Thursday, May 17, 2012

Final Project

From the Journal of Frances Wright
       May 1, 1815
        I’’ve taken quite a fancy to my uncle’s, James Milne, progressive philosophy, and I shall take his ideas to whatever new land I end up in.  He has challenged my perceptions of the world and morality in such a way that inspired me reflect upon myself the limits of right and wrong among individuals and society.  So many of the conventional norms we are taught to obey without question don’t make much sense to me.  If all men are born free and equal, then why are only some men treated free and equal? Slavery continues to be a thorn in society’s side to think particularly of America where it has infected her Southern bosom and how it only keeps spreading.  Then there are us women.  We must not allow the masculine race to pin us down to child bearing, sowing needles, and “keepers of the home”.
June 26, 1818
       America is beautiful.  I arrived several months ago and since then I’ve been traveling to all corners of this diverse land, which has the potential to become a utopia for all men and women of rational thought and moral. Even the white racist southern men, who creates a fantastic drink called “moonshine”, I have come to tolerate them if only for moments at a time, but still I do appreciate their hospitality.  I do find their southern accent adorable although I must admit to me it sounds like a primitive version of English.  On to more important issues…
       America is still in her youth.  She is a young nation that is capable of a prosperous future if the tenets of Democracy are met and upheld.  As I have said before, the institution of slavery is a thorn digging deeper in America’s side, and until it is fully eradicated  I fear it will tear this nation asunder leading consequently to the destruction of the vision of Democracy that so many patriots sacrificed  his life to achieve in the fight for independence against the bloody British imperialists.  It would be a damn shame if this unjust institution brings down America, and I will have something to say about it.
But slavery is not the only thing I believe causing tension in this nation.  Education should be available to all persons who wish to pursue it not just those who can afford it or inherit it because of the class they were born into. The more knowledge one seeks to learn the better off he/she is in being successful and financially stable.  Furthermore, educated people tend to question the social norms the masses conform to because conformity hides fear.  A Democratic society needs educated people who can think for themselves and engage in public discussions and debates.  That’s part of what Democracy is, the freedom express one’s opinion to the public sector, no matter how idiotic one’s opinion may be, to make people aware and helping them make up their own damn minds. 
Just the other day I went into town, Upstate New York, and noticed one fanatic blabbering “the end is near, repent and be saved Or else suffer damnation in the fiery pits of hell!”  What atrocious hogwash.  After that encounter I almost had to repent for lending my ears to that holy-roller who spent every breath he could muster telling lies and spreading fear.  I know I’m radical but at least I have reason and logic, which work to persuade, to back up my claims.
But I also came across one individual, a gentleman by the name of John Brown, who spoke eloquently, from an abolitionist’s perspective, on the evils of slavery, and that abolitionists’ must work to free slaves by means of armed insurrection.  Perhaps he is right in advocating a call to bear arms for this purpose because white slave owners will not willingly give up his property.  Mr. Brown’s ideas are revolutionary, and makes me think that there are more people who share the same convictions as he.  If he were to run for office I would surely give him my vote.  The gathering was moderate, yet it didn’t matter to Mr. Brown the size of the mob, for his message was clear as day: “the institution of slavery is immoral and what we need is action”.  He stands apart from other abolitionists who call themselves pacifists like the Quakers.  Although slavery is prevalent here, for those who want to see it abolished, extreme measures must persist.  Mr. Brown understands this concept like me and other likeminded progressive and radical people.
The feminist movement is still in its early stages, but I should hope that in the future feminists will organize, speak freely, and perhaps even hold a convention that would draw the attention of other advocates for the rights of women.  By the looks of it, Seneca Falls seems ideal for women of all backgrounds to convene, speak freely, and spread the feminine word.  Obviously suffrage is the primary issue feminists are concerned with, but it’s also one chunk of the wide umbrella involving women’s rights.  There is also birth control, sexual freedom, property rights, education, equal pay, dress, etc.  I personally think free education is of equal importance to suffrage.  When women become competent readers, they shall have to read Mary Wollstonecraft’s text “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.”  But there is much to say on this topic and many others that I cannot fit it all in my journal.
October 25, 1821
I’m happy to say that my book, Views of Society and Manners in America has been published and was well received amongst my radical colleagues in England, and if they like it here they must like it in America, right?  England is practically just like America except the English feel the need to conquer the world.  I plan on returning to America once I save enough money in which my book profits will generously compensate for my trip back.  In the mean time I’ll be at the local pub, the vile hole, where my comrades await my presence. 
October 8, 1824
I’m back in my newly adopted country and feeling better than ever in the pursuit to take action for what I believe in.  I’ve been spending much of my time in New Harmony community in Indiana, a utopian community established by Robert Dale Owen in which blacks and whites can live in harmony with one another.  New Harmony is the direction America and Democracy must take in order to ensure a bright future.  The point of the community, I don’t think, is to love one another unconditionally but instead learn how to cooperate with one another in any circumstance.
Owen has inspired me to establish a cooperative community in the name of progress, and I anticipate my plan will come into fruition in the near distant future.  If he can do it then surely I can too.  Besides, I read in the local paper that religious cults (Oneida community and Joseph Smith’s Mormonism) are springing up like poppy fields to which the masses flee to.  But my cult will have no religious affiliation, which would make it very much unlike a cult as I see it.
