translation attempting, Newton argues, "to represent in language the living voice of the stream" (p. 32):
"I am thy guardian genius,-from the first My waters still have slaked thy spirit's thirst. "When thou shall be forgotten I shall be, And to the race that shall succeed thee on, I will repeat my counsel, as to thee And like thy footsteps now, shall theirs be won, From the thick gathering-from the crowded street With me, within the solitude, to meet." (15)
While the "quotation marks ... indicate that the voice does not belong to the poet" (p. 33), "we are also aware," Newton notes, "that the words--as well as the entire poem--belong to the poet. They represent his attempt to capture the voice of the stream in a poetic language that can only hope to approximate his original experience" (p. 33). Resistant to symbolic representation, the streamlet's musical voice instantiates a positionality that is resistant to translation and thus immune to displacement: experience of that voice--a voice Newton labels generally as "the sublime language of nature" (p. 33) and that I, instead, am calling a particular instance of a genius loci-requires one to visit the site itself. Such an intimate relation to a specific locale arises frequently in Simms's poetry, and critics have attributed this to the influence of Wordsworth, particularly Wordsworth's notion of "spots of time." (16) Exploring how Wordsworth himself came to employ these "spots of time," Geoffrey Hartman asks, "How did Wordsworth raise himself from his obsession with specific place to the key notion of spots of time? I suspect the intermediate concept to have been that of genius loci, or 'spirit of place.' The renovating energy flowing from the spots of time is really spirit of place reaching through time with a guardian's care." (17) Wordsworth and Simms, then, each started in the same place, but for Wordsworth, Hartman argues, this was a transitional concern: "'Wordsworth refuses to renew archaic modes.... There are no ghosts, no giant forms, no genii in the mature Wordsworth. He is haunted by a 'Presence which is not to be put by,' but it is a ghost without a ghost's shape, not a specter but an intensely local and numinous self-awareness" (pp. 329, 330). Simms, by contrast, appears to have avoided this shift from haunted place to self-awareness, so the voices that inspire his speakers-like that of "The Streamlet"--remain situated upon the landscape, imposing their positionality upon the artist-genius they inspire.
Simms's commitment to the genius loci is apparent not only in his poetry and prose criticism but also in his best-known work of fiction, The Yemassee (1835; 1856). One of some forty novels that Simms wrote, it occupies a position within an elaborate plan to write historical romances chronicling the entire history of the Americas, from European colonization (c. 1497-1607) to British settlement (c. 1608-1763), through the Revolutionary War (1764-1782), and up to Simms's present. (18) The Yemassee falls in the second of these historical periods, its title referring to the Native American tribe indigenous to South Carolina but, by Simms's time, clearly doomed to displacement by people like Simms himself. In the narrative Simms tells, however, the demise or eclipse of the Yemassee is only partial, for even as it narrates their military defeat, the novel also values and seeks to celebrate their beliefs and practices--an impulse apparent in naming the novel after the defeated tribe rather than their conquerors. (19) These European conquerors are portrayed in one of three lights, as a nationless band of profiteering pirates (pp. 384-385), as Puritans proselytizing for universal Christianity (p. 152), or as weak-willed subjects needing to be led by the "decisive character" (pp. 405, 338, 384, 391) of a colonial Governor--"the Lord Palatine of Carolina" (p. 402)--who, true to his decisive character, imposes martial law (p. 405) on his colonial subjects. (20) The Yemassee, by contrast, are a "nation" (p. 85) organized-like the United States-as "something of a republic" (p. 107) and "ruled by the joint authority of several chiefs" who "were elective, and ... were accountable to the nation" (p. 98). For a Yemassee, to be "expatriated" (p. 116) from the nation (by the removal of the totem tattoo) is a fate worse than death (p. 113), because it makes him/her "dead to Manneyto" (p. 118), the protective spirit who presides over "the blessed valley" (p. 194) of the afterlife (pp. 209-213). Manneyto also presides over the Yemassee nation's central city (not unlike the goddess Columbia presiding over Washington, the District of Columbia). Although this nation is defeated in war, their values are clearly the virtues that Simms favors: "confederate nations" fight better than Europeans (p. 412)--in part because of their commitment to their nation, which is simultaneously a commitment to the land and their ancestors: "The lands came from our fathers--they must go to our children. They do not belong to us to sell-they belong to our children to keep" (pp. 103,108). What Simms is trying to convey of this predecessor tribe is a kind of persistence or permanence that we saw in "The Streamlet," where the "guardian genius" asserts, "to the race that shall succeed thee on, / I will repeat my counsel, as to thee" (p. 35). To defeat the Yemassee, then, is ultimately to usher in the successor "race"--Simms and his fellow Carolinians, and the larger republic of the United States--to whom the guardian genius will offer the same wise counsel.
