Abstract: This paper argues for a biopolitical approach to Walt Whitman’s poetry, one that considers how Whitman locates utopian possibility in a poetics of the flesh. I examine two adaptations of Whitman’s poetry, a 2009 Levi’s Jeans commercial directed by Cary Fukunaga and Rob Halpern’s 2012 collection of poetry Music for Porn. The former stages Whitman’s utopian aspirations in post-Katrina New Orleans, the latter revises Whitman’s Civil War poetry in response to the second Gulf War. In both cases, the historical wounds borne by bodies become sites for reimagining social futures. Whitman’s name, I propose, becomes a crossroads in which the long disaster of American exceptionalism converges with struggles to construct a world beyond the constraints of capitalist and state formations.
Bio: Christian Haines is Assistant Professor of English at Dartmouth College. He is completing his first book, A Desire Called America: Biopolitics, Utopia, and the Literary Commons, which examines utopian figurations of corporeality in nineteenth-century and contemporary U.S. literature. He has published essays in journals including Criticism, Genre, and Angelaki: A Journal of the Theoretical Humanities. He is co-editor and a contributor to a forthcoming special issue of Cultural Critique entitled “What Comes After the Subject?” His current research examines the relationship between contemporary cultural production and finance capital.