January 26, 1825
Managing a utopian community is tough work as I am learning from experience.    The first phase of my experiment went smoothly enough.  With the money I saved up, I purchased 2,000 acres of land near Memphis and founded the Nashoba community.  The white southern gentleman from who I purchased the land from looked at me battled as if he’s never seen a lady handle paperwork and money with the intention to acquire 2,000 acres of fine American grassland.  I figure 2,000 acres is enough land to accommodate myself plus the slaves I purchased to bring over, free them and grant them land on the settlement though all are welcome so long they comply with some basic principles.
  At first I thought the Africans were going to try and flee after being inducted into the community, but instead they complied with my plans to regulate and organize Nashoba accordingly so as to allow them the promised acre or more of land.  The Africans already belong to the legions of toil, that is, knowing and doing the routine work that goes into farming and growing crops to be equally distributed among the community members.  The black women, either pregnant or with an infant, stay inside the cabin nurturing her dearest one(s).  I’'ve been trying to persuade the men to stay home while the women toil in the fields, but they feel most reluctant to break with tradition even on days where the scorching sun makes it most uncomfortable to endure a heat hotter than Satan’s hoofs.  They claim that they have grown accustomed to all the elements of southern humidity.  Me on the other hand, being raised in Scotland, if I stay out too long beneath the sun’s rays I’ll end up a victim of skin cancer exfoliating and shedding like a reptilian monster.  
Overall, it’s the simplicity factor that makes Nashoba function.  With all major faculties shared, each family unit has their personal possessions that stays with them or in the privacy of their homes, and because of the homogenous population, the Africans share a robust sentiment among each other that is derived in their past lives of subjugation.  This sentiment brings about the unspoken treaty of respect, yet it is felt and followed by them all.  If only all beings followed this code to live by; the fact that we all suffer from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, so why not diminish part of the misery by treating all sentient beings with dignity and respect.  Although the majority of the population is people of African descent, there are whites here among us who participate in the community in any and all ways.  The whites are better educated, so I suggested to them that a school must be formed, and they be its educators.  They agreed and established the “Nashoba Community School”.  We thought it best that children be obligated to complete basic reading, writing and math courses to begin.  The whites came from the South, and they claimed that slavery had become an intolerable institution poisoning Democratic society.  So with the help of these new abolitionists, our community grows in strength, not only in numbers and diversity, but also in our manifesto statement of how society should and could function for the benefit of all regardless of skin color.  No one is kept here against their will, yet they choose to stay, I think, because the outside world is still too cruel to accept free black persons.
Our community members insist on building a small chapel.  While I’m not a fan of the idea I can respect their religious convictions, so in my compliance with the chapel they made a promise to me to not allow worship service to get in the way of work.  Since I do admit to being a contentious individual, I also argued to them that their “faith” is just a product of being conditioned by their former masters.  In truth, it is something they picked up like a habit and stuck to it without so much as to question their own motivation in nurturing “faith” and scripture.  They responded by conceding that I was probably right, but it was too late to change, and faith in God brings about a comforting feeling.  I then reassured myself that if this feeling of comfort is indeed true then it will subsequently help them in the fruits of their labor, which would be a benefit for the whole community
.   March 17, 1828,
I fear Nashoba only has about a month before it collapses financially as well as conflict with the law.  It started about a year ago when government officials became skeptical of our community.  Some of them went so far as to covertly join the community in order to dig up some dirt and report it back to the state.  Once the state acquired substantial evidence of the inner workings in Nashoba, the legislature enacted an “anti- conspiracy” law.  I guess they felt threatened by vegetables and interracial harmony.  Many of our members left and headed either north or west upon hearing of the new government threat.  Its better they leave now than face persecution later with the law or once again being subjected to slave work.  For the 30 or so who were brave enough to stay, I’ve arranged to transport them to Haiti, which gained independence in 1804.  I have to do something for these good people; I feel responsible for them, and for three years they were my family.
Tonight we feast, dance, and drink ale.  It’s all going under anyway, so why not enjoy the little time we have left?  The last three years have been an experience that will shape my life in whatever endeavors or challenges that come my way.  The core of Nashoba represented, to me, the potential of America, and all she has to offer to her inhabitants if and only if people overcome their prejudices and petty differences.  I’ve decided, once I close this chapter in my life, to get back on the road and give speeches based on my progressive ideology, because after my life here in Nashoba I can finally speak from experience on issues that many would consider theoretical.  But enough politics for now and on with the feast I say.
August 11, 1831,
The transition from single radical woman to submissive wife is the direction my life is now veering towards.  The Frenchman insists on my calling him “Doctor” Darusmont, for he says he earned his prestigious “Doctor” title, and I must acknowledge this at all times.  I’ have never met a man this insecure and probably never will.  Speaking of titles, back in America I earned a reputation, which came from giving speeches of all sorts, of “rabble rouser”, and I’m proud of my title though without the need to brag about it.  Rabble rousers are a minority.  I’m questioning why I ended up marrying the man.  I fell in love with a man who said and did the right things, a charming man.  This charming side of him began fading away soon after the wedding, and now things are insipid and predictable.  He doesn’t agree with most of my political views insisting that that part of my life is over, and that my rightful place is on the home now.  This is insulting to me, and everything I stand for.  Never will I join the ranks of these Victorian automaton women. 