To convey this point, Simms's novel makes extensive use of interpolated poems. In one instance a Yemassee woman "carolled forth in an exquisite ballad voice, one of those little fancies of the Indians.... The strain, playfully simple in the sweet language of the original, must necessarily lose in the more frigid verse of the translator" (p. 94), a translation which he nevertheless produces in full. Simms's point about translation is dramatized in this poem's title--"The 'Coonee-Latee,' or 'Trick-Tongue'"--which must be further translated as "the mocking-bird" (p. 94):
As the Coonee-latee looked forth from his leaf, He saw below him a Yemassee chief, In his war-paint, all so grim--Sung boldly, then, the Coonee-latee, I, too, will seek for mine enemy; And I'll take off their scalps like him.
But the initial intention to scalp other birds changes once the mockingbird notices "that with open mouth they slept":
And from bird to bird, with a cautious tread, He unhook'd the tongue, out of every head, Then flew to his perch again;--And thus it is, whenever he chooses, The tongues of all of the birds he uses, And none of them dare complain. (p. 94)
In this myth of origins the issue ultimately dramatized is not language and its resistance to translation but song and its susceptibility to appropriation. It is just such an appropriation to which Simms aspires even as he insists on the local and linguistic specificity of the Yemassee poems. The implication is that successful appropriation--rather than poor translation or mere imitation--requires the appropriator also to be a local successor. A drama of failed succession--from chief Sanutee to his son Occonestoga--figures prominently in the plot of The Yemassee and is responsible for the tribe's demise, but Simms's attention to the Yemassee and their poems places himself and his fellow South Carolinians in a position to remedy this failure by becoming, themselves, the local successors of the Yemassee.
Another instance of interpolated poetry features the Yemassee "prophet" who "poured forth, in uncouth strains, a wild rhythmic strain, the highest effort of lyric poetry known to his people" (p. 111). In this case, the poem is channeled through the tribal prophet by the malign deity, "Opitchi-Manneyto," whom Simms's footnote calls "The Yemassee Evil Principle" (p. 36):
"Let the Yemassee have ears, For Opitchi-Manneyto- 'Tis Opitchi-Manneyto, Not the prophet, now that speaks, Hear Opitchi-Manneyto." (p. 111)
In another case a Yemassee warrior's "wild and barbarous chant" catalogues his own achievements in battle (p. 183) and then, shifting to a "less personal, and more national character, a more sounding and elevated strain" (p. 183), the warrior tells of the virtues of the tribe: "Mighty is the Yemassee, / Strong in the trial, / Fearless in the strife" (p. 184). There is also the "scalp-song of the Yemassee" (pp. 194, 199) and "the battle-hymn of their nation" (p. 262). Perhaps most notably, the Yemassee chief dies with one of these songs on his lips, and his wife is led away by her captors speaking lines from another of the tribal poems. Through the poems in this novel Simms has, in effect, accomplished the task he assigns the bard in "The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction": to "drag the old tradition from his Druid cavern, and compel him to deliver up his secrets." (21)
But as the novel's popular success suggests, the songs can be distributed as print media, and this mobility is something Simms comes increasingly to view as inconsistent with the place-bound genius loci. This view is apparent in the section of his Poems (1853) called "Tales and Traditions of the South," a section in which Simms poses more as topologist than poet, and his poems serve the role not of capturing, in themselves, the genius loci but, instead, of identifying the locale to which this genius loci is inextricably linked. (22) One such poem is "The Syren of Tselica; A Tradition of the French Broad," which narrates in poetic measure what the prose headnote describes: "The tradition of the Cherokee asserts the existence of a Syren, in the [River] French Broad, who implores the Hunter to the stream, and strangles him in her embrace." (23) This same tradition would become the basis for a much longer poem, completed in 1849 but unpublished in Simms's lifetime, which is tellingly divided into two main sections. The first, "The Mountain Tramp," provides an account of walking through the mountains and wondering about the genius loci of the locale:
I guessed the red man's fate, or those Who first upon those mountains sway'd, And sank beneath the red man's blows, Too fiercely savage to be stay'd; Oh! For the spell of magic pow'r To burst the casements of the dead, And bid the sage or hero rise To tell us, why his people fled Or how they toil'd and fought, and bled, And what their triumphs, ere the doom, That shut them in the speechless tomb. No voice to answer! All is still. The echoes die along the hill, And mock me with my words again! Yet shall the genius of the place In days of potent song to come Reveal the story of the race, Whose native genius now lies dumb. Yes, Fancy by Tradition led Shall trace the streamlet to its bed, And well each ancient path explore The perish'd trod in days of yore. The rock, the vale, the mound, the dell, Shall each become a Chronicle. (24)
This frustration followed by optimism leads to the poem's second section, "Tselica; A Legend of the French Broad," where the speaker arrives at a locale whose genius loci is, it turns out, known to his guide:
"He [the red man] had his gods--though weak indeed,-- Yet such as answered to his need, And spirits, well suited to his race, Dwelt with him in this very place!" (p. 539)
The story reveals that "The river knows a form of grace, / A spirit maid ... / Still haunting every spot she trod" (p. 570), the very spot where the speaker himself stands. The manner in which Simms expanded this manuscript-narrating a traveler's visit to the haunted and storied site--is consistent with his assertions in the later, published work Southward Ho! (1856). "What a pity," one of the characters laments, "that handbooks for the South are not provided by some patriotic author!":
In the old countries of Europe, the ... handbook which you carry distinguishes the spot with some strange or startling history. In our world of woods, we lack these adjuncts. If we had the handbook, we should doubtlessly discover much to interest us in the very scenes by which we hurry with contempt. Dull and uninteresting as the railroad rout appears through North and South Carolina, were you familiar with the facts in each locality-could you couple each with its local history or tradition-the fancy would instantly quicken. (25)
Here the genius loci is so thoroughly embedded in a place that, in lieu of an anthology of poems narrating these traditions, one must have a guide or guidebook that leads one to the haunted site itself. By calling these texts "adjuncts," Simms indicates the secondary status of the narrative--whether verse or prose--to the experience of the locale itself. In this way, Simms's definition of poetry comes increasingly to favor the voice of a given streamlet over the rendering of that voice-however skilled--in the lines of a poem.
