Daguerreotype as analogy for Whitman's Leaves of Grass
Antilla, David, 1957-
Master of Arts
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We commence our examination of the kaleidoscopic range of connections between Whitman and the daguerreotype with a simple, unpretentious news column by Whitman entitled "Visit to Plumbe’s Gallery". This leads to speculations of how Whitman could not have missed or ignored the profound infusion of the daguerreotype upon nineteenth century American society. In the next chapter we witness Whitman's facination with his own photographic portraits. We also see the revolutionary stagecraft that was employed in his portraits, and how there seems to be a chronological record of transitions from a Brooklyn journalist, to a proletariat "rough", and then to an enlightened sage. The two chapters that come next examines how Whitman's emphasis on sight and seeing in Leaves of Grass corresponds with key elements in photography, and how the monistic philosophy of Whitman as it relates to the body and the soul is analogous to the direct positive process of early daguerreotypes. Next we are reminded of Whitman's enthusiasm for scientific advancements, and how the advent of photography seemed to fit the grid of the poet's mind perfectly. In addition we discern a kinship between Whitman's democratic leaning and the popularity of photography - how both Leaves of Grass and the art of the daguerreotype were "of the people, by the people, for the people". The final chapter culminates with an examination of the ways in which Whitman’s prosodical achievements resemble the techniques in photography. His poetic practice of piling line upon line in catalogue stacks bears an uncanny likeness to individual snapshots. Thus this thesis aims to observe Leaves of Grass from a new angle and through a new lens. Hopefully we can gain a little understanding of the genesis of the dozen poems that comprised the thin quarto of 1855.