Mystical discourse as ideological resistance in Wordsworth and Whitman: A transatlantic bridge

Donald J Moores, University of Rhode Island


Despite both the recent trend in transatlantic scholarship and the central position Wordsworth and Whitman occupy in the Romantic tradition, there have been relatively few comparative discussions of the two poets. Although some critics have discerned solid connections between them, there is essentially a scholarly void in the critical record, and my dissertation fills this gap. ^ A bridge between Wordsworth and Whitman is found in their privileging of a marginalized epistemology, which they expressed through a type of mystical rhetoric I call the “cosmic” mode. This epistemology entails the merging of self and other, a living cosmos endowed with consciousness, a monistic ontology, love as a higher alternative to normal rational awareness, the privileging of sound and silence over traditional liguistic utterance, a poetics of prophesy, and an anti-religion. ^ Although cosmic rhetoