“Space, Walt Whitman, & Our Lives”
Number 1972. February 7, 2018
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is part 4 of Poetry and Space, a beautiful, amazing, vivid, and very important lecture that Eli Siegel gave in 1949. “Anything,” he explained, “seen as permitting motion without any interference at all could be seen as space.” That description takes in all the various ways the word has been used and is central to the many feelings, good and bad, that people have about space. For instance, there is the feeling we have looking far out to the horizon. There is the assessing of whether a parking space is large enough for one’s car. There is the design question of how to fill that space on the wall, or on that web page. There is the use of the word to mean air, interval, vacancy, expanse—and more.
In this section Mr. Siegel speaks about Walt Whitman, and how enormous and rich Whitman’s feeling about space was. What he describes here has been said by no other critic. Nor is it in Eli Siegel’s many other great discussions of Whitman, though certainly it’s in keeping with them.
Space & Purposes
Offhand, the subject of space doesn’t seem to be the most urgent, doesn’t seem on a par with things people worry about—like love, money, and how to think well of themselves. Yet how we see space is connected with how we see everything. Space is, Mr. Siegel says in this talk, one of the permanencies—as time is, change is.
Though every person has a particular sense of space, our feelings about and purposes toward it depend crucially on what Aesthetic Realism shows to be the constant fight in everyone. This is the fight between our desire to respect the world and our desire to have contempt—to “lessen…what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.”
Walt Whitman, because his desire to respect reality was so strong, welcomed the world in its untrammeled largeness, its infinite ability to include: that is, its spaciousness. But if we want to make ourselves big by looking down on what’s not us, we’ll be in some war with space: we’ll resent reality’s vastness and try to limit it….Read more
The Right Of is edited by Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, who is author of its commentaries.