III. Whitman and the Genius Mundi
Simms's call for guidebooks appeared in the same year that Whitman published a second, expanded edition of Leaves of Grass, so at the same moment that Simms was turning away from written poems in favor of places themselves, Whitman was continuing to write many new poems. In the third edition of Leaves of Grass (1860), Whitman began the volume with a new poem called "Proto-Leaf," which he had initially called "Premonition" and which, from 1867 onward, bore the title "Starting from Paumanok." (26) Each of these various titles registers beginnings, so they not only reference the poem's placement at the opening of the 1860 edition, but they also announce the speaker of that poem and those that will follow: "Starting from fish-shape Paumanok where I was born ... / Solitary, singing in the West, I strike up for a New World" (pp. 15, 16). But this poem of beginnings goes on to register a prior moment that enabled this one, a moment that prompted the poet to begin his journey away from Paumanok. The registration of this earlier moment appears in section 11 of "Starting from Paumanok":
As I have walk'd in Alabama my morning walk, I have seen where the she-bird the mocking-bird sat on her nest in the briers hatching her brood. I have seen the he-bird also, I have paus'd to hear him near at hand inflating his throat and joyfully singing. And while I paus'd it came to me that what he really sang for was not there only, Nor for his mate nor himself only, nor all sent back by the echoes, But subtle, clandestine, away beyond, A charge transmitted and gift occult for those being born. (p. 22)
This reference to "being born" introduces a moment prior to this poem's "Starting ...," a moment depicted in another of this volume's new poems, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." (27) In this poem we understand the "gift occult" to be a "charge transmitted" to the speaker himself who, prior to receiving this charge and gift, is firmly rooted in one place, his birthplace in Paumanok. He will be able to embark from this locale only after he is "born" as a poet or bard, the speaker of "Starting from Paumanok."
This moment prior to poetic speaking involves another voice, the mockingbird whose singing is referenced in the stanza quoted above. In "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" the bird's singing is likewise overheard, but in this case the auditor--the speaker as a young boy, before he has become a bard--has an experience that Simms, thinking on the model of his "The Streamlet," his Yemassee songs, or his "The Syren of Tselica," might call an encounter with the genius loci of Paumanok (which is the Native American name for Long Island):
Once Paumanok, When the lilac-scent was in the air and Fifth-month grass was growing, Up this seashore in some briers, Two feather'd guests from Alabama, two together, And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing them, Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating. Home, or rivers and mountains from home, Singing all time, minding no time, While we two keep together. (p. 248)
The italics are the boy's translation of song the two birds sing, but the song soon changes when the she-bird vanishes, leaving--as the boy translates--only the he-bird to call for her: "Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved! / But my mate no more, no more with me! / We two together no more" (p. 251). Having heard this solitary "aria," the boy undergoes the "being born" mentioned by the speaker in "Starting from Paumanok": he is transformed into an "outsetting bard" (p. 251). The force responsible for this birth of the bard--what "Starting from Paumanok" calls "A charge transmitted and gift occult" (p. 22)--is characterized, in "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," in a manner different from what we have been led to expect from Simms: rather than being charged with responsibility for transmitting this story to subsequent visitors of this place, thereby giving those visitors the guide-book gift of narrating the locale's occult genius loci, it is the boy who discovers this occult gift within himself:
Demon or bird! (said the boy's soul,) Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it really to me? For I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping, now I have heard you, Now in a moment I know what I am for, I awake, And already a thousand singers, a thousand songs, clearer, louder and more sorrowful than yours, A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me, never to die. O you singer solitary, singing by yourself, projecting me, O solitary me listening, never more shall I cease perpetuating you, Never more shall I escape, never more the reverberations, Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me. (p. 252)
Realizing that it is "really to me" that the he-bird sings (just as, in "Starting from Paumanok," the singing is "for those being born"), the boy is transformed by having an obligation or "charge transmitted" to him, that of "perpetuating" the "thousand warbling echoes" that have "started to life within me, never to die." While this may seem like a form of possession by the he-bird "Demon" (as might be suggested by the "never more" referencing Poe's "The Raven" (28)), the particular bird turns out to be less important (there are "a thousand singers, a thousand songs, clearer, louder and more sorrowful than yours") than the experience it triggers, not possession by a particular demon but instead an awakening from the prior state of his "tongue's use sleeping." This phrase recalls the sleeping birds whose tongues were stolen for the use of "Cooneelatee," the Yemassee mockingbird. Thus despite the humility of the phrase "never more shall I cease perpetuating you," the speaker approaches this song in a manner that, ultimately, is more instrumental than deferential, more global than local: by "projecting me," the he-bird's song awakens the speaker to his itinerant vocation as an "outsetting bard."
Hartman's discussion of poetic vocation imagined, as we have seen, an artist torn between Genius and genius loci. In Whitman's case, these two early poems suggest his choice of the former over the latter, a choice confirmed by the remainder of "Out of the Cradle" in which the speaker, awakened to his vocation, asks the sea to reveal to him "The word final, superior to all." In reply, the sea "Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death, / And again death, death, death, death" (p. 252). The boy hears this while standing at the dividing line between land and sea, "with his bare feet the waves, with his hair the atmosphere dallying" (p. 251). From this vantage the boy can align the division between land and sea with that of life and death, the sea and death providing the limit to the kinds of positions he can occupy. But unlike other such circumstances, where knowing that a limit exists entails knowing there to be something beyond that limit (and, hence, entails transcending or exceeding that limit), in this case the limit exceeds conceptualization--death, the sea, "the fierce old mother incessantly moaning," all suggesting versions of the dynamical sublime.29 If the speaker is in this way circumscribed, it is difficult to think of this as a limit since his range includes all non-sublime positions, which are all the positions he might conceive of occupying. So although he stands "On the sands of Paumanok's shore gray and rustling," that location--like the he-bird's song--matters less as a particular place than as an alternative to the sea and death, an alternative to be found not only on Paumanok's shore but also at any of a thousand other places he might-starting from Paumanok--choose to go. It is this moment, prior to starting forth, that "Starting from Paumanok" recalls, and it is this beginning--having been limited only by the limitless-that enables the speaker to visit and become a resident of all positions and locales, even Simms's South Carolina:
Far breath'd land! Arctic braced! Mexican breez'd! the diverse! the compact! The Pennsylvanian! the Virginian! the double Carolinian! O all and each well-loved by me! my intrepid nations! O I at any rate include you all with perfect love! (p. 25).
If Whitman is posing as a topologist, he is also showing the topologist's positionality to be--from his own more global vantage--a mere pose. In doing so he reveals his vocational commitment to the Genius mundi over the genius loci.
This commitment would become all the more clear in Whitman's subsequent works, including his "Song of the Redwood-Tree" (1874). As in "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," this poem features the poet's voice framing an internal song, one set off by italics: "A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and sky, / Voice of a mighty dying tree in the redwood forest dense" (p. 206). Joining this tree is a "chorus of dryads ... or hamadryads," and "the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a thousand years to join the refrain" (p. 206). The occasion for the tree's "death-chant" is the work of foresters, "With crackling blows of axes sounding musically driven by strong arms" (p. 206). Rather than object to this assault, Whitman's tree accepts and even welcomes it:
Nor yield we mournfully majestic brothers, We who have grandly fill'd our time; For them predicted long, For a superber race, they too to grandly fill their time, For them we abdicate, in them ourselves ye forest kings! (p. 207)
While this poem has all the transitional force of Milton's "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," where the pagan deities--like Whitman's tree (which asserts, "I bear the soul befitting me, I too have consciousness, identity" [p. 207]), as well as the "dryads" and "wood spirits"--are dismissed to make way for Christian monotheism, Whitman shows none of the reluctance to see those local deities depart.
The contrast with Simms is apparent when we consider his poem "The Memorial Tree" (1848): unlike Whitman, who subordinates the ancient trees to the newly arrived settlers, Simms inverts this priority, expressing reverence for the tree's persistence even as human generations-like each year's dying autumn leaves-pass into oblivion:
A famous tree Was this, three hundred years ago, when stood The hunter-chief below it, bold and free Proud in his painted pomp and deeds of blood. His hatchet sunk With sharp wound, fixing his own favorite sign, Deep in the living column of its trunk, Where thou may'st read a history such as thine. And others' signs, Tokens of races, greatlier taught, that came To write like record, though in smoother lines And thus declare a still more human flame. (Selected Poems, p. 14)
Like Whitman's redwood, this tree is elaborately personified, its "outstretched arms, / Paternal, as if blessing" and its "great white beard" recalling "Moses on the Mount." Indeed, as with the genius loci, this tree serves as a guardian of the place, "A sire of wood and vale, guardian and king /... Whose memories grasp the lives of every meaner thing" (p. 150). This "record-tree" provides the occasion for the community to gather and, prompted by the markings it bears (themselves a veritable guidebook), recall the local stories that Simms associates with the genius loci:
And still at noon, Repairing to its shadow, they explore Its chronicles, still musing o'er th' unknown, And telling well-known histories, told of yore! (Selected Poems, p. 150)
Entrusting this tree to record these chronicles, Simms--in clear contrast to Whitman--expresses deference not only to the deeply rooted particularities of a locale but also to the tightly-knit community that is rendered cohesive as they ritually participate in sharing among themselves their knowledge of such local traditions.
