I found this interesting, but it was a bit oblique and indirect. I want to make sure I understand this in the context of the discussion. So: is the logic here that Whitman had intellectual knowledge of marginalized populations - African Americans, Native Americans, and so on - but not visceral knowledge of them? And then would it follow that more “suspicious” readings of Whitman (“suspicious” related to what has been called the “hermeneutics of suspicion”), or, to use your term, Geoffrey, “militant,” would be necessary to confront Whitman, or interpretations of Whitman, in order to sort of impart this visceral knowledge?
Whitman actually had a brother with severe disabilities. Here (article from Walt Whitman archive):
Excerpt from short article:
While the specifics of Edward’s incapacities are thus somewhat blurred, there is little question regarding the closeness of the relationship between him and his brother Walt. In the mid-1850s the two shared a bed in the attic of their mother’s house in Brooklyn. Referring to entries in the poet’s notebooks of that time, Paul Zweig suggests that Whitman’s feelings for Edward may have been complicated by guilt-producing eroticism. Such is not unlikely but remains unverifiable; what appears certain is the bond of affection that lasted throughout their lives. In 1888, days after Walt Whitman had suffered a series of debilitating strokes, Eddy, on the way to enter the asylum at Blackwood, New Jersey, where he would spend his last four years, was brought to see the aging poet. According to Horace Traubel, the two exchanged a few words, then sat for a long time in silence, Walt holding Eddy’s hand. In the intervening decades Whitman had not only contributed generously to Eddy’s support and seen to it that he was well cared for, but had treated him with a humane respect and brotherly affection not forthcoming from the other Whitman brothers. He made Edward the principal beneficiary of his will, though the largesse was unnecessary, for Eddy lived only eight months longer than Walt.
I agree that there is a difference between intellectual and visceral knowledge, and that change only happens from the “visceral” or emotional/feeling/experiential level. I always liked Richard Rorty because he argued the same thing, though he talked about it in terms of one’s “self-image,” and that we change when we want to change our self-image. But, if my summary of your post’s logic is correct or almost correct (is it?), then it also seems to be assuming that if we have visceral knowledge of one marginalized population (Whitman’s relationship to Edward, Whitman’s own homosexuality), but not of another (African Americans, say, or Native Americans) then we are doomed forever to intellectual knowledge about those specific populations, and not visceral knowledge. If that is the argument being made, then I disagree. I think, when we become acquainted with suffering, of whatever kind, then we can relate on a deeper level to others’ suffering. Clearly Walter Whitman had ambivalent feelings about African-Americans and Native Americans. But in his best moments, when he wrote his perfect poems, when he was Walt, I think he used his own sorrow, sadness and suffering to relate at a very deep level with other human beings, like the runaway slave, the prostitute, really every single being in his poems. That’s the thing - people have dignity in Whitman’s poems. His best poems, let me qualify - his worst poems are caricatures of himself. But in his best work, we see people the way I think we should see them - incommensurably unique (but not special), and utterly dignified, beautiful, even holy.