February 7, 2009
Personality and Urban Affection
So, this morning, during the Snarkmasters’ sequifortnightly transcontinental gathering over email, coffee, cold pad thai, and cinnamon swirls, the conversation turned to Walt Whitman, and I was reminded of the really quite lovely American Experience documentary on Whitman that was broadcast around a year ago.
I love Ed Folsom’s account of Whitman’s experience of “urban affection”:
Whitman feels the power of the city of strangers. He’s looking at a city of strangers and how something we might now call urban affection begins to develop. How do you come to care for people that you have never seen before and that you may never see again?
Every day we encounter people, eyes make contact, we brush by people, physically come into contact with them, and may never see them again.
But Whitman’s notebooks at this time are filled with images, just jottings, of these people, what they’re doing, what they look like, what their names are. ‘What is this person doing? What’s the activity that defines this person?
“If I were doing that activity that person would be me. If I were wandering the other way, rather than this way, that person could be me. That could be me. That could be me. What is it that separates any of us?’
Folsom co-edits The Walt Whitman Archive, a fantastic resource with complete e-texts, photographic images of all of the alternate editions, biographies, scholarly essays, you name it.
The only real downside to the online presentation of the Whitman Documentary (and it’s a real downer) is 1) there’s no way to watch the whole documentary straight through and 2) the videos can only be displayed as teeny-tiny Quicktime/WMA pop-ups. Come on, PBS! Broadcast TV has finally figured out how to rock the computer screen in fullscreen HD — so has YouTube, Comedy Central, and, um, everybody. The people demand that their public digital television be done up right.