As expected the Doctor and I got a divorced; actually he divorced me since women are not yet allowed to legally leave their husbands due to inane laws aimed only at benefiting males.  He managed to take control of my property, money, and only daughter.  Luckily though, I have some extra funds stashed in Scotland at one of my trusting relative’s house to which I will use to go back to America.  My daughter Frances Silva will be missed but not forgotten.  I will regret not being there with her, watching her growing up, questioning, and raging against the system, but I will fight for her rights, for I hope women’s voting rights will become a reality in the gap of her generation.
October 25, 1852,
After my speech I met an interesting young man by the name of Walt Whitman.  Walt is an aspiring writer from New York.  He is interested in all areas of life from political philosophy to the literary arts.  He was curious to find out more about my experiences in establishing the beloved Nashoba community, asking me all kinds of questions concerning the daily habits of life there and living peacefully in a multiracial commune.  He then started asking me about my own personal philosophy on life, politics, ethics and religion to which I gladly shared with him.  He mentioned he has ideas of his own in these types of matters though his craft lies in pen and paper.  He said he is currently working on a project entitled “Leaves of Grass”, and that this work will change the foundation of American writing and society; that it will establish an identity for American poetry.  He said all this with confidence so sincere without bragging or gloating so as to diminish those around him including me.
October 26, 1852,
I met up with Walt again today only this time in a more comfortable manner, for he insisted that we loaf on the grass together.  I didn’t understand at first, “loaf on the grass?” a waste of time it would seem to lazily recline on the grassy earth.  Yes, and so I loafed on the grass with him, and he let me read a rough manuscript of his genius work “Leaves of Grass”.  The work is unique in its very nature, full of contradictories that fit so nicely together.  I found it to be quite nihilistic to some degree, caring about nothing and everything simultaneously, elusive to grasp yet comprehensible even for a child.  Some of my favorite lines include “They do not sweat and whine about their condition, they do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, they do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, no one is dissatisfied… not one is demented with the mania of owning things, not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth”.  These lines are powerful.  Perhaps animals will inherit the earth?
I feel like “Leaves of Grass” challenges my perceptions of society.  From the little of it that I have read, Walt eloquently asserts that “all truths wait in all things, they neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it… logic and sermons never convince…”  Am I just an idealizer chasing my ideology?  One truth leads to another and another and yet another until it loses meaning and absoluteness in my interpretation no matter how sincere I try to be.  And I want others to chase it with me. And I am no different from the preacher and congressman who regurgitate their principles on life claiming that they know the truth and possess the answers.  The things I believe in I hold to be true and right are the things I’ve been taught since a very early age, and I suppose we were all taught and exposed to at least one dominant creed to obey without questioning it.  This is something, as the former black Nashoba members assured, that brings us comfort in this cruel world, and helps us live.
 For all non-human animals this comfort ultimately means the earth itself, which nurtures life like an infant in the arms a mother, is the only thing they need to survive, nay, to live in peace.  They do not need humans; conversely, we need them to survive.  We need their flesh to eat, the cow’s milk to drink, and their hide and fur to fabricate and make useful to us.  Without them we would probably be extinct, and they would have the earth to themselves.
“Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so, only what nobody denies is so”.  How elusive these words are yet within reach to grasp.  To prove something is to tell the truth in my mind.  Is it not obvious that the institution of slavery is a malicious cycle people have adopted, holding on to it with the force of arms?  And isn’t it true that this same institution is breaking apart this nation, yet people are inept to let go of it.  For the better part of my life I’ve dedicated my time and effort in spreading my logic in an attempt to change society for the better, but still I cannot convince every man and woman to accept my views, and even if I did somehow convert the inconvertible it would still not be enough to change society, because people must experience it for themselves.  They must come to that realization that slavery is fundamentally wrong, or that an equal opportunity for education for men and women is a key element for the growth of individuals, society, and the nation, or that women do deserve suffrage rights.  Only through direct experience will the individual want to change; it’s in that experience that truth lies in.  This is something I’m beginning to understand, and Walt, young as he is, knows and understands this as if he is some kind of sage, yet I’m sure he would detest that word applied to him.  I will still hold on to my deepest convictions, for it makes up my perception of the world, but I will not let it dictate me.  Like the agnostic, I am prone to asking questions to reach or not reach a satisfying conclusion.  Thank you Walt for helping to make me aware of myself.                      
      November 11, 1852,
This shall be my last journal entry.  I am ill, deteriorating in health after collapsing on an icy staircase.  I expressed to Walt my interpretation of and sentiments regarding “Leaves of Grass”.  He neither approved nor disapproved but nodded and smiled as if to say “you get it”.  Unfortunately, I will not be here during the time of its publication yet just having read the few pages is a reward in itself.  Goodnight sweet prince; I shall see you on the other side.   