IV. Positionality and Identity
In conveying such deference to rootedness--both that of the tree and of the community it subtends--Simms advances a view consistent with a recent critical topos that has urged similar deference and respect for such tightly-knit communities--communities otherwise known as "identities." (30) Seeking a way to characterize such restricted collectivities while also resisting any recourse to various forms of essentialism, recent critics have employed spatialized language similar to Dainotto's term "positionality." For instance Michael Awkward's book Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality (1993) sets out "to examine academic discourse in the humanities within which employment of a politics of positionality has become a significant aspect of our critical behaviors." "Indeed," Awkward continues, "we might say that sincere responses to the injunction, 'Critic, position thyself,' are seen by many as among the most effectively moral and significant gestures of our current age." (31) A key source of this gesture, according to Mary Eagleton, is the work of feminist Adrienne Rich, particularly her 1984 essay "Notes Toward a Politics of Location." (32) The ongoing significance of this early work is apparent in the feminist writings of Linda Martin Alcoff. (33) More recently, Alcoff has extended this topos of positionality to discussions of race, her essay "Philosophy and Racial Identity" opposing "notions of the self which formulate it primarily as an abstract form without content, a decontextualized ability to reason without any interested positionality." (34) In her essay "Who's afraid of Identity Politics?" Alcoff presents positionality as "a key component of the rationale behind the original concept of identity politics. It should be obvious that one's identity in this full sense, one's positional consciousness, will play a role in one's actions, particularly as these involve political contestations." 35 Most recently, in the essay "Against 'Post-Ethnic' Futures," Alcoff asserts that, "if we were to understand social position in a fuller sense, as involving a structural location, a historical experience, and a set of practices (which 'habitus' implies), then this is not a bad beginning for a formulation of what persons are." (36)
Given this endorsement of formulating "what persons are" in the terms of a topos of positionality, it makes sense to consider how it is that positions become available to be occupied. What is the streamlet or memorial tree that anchors these positions, setting them apart from other positions one might inhabit? Are the voices and histories that help demarcate these positions consistent with what Simms would call the genius loci? That is, are these voices and experiences of place built into the structure of a location (thus, like the genius loci, anthropomorphizing that location) and requiring newcomers to be initiated--via handbooks--to the history and voices of that place? And does the anthropomorphism underwriting the place--its haunting by a genius loci--provide an alternative that is any less essential, in the end, than the essentialism it seeks to escape? Finally, is it not the case that an awareness of multiple positions--like so many places in a guidebook--has the effect of not only separating positions from each other but also, and more importantly, assembling them as stops on a grand tour? In such a scenario, the tourists may end up--as James Clifford has observed-exemplifying "the globalizing condition of postmodernity, [a condition in which] local communities are reconstituted within a superficial shopping mall of identities" where they exist in "nostalgic, commodifiedforms." (37) It is a different aspect of globalization--not its marketplace commodities but its institutional structures--that has prompted Robert Eric Livingston to voice a different note of caution: invoking Geoffrey Hartman's account of the genius loci, Livingston underscores that concept's utility for the project of undermining local variety (Hartman's pentecostal plurality of tongues) and producing institutional standardization within nation-states: "In this form of reimagined community, Hartman suggests, the genius loci could come to be understood as primordial allegiance and mobilized under the banner of nation and race." (38) Indeed, quoting Whitman's "Passage to India" (p. 147), Livingstone suggests that the genius loci is a contributor to, rather than an alternative to, the Genius mundi of globalization. Or, to put this in Simms's terms, a mockingbird may steal several tongues and then choose to sing using only a few or, indeed, just one.
The problem these observations raise is that, at least with respect to positionality, critical practice has been moving in circles rather than charting a new course. This is perhaps most clearly evident in Linda Martin Alcoff's recent essay, "What Should White People Do?" Asserting that "Every individual ... needs to feel a connection to community, to a history, and to a human project larger than his or her own life," Alcoff asks, "what are North American whites to do?" (39) "Southern whiteness," Alcoff asserts, "has had a high degree of racial self-consciousness," so it has existed as "a substantive racial identity" (p. 21). The dilemma these whites face, however, becomes apparent to Alcoff as she wonders how one would "substantively define whiteness except in terms of racism and unfair privilege" (p. 13). If "white people's sense of who they are in the world, especially in this country, depends deeply on white supremacy," Alcoff argues, this is because "they are themselves oppressed; that is, because their immigrant relations were a humble lot without other cultural resources from which to draw a sense of entitlement. White supremacy may be all that poor whites have to hold on to in order to maintain a sense of self-love" (p. 18). Whites are "oppressed" because not only did they suffer a lack of "cultural resources" to serve as a basis for their identity, but also, once they are confronted with the fact that whiteness involves not "cultural resources" but "white supremacy," the task of "facing the reality of whites' moral culpability threatens their very ability to be moral today, because it threatens their ability to imagine themselves as having a socially coherent relation to a past and a future toward which anyone could feel an attachment" (p. 19)--it threatens "the sense of historical continuity that moral action," Alcoff asserts, "seems to require" (p. 8). Without white supremacy, whites have no positionality.
