THE IMAGE OF THE BODY IN WALT WHITMAN’S “I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC”

ECATERINA COJOCA

admin 11 Nov 2015

Published initially in 1855 in the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” and re-published in 1856 under the title “Poem of the Body”, “I Sing the Body Electric” creates a triadic representation/image of the Body – as erotic, political and poetic. All of these images converge to re-create the historical body – the body that completes the historic landscape of America and represents the unfolding history of democracy, bearing the symbol/scar of race, gender, class: the manly, working body, the birthing and nurturing body, the sensual body, the matriarchal and patriarchal body, the body of the master, and that of the slave, and the uncanny body of the immigrant. The stream of body images that disclose the plenitude and fecundity of the sensuous body to the still shy, puritan public eye of Whitman’s time, gains in the poem a historical and expressive meaning – that of the marker/bearer of history. The poem’s array of bodily representations not only reveals the stages of life and selfhood, but also constructs a representation of the American history and identity. The dialectic of the body – the dynamic process of self-conscious becoming – propels the creation of meaning and authenticity to history inasmuch as it constructs an identity image for itself. This paper contends to explore the body’s process of self-becoming as it starts from the celebrated natural body, fertile and life bursting, and gradually acquires cultural and historical meaning, disclosing a new dimension of the self, an expressive one, through the poetic mode of representation.