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Blog Project

I would like to do a little more research on Fanny Wright's life, works, and the influence she  had on Whitman.  From the research I already gathered, I know she spent a great deal of her time promoting her own brand of radicalism during a time in which radicalism in culture and society was making a debut into the American mainstream.  And I'm sure she went on to influence other men and women who participated in the suffrage movement like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but unlike Stanton, Wright is a woman who doesn't receive the credit she deserves particularly in the history books we were brought up to read in school.  What were some of her greatest achievements and failures as one dedicated to activism?  What legacy, if any, has she left behind? And did her means justify her ends when it came to taking action against slavery, and the subjugation of women?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Peter Doyle

Peter Doyle was a good friend of Whitmans.  The two developed their relationship into something erotic or romantic, which is celebrated in the "Calamus" poems Whitman published in 1860.  Over the long course of their friendship, the two also exchanged letters that are considered to be "invaluable reference points for the student seeking to understand Whitman's emotional and sexual nature".  Although Doyle was born in Limerick Ireland in 1843, he came to the American South and became a Confederate soldier but despite joining the Confederacy, there is the possibility that Doyle was for abolishing slavery seeing as how he was very influenced by Whitman on a very personal level.  After Whitman's death, Peter Doyle gave the letters to Richard Maurice Bucke who edited and published it in 1897.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Specimen Days---Down At The Front