Critics of Simms, however, would beg to differ with Alcofi's conclusion, if not her premise. Not only, as we have seen, is Simms a conceptual architect of the very positionality Alcoff endorses, but his voluminous works also provide an opportunity to position him as a central cultural figure--someone whose "pivotal role as a kind ancestral father to modern literature of the South is beginning to be acknowledged" (40)--within a revitalized account of southernness. (41) Would not southerners, as Alcoff--and Simms--imagine them, prefer to invoke such a guardian genius as the basis of an autonomous southern positionality? Indeed, in light of recent critical challenges to a coherent American nationality, why seek to include Simms within an embattled American Renaissance at all? (42) Given the positional autonomy Simms enables, would it not seem more sensible (as Dainatto's discussion of "Critical Regionalism" demonstrates) to replace one's national identity as an American with one's positional identity as a southerner? (43) Viewed in this light, the topos of positionality would seem to function--as have many prior rhetorical innovations--merely to reproduce, in the form of an autonomous "position" with its own resources and memories, the racial privileges of (southern) whites.
(1) Roberto Maria Dainotto, Place in Literature: Regions, Cultures, Communities (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 2000), p. 3.
(2) See, for instance, Jane Tompkins, "The Other American Renaissance," in Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790.1860 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 147-185; Jonathan Arac, "F. O. Matthiessen: Authorizing an American Renaissance," The American Renaissance Reconsidered, ed. Donald Pease and Walter Benn Michaels (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 90-112; Eric Cheyfitz, "Matthiessen's American Renaissance: Circumscribing the Revolution," American Quarterly 41, no. 2 (June 1989): 341-361; Ed Folsom, "The House that Matthiessen Built," Iowa Review 20, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 162-180; Nina Baym, "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors," American Quarterly 33, no. 2 (Summer 1981): 123-139; Michael J. Colacurcio, "Essay Review: The American-Renaissance Renaissance," New England Quarterly 64, no. 3 (September 1991): 445-493; Charlene Avallone, "What American Renaissance? The Gendered Genealogy of a Critical Discourse," PMLA 1 i2, no. 5 (October 1997): 1102-20; Timothy B. Powell, Ruthless Democracy: A Multicultural Interpretation of the American Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton Unix.. Press, 2000); Michael P. Kramer, "Imagining Authorship in America: 'Whose American Renaissance?' Revisited," American Literary History (2001): 108-125; Jay Grossman, Reconstituting the American Renaissance: Emerson, Whitman, and the Politics of Representation (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2003).
(3) David W. Newton, "Voices from the Enchanted Circle: Simms and the Poetics of the American Renaissance," Southern Quarterly 41, no. 2 (Winter 2003, Special Issue: William Gilmore Simms): 25. Another special issue on Simms appeared in the same year in Studies in the Novel; in her "Introduction" Mirriam J. Shillingsburg asserts that "this special issue of Studies in the Novel is designed to redress the neglect Simms's works have suffered" (35 [Winter 2003]: 137). "Simms's insistence on a literary independence grounded in native American subject matter constitutes an important contribution," she argues, "to the development of American literature" (p. 136).
(4) Peter L. Shillingsburg, "Antebellum American Literature from Natchez to Charleston," Southern Quarterly 41, no. 2 (Winter 2003; Special Issue: William Gilmore Simms): 9.
(5) On Simms's involvement in the Young America movement (and Whitman's peripheral relation to it), see Edward L. Widmer, Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 107-110.
(6) Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ed. Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973), p. 731. Subsequent citations of Whitman's poetry will refer to this edition. In a more careful analysis of Simms's decline, James Kibler points to other explanations, including his stance against the Union in the Civil War, a poor scholarly biography, and the fact "that, measured by present-day standards, Simms is a racist"; see "'Long Years of Neglect: Atonement at Last?" Long Years of Neglect: The Work and Reputation of William Gilmore Simms, ed. John Caldwell Guilds (Fayetteville: Univ. of Arkansas Press, 1988), pp. 3-4.
(7) Allen Grossman, "The Poetics of Union in Whitman and Lincoln: An Inquiry toward the Relationship of Art and Policy," The American Renaissance Reconsidered, pp. 195, 193.
(8) Xilao Li answers this question in the affirmative: "Surely all Americans, whether black, brown, red, white, or yellow, can find themselves and discover America in Whitman"; "Whitman and Ethnicity," Walt Whitman of Mickle Street: A Centennial Collection, ed. Geoffrey M. Sill (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1994), p. 120. Similarly, Sanford Pinsker asks, "Who, after all, did Whitman exclude from his catalogues?"; see "Walt Whitman and our Multicultural America," Virginia Quarterly Review 75 no. 4 (Autumn 1999): 721. See also Ronald T. Takaki's embrace of Whitman at the close of his A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1993), p. 428. Dana Phillips presents a different view, lamenting that Whitman "merely refers" to "the sounds of different cultures from all around the world" instead of providing a "degree of onomatopoeia, or actual physical likeness to the sounds." Having been filtered through Whitman as "medium," the sounds of other cultures are thereby subordinated to the sounds of Whitman's speaker ("Nineteenth-Century Racial Thought and Whitman's 'Democratic Ethnology of the Future,'" NCL 49, no. 3 : 292, 293 n. 4).
