Long before Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass, poets had addressed themselves to fame. Horace, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats all hoped that poetic greatness would grant them a kind of earthly immortality. Whitman held a similar faith that for centuries the world would value his poems. But to this ancient desire to live forever on the page, he added a new sense of fame. Readers would not simply attend to the poet’s work, they would be attracted to the magnificence of his personality. They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal. Out of the political rallies and electoral parades that marked Jacksonian America, Whitman defined poetic fame in relation to the crowd. Others might court the muses on Mt. Parnassus or imagine themselves in the laureates’ sacred grove. Whitman’s poet sought the approval of his contemporaries. In the turbulence of American democracy, fame would be contingent on celebrity, on the degree to which the people exulted in the poet and his work.
This article is from the preface of 'Walt Whitman and the Culture of American Celebrity' by David Haven Blake. I feel like I got the gist of this writing. To Whitman as well, for a earthly immorality of work, it's important to write a great poem, but what's more important is be a popular man for the public.
Is it right?
But I can't understand this part and the sentence structure exactly.
"They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal."
First, in a content side, was the author intended to say that the writer himself/herself should be contained in ther work as a main character with those characteristics?
Second, in a structure side, is "a vibrant cultural performance" in apposition with "an individual (springing from the boook with tremendous chrisma and appeal)"? If so, I wonder how "performance" could be "an individual".
Another question is here, too : )
In the turbulence of American democracy, fame would be contingent on celebrity, on the degree to which the people exulted in the poet and his work.
Why would fame be dependent on celebrity in the unstability of American democracy?
This is "purple prose." It's not straight expository writing. I think perhaps the author had been reading too much Whitman! He seems to be defining "fame" as permanent or lasting, as contrasted with "celebrity" as temporary. I don't make that distinction myself. A dictionary seems to agree with me.
"They would see in his poems a vibrant cultural performance, an individual springing from the book with tremendous charisma and appeal." 1) They would see his poems as a performance. 2) They would see an individual springing from the book.
You phrase it very well when you ask if Whitman was a character within his own work. I think the answer--in many of the poems, anyway--is obviously "yes--of course."
In many of them--most obviously "Song of Myself"--he writes in the first person. He does not give anything to suggest that he means you to read "I" as anything other than "Walt Whitman."
"I celebrate myself and sing myself..."
And as if that were not clear enough, he says
"Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding...."
To your excellent question, "Why would fame be dependent on celebrity in the unstability of American democracy?" I'd have to say "I don't know. I think you understand the sentence as well as I do." If, before Whitman, poets had sought permanent fame, then perhaps he's saying that America was too turbulent and unstable for permanent fame among cognoscenti to be a realistic goal. Therefore, Whitman, instead, sought celebrity among ordinary people.