Jane Bennett – Walt Whitman’s Solar Judgment

Event Date: Monday 17th May 2010
Council Room Birkbeck Main Building

Jane BennettWalt Whitman’s Solar Judgment

In the 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass, Whitman attributes to the poet this remarkable talent: he has learned how to judge “not as the judge judges but as the sun falling around a helpless thing.” To judge as the sun falls: my goal is to examine the techniques — literary, grammatical, conceptual — that Whitman uses to cultivate this queer, even oxymoronic, practice. I suggest that Whitman’s “solar” judging helps to induce a special kind of auditory perception: the ability to detect the voice of “inanimate” things, a voice that announces the role that such things have played in the particular political actions or events to which one is called upon to judge. Thus Whitman’s claim that poets can take on the posture of falling sunlight is linked to his materialism, or the way he conceives of materiality as a living force.

Jane Bennett is Professor of Political Theory at Johns Hopkins University and currently a Fellow in the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. Her latest book is VIBRANT MATTER: A POLITICAL ECOLOGY OF THINGS (Duke University Press, 2010).

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