(9) As Alessandro Portelli observes, "Whitman's masses are ... [not] articulated in social groups and classes .... Rather, they fluctuate in the uncertain region between the power they receive and the power they delegate, between popular democracy and the nationalization of the masses"; see The Text and the Voice: Writing, Speaking, and Democracy in American Literature (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1994), p. 134.
(10) Geoffrey Hartman, "Toward Literary History," Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays 19581970 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1970), p. 372.
(11) Hartman asserts, "Whether or not poetry is more philosophical than history, it is more formal than history-that is the brute yet elegant fact which we must appreciate without falling into idealistic or unhistorical explanations" ("Toward Literary History," pp. 357-358).
(12) For Hartman's discussion of Milton, see "Toward Literary History," pp. 378-382; for his discussion of poets from Gray through Wordsworth see "Romantic Poetry and the Genius Loci," Beyond Formalism, pp. 311-336. A related statement appears in Walter Scott's "Introduction" to Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, ed. Thomas Henderson (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1931): "The idea that the spirits of the deceased return to haunt the place where on earth they have suffered or have rejoiced, is, as Dr. Johnson has observed, common to the popular creed of all nations" (p. 55).
(13) Quoted in Grossman, "The Poetics of Union," p. 195. Grossman also quotes the following notebook entry in which Whitman characterizes his own understanding of translation (or what he sometimes, Grossman observes, calls "tallying"): "Every soul has its own individual language, often unspoken, or feebly spoken; but a true fit for that man and perfectly adapted for his use--The truths I tell to you or to any other may not be plain to you, because I do not translate them fully from my idiom into yours.--If I could do so, and do it well, they would be as apparent to you as they are to me; for they are truths. No two have exactly the same language, and the great translator and joiner of the whole is the poet" (p. 193). For another relevant example see Whitman's 1860 poem "I Hear America Singing" (pp. 12-13).
(14) Simms, "The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction," Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction, first series, ed. C. Hugh Holman (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1962), pp. 125-126; hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
(15) Simms, Selected Poems of William Gilmore Simms, ed. James Everett Kibler, Jr. (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1990), p. 35.
(16) See Matthew C. Brennan, "Simms, Wordsworth, and 'The Mysterious Teachings of the Natural World,'" Southern Quarterly 41, no. 2 (Winter 2003): 40, 42, 44. Newton puts this differently, saying "the poet encounters the voice of the sublime within nature" ("Voices from the Enchanted Circle," p. 34). See also James E. Kibler, Jr., "Perceiver and Perceived: External Landscape as Mirror and Metaphor in Simms's Poetry," Long Years of Neglect, pp. 106-125. Simms's views on Wordsworth appear in an extended review essay in the Southern Quarterly Review new series, 2, no. 3 (September 1850): 1-23, an essay that responds to the news of Wordsworth's death with an extended eulogy of praise.
(17) Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth's Poetry: 1787-1814 (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987), p. 212.
(18) See John Caldwell Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: Univ. of Arkansas Press, 1992), pp. 336-337.
(19) William Gilmore Simms, The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina, ed. Joseph V. Ridgely (New Haven: College & University Press, 1964); all citations will be drawn from this edition and will appear parenthetically in the text.
(20) Although ostensibly the hero of this narrative, the Lord Palatine Charles Craven (a.k.a. Gabriel Harrison) serves more as an agent of Indian removal than a model for Simms's American readers. A "gentleman--like the brave cavaliers that stood by King Charles" (p. 70), Craven is loyal to the House of Stuart, so he laments news of the 1714 Hanoverian succession (p. 74), an event that placed in power the very royal house that would subsequently--as Simms's larger historical project has in mind--be overthrown by the American Revolution.
(21) Simms's novel also features songs by an African American character (pp. 394, 403), yet these are concerned not with preserving the nation but--not surprisingly given Simms's pro-slavery views--preserving the master-slave relation. An interest in Native American and African American songs would characterize the later work of Antonin Dvorak, who ultimately elevated the latter-what he called the "plantation melodies"--over the former as a resource for national identity; see my The Poetics of National and Racial Identity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), pp. 130-134.
(22) This discussion is related to the account of Simms that I present in The Poetics of National and Racial Identity, pp. 92-101.
(23) Simms, Poems: Descriptive, Dramatic, Legendary and Contemplative (New York: Arno Press, 1972), p. 324.
(24) Simms, "The Mountain Tramp. Tselica; A Legend of the French Broad," An Early and Strong Sympathy: The Indian Writings of William Gilmore Simms, ed. John Caldwell Guilds and Charles Hudson (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2003), pp. 529-530.
