Morbid Inferences: Whitman, Wikipedia, and the Debate over the Poet's Sexuality

Jason Stacy, Cory Blad, Rob Velella

Abstract


The ascendency of identity as an effective political mobilization strategy has opened significant opportunities for group definition (or redefinition) of previously accepted information and knowledge claims. The emergence of “identity politics” in this postindustrial era is but one of several reflective conditions, but certainly one that is imminently helpful in understanding the “reopening” of debate on Whitman’s sexual orientation. In order to gain control over definitions it becomes necessary to rhetorically politicize the authority of scholars and the primacy of existing professional knowledge. The struggle over historicity, facilitated by the expansion of telecommunications technologies and online collaboration, has created a substantial opportunity to challenge seemingly “settled” knowledge and expand debate beyond academic boundaries while either appealing to academic authority, or dismissing claims of academic objectivity whenever rhetorically convenient. The decline of traditional authority structures and the opening of discursive opportunities creates a field in which academic expertise becomes increasingly contested for politico-personal ends, especially on a quasi-authoritative, semi-anonymous, open-access forum like Wikipedia. Whitman’s “multitudes,” coupled with his notoriety and claims to be the nation’s poet, make him a rich battleground over American sexual politics.


Keywords


Literature, History, Technology

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