In this entry Whitman gives an eye witness account of his visit to the "camp hospitals in the army of the Potomac" where he observed the casualties of war.  It's a very morbidly dark scene, " I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, a full load for a one-horse cart".  I wonder what motivated him to visit these American soldiers if only to offer any help he could give them, which he does.  I'm guessing, even though he doesn't mention it, that he did know people who fought in the Civil War and who probably ended up as casualties.  I for one have to admire his courage to visit these soldiers under such devastating conditions.  It takes somebody with a big heart and a strong stomach to endure and withstand seeing suffering to this degree.  Compassion is the necessary virtue to possess when one must confront suffering, and Whitman delivers compassion even to a wounded Mississippian Captain who was badly wounded in the leg, and who asked Whitman for papers to which he gave him.  In his eyes in this particular circumstance North and South are indiscriminate, and Whitman, being from New York, makes this distinction.      

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Martin F Tupper

Martin F Tupper was an English writer, poet, and author of Proverbial Philosophy.   Tupper's humane instincts prompted him to espouse many reforming movements; he was an early supporter of the Student Volunteer Movement, and did much to promote good relations between Britain and America. He tried to encourage African literature and was also a mechanical inventor in a small way. Critic Kwame Anthony Appiah, however, has used a quote from Martin Tupper's ballad "The Anglo-Saxon Race" 1850 as an example of the predominant understanding of "race" in the nineteenth century. Tupper's ballad appeared in the journal The Anglo-Saxon containing the lines: "Break forth and spread over every place/The world is a world for the Anglo Saxon race!"
At the end of his life he vanished into obscurity and nowadays his work is forgotten.

Some excerpts from Proverbial Philosophy:
"The choicest pleasures of life lie within the ring of moderation."

Contend not in wisdom with a fool, for thy sense maketh much of his conceit;
And some errors never would have thriven, had it not been for learned refutation.

This guy would have been a really successful fortune cookie adviser or whatever they're called.  I couldn't really find anything substantial or comprehensive about Martin on the internet.  However, I did come across some of his poetry and it reflects some of the same elements that Whitman utilizes in Leaves of Grass.  For example, free verse is incorporated and is a major theme/idea of the poem is centered around the proverb, which, generally speaking, is wisdom.  Proverbs are found all over the world in different cultures and religious writings.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Walt Whitman and Mass Media

From the top of my head I can recall the "Leaves of Grass" movie starring Edward Norton that came out in 2009.  I've only seen it once a while ago, so I don't remember all the little details.  Roughly it's about this university professor, Edward Norton, who is hornswoggled into returning to Oklahoma to help out his pot dealing twin brother in a scheme to stop a drug lord.  It compares to "The Big Lebowski" in more than one way not just the pot references.

March 9, 2005 - In his 30-year career, musician Fred Hersch has performed in solo, duo, trio and quintet settings. In 2003 he received the prestigious Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, which he used to work on his latest project, Leaves of Grass. For it, Hersch leads a 10-piece ensemble, which includes vocalists singing the words of Walt Whitman set to compositions by Hersch. He is touring the ensemble this month.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fanny Wright

Fanny Wright was born on September 6, 1795.  Both her parents died when she was just three years old and she was brought up by her relatives including James Milne, a "progressive philosopher, who encouraged Fanny to question conventional ideas".  She spent time in the United States beginning in 1818 and after returning to England she wrote and published a book titled Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) in which she praised the value of American democracy.  The most significant accomplishment of her life was in 1825 when she purchased 2000 acres of land and populated the land with slaves whom she bought, liberated them and granted them land.  Wright's experimental community raised controversy because it went against the conventional norms of the time.  She encouraged sexual freedom, in her view marriage was a discriminatory institution with the solution being free love, she articulated her own dress code for women including "bodices, ankle length pantaloons, and a dress cut to above the knee".  In 1828 after her communal experiment failed, Wright and Robert Dale Owen planned for the "former slaves to be sent to the black republic of Haiti".  She later became involved in the Workingmen's Party in New York.

Whitman drew influence from Wright's teachings as seen in his own writings.  Her radical ideas involving free love, women's rights, stance on abolishing slavery, experiment in utopian community, and the workforce must have had some profound meaning for Whitman.  And growing up in New York, he was constantly being exposed to the political radicalism and religious fanaticism of that period.  Let's face it, Leaves of Grass is a radical text that touches upon all sorts of aspects of life in America and nature.