In this article, the author argues that we should understand Walt Whitman’s catalog as a poetic form that is also a logical form — enumerative induction. Whitman’s catalogs — his characteristic technique of generating long lists — have long been recognized as central to his poetics. The list, or enumeration, is also the most basic form of inductive reasoning. By recognizing that Whitman reasons logically through his poetic form, not only is the common account of Whitman changed, but the concept of form must be revised in three crucial ways. First, form should not be defined in opposition to poetic content— this is a false definitional binary. Second, form and free verse are another false binary, as poems can be written in free verse and also have form, as Whitman’s poetry is and does. Third, form is not just a rubric with which critics interpret poems but the logic by which poems interpret the world.
Walt Whitman’s Formalism
Johanna Winant is assistant professor of English at West Virginia University. Her essays and reviews have appeared in JML: Journal of Modern Literature, Paideuma, James Joyce Quarterly, Slate, and Modernism/Modernity. She has held fellowships at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University and the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. She is currently completing a book project entitled Lyric Logic.
Johanna Winant; Walt Whitman’s Formalism. Poetics Today 1 March 2020; 41 (1): 59–81. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7974086
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