“What is the reason-why of Walt Whitman’s lyric utterances, as soon as any of them is heard, rousing up such vehement intellectual censures and contumely from some persons, and their equally determined bravos from other persons?” This is the completely badass beginning of a completely badass review Walt Whitman wrote and published anonymously in 1860.

It’s (obviously) a lengthy review, but worth a look. Here’s Whitman being self-effacing:

Indeed, Leaves of Grass has not yet been really published at all. Walt Whitman, for his own purposes, slowly trying his hand at the edifice, the structure he has undertaken, has lazily loafed on, letting each part have time to set -evidently building not so much with reference to any part itself, considered alone, but more with reference to the ensemble – always bearing in mind the combination of the whole, to fully justify the parts when finished.

Always exuberant, Whitman’s self-praise is often hilariously rhapsodic. Here’s the poet, flying dangerously close to the sun:

Walt Whitman’s method in the construction of his songs is strictly the method of the Italian Opera, which, when heard, confounds the new person aforesaid, and, as far as he can then see, showing no purport for him, nor on the surface, nor any analogy to his previous-accustomed tunes, impresses him as if all the sounds of earth and hell were tumbled promiscuously together. Whereupon he says what he candidly thinks (or supposes he thinks), and is very likely a first-rate fellow – with room to grow, in certain directions.

Over at Bookslut (who gets a H/T for bringing this to my attention) Jenna Crispin excerpts the very best part:

You, bold American! and ye future two hundred millions of bold Americans, can surely never live, for instance, entirely satisfied and grow to your full stature, on what the importations hither of foreign bards, dead or alive, provide – nor on what is echoing here the letter and the spirit of the foreign bards. No, bold American! not even on what is provided, printed from Shakespeare or Milton – not even of the Hebrew canticles – certainly not of Pope, Byron, or Wordsworth – nor of any German or French singer, nor any foreigner at all.

I’ve spent most of this morning imagining what Walt Whitman’s Amazon.com reviews would look like/what Jonathan Franzen’s self-reviews would look like/what Jodi Picault’s self-reviews would look like. Needless to say, if you are an author and would like to write an anonymous, absurdly positive review of your own work I PROMISE I WILL PUBLISH IT. Ethics are for chumps.

I tried to follow in Whitman’s footsteps and write a glowing review of Full Stop, but didn’t get very far: “Hey America! There’s a lot of you out there and stuff. I know all of you are, like, “we can get all our online literary criticism from France or Germany or maybe England or the Bible,” but you can’t! It’s gotta come from America! We’re from America!”

Here’s a really good song about America from Bill Callahan’s excellent new album, Apocalypse, which Amazon is selling for $6! Trust me, it’s worth it.

Bill Callahan – America!


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