(25) Simms, Southward Ho! (New York, 1856), pp. 381,380-381.
(26) See the footnotes in the Bradley and Blodgett edition of Leaves of Grass, pp. 14-15.
(27) This poem was first published in 1859 under the title "A Child's Reminiscence," and its subsequent title, until 1871, was "A Word Out of the Sea"; see the Bradley and Blodgett edition of Leaves of Grass, pp. 246-247n.
(28) See Joseph M. DeFalco, "Whitman's Changes in 'Out of the Cradle' and Poe's 'Raven,'" Walt Whitman Review 16 (1970): 22-27.
(29) The account of the sublime I have in mind here is set out effectively in Frances Ferguson's important book Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (New York: Routledge, 1993), pp. 1-96. Ferguson challenges accounts of the sublime that, following the work of Thomas Weiskel, have cast it in fundamentally Oedipal terms (pp. 16-19, 86), terms that figure prominently in accounts of Whitman's poetry (for instance, Tenney Nathanson's Whitman's Presence: Body, Voice, and Writing in Leaves of Grass [New York: New York Univ. Press, 1992], pp. 339-344) and, more specifically, in accounts of this particular poem (for instance, Beth Jensen, Leaving the M/other: Whitman, Kristeva, and Leaves of Grass [Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 2002], pp. 68-79). Whitman's association of the sea with both maternity and death is a crucial aspect of this poem's language and meaning, but the account of the sublime set out by Ferguson suggests that an interpretation of this passage need not be driven by an Oedipal logic.
(30) In her account of the values Simms sought to express in his The Yemassee, Molly Boyd argues that "Simms seems to say that there is no true sense of identity without the surrounding reinforcements of a people, a society, and that it is better to die than to live a life without this sense of identity"; see "The Southern American Adam: Simms's Alternative Myth," Southern Quarterly 41, no. 2 (Winter 2003): 80.
(31) Michael Awkward, Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 4.
(32) Mary Eagleton, "Adrienne Rich, Location and the Body," Journal of Gender Studies 9, no. 3 (2000): 299.
(33) See, for instance, Linda Martin AlcofCs essays "Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory," Signs 13, no. 3 (1988): 428-436; and "The Problem of Speaking for Others," Cultural Critique (Winter 1991-92): 6-10.
(34) Linda Martin Alcoff, "Philosophy and Racial Identity," Radical Philosophy 75 (January/February 1996): 13.
(35) Linda Martin Alcoff, "Who's Afraid of Identity Politics?" Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism, ed. Paula M. L. Moya and Michael R. Hames-Garcia (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2000), p. 340. This recasting of identity politics as a "politics of location" is likewise made explicit in the work of Stuart Hall and Paula M. L. Moya. Hall addresses "conceptions of cultural identity and the 'politics of location'" in his "Introduction: Who Needs 'Identity?'" Questions of Cultural Identity, ed. Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 1996), p. 1. For Moya's methodological embrace of social location see Learning from Experience: Minority Identities, Multicultural Struggles (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2002), pp. 17, 44.
(36) Linda Martin Alcoff, "Against 'Post-Ethinc' Futures," Journal of Speculative Philosophy 18, no. 2 (2004): 109.
(37) James Clifford, "Taking Identity Politics Seriously," Without Guarantees: In Honour of Stuart Hall, ed. Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie (New York: Verso, 2000), p. 101. Clifford adds, "1 wish to argue, however, that this growing tendency to objectify, commodify, and perform identities is only part, albeit a crucial part, of the story" (p. 101).
(38) Robert Eric Livingston, "Glocal Knowledges: Agency and Place in Literary Study," PMLA 116, no. 1 (January 2001): 150. See also Dainotto, pp. 1-33.
(39) Linda Martin Alcoff, "What Should White People Do?" Hypatia 13, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 8.
(40) "Introduction," William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier, ed. John Caldwell Guilds and Caroline Collins (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1997), p. ix.
(41) On the recent effort to bring Simms's work back into print, see Thomas M. Allen, "South of the American Renaissance," American Literary History 16, no. 3 (2004): 496508.
(42) For critical challenges to scholarship rooted in a national framework see Cultures of United States Imperialism, ed. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1993); Gregory S. Jay, American Literature and the Culture Wars (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1997), pp. 169-213; Post-Nationalist American Studies, ed. John Carlos Rowe (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2000); and David W. Noble, Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2002), pp. 215-249.
(43) Advancing just such an account of southern identity, and placing Simms and his writings at its core, James E. Kibler asserts, "Simms's essential Southernness, as might be expected, was with him from his birth and in his literature from the very start ....His rootedness and localness came not from ignorance or small-mindedness but from the larger understanding that we exist fully only if fixed on a place where we know thoroughly its customs and enter reality by devotion to an understanding of family ties, hearth, and home" (James E. Kibler, "Simms's Prophetic Muse," The Mississippi Quarterly 49, no. 1 [Winter 1995-96]: 110-112).
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|Author:||Kerkering, John D.|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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