Walt Whitman and the Soft Voice of Sympathy
Professor, Political Science
Johns Hopkins University
The talk explores 1) what Walt Whitman meant by ‘sympathy’ and how his invocations of it diverged from the ‘sentimentalist’ model of it; 2) why he neverthless saw great political potential in sympathy, understood to be both a personal, bodily ‘feeling’ and a transindividual, natural/physical force of attraction, and 3) how Whitman created and deployed a political-poetic rhetoric designed to intensify the power of ‘sympathies’. The talk approaches, as an open question, whether there is a productive role that ‘sympathies’ might play within democratic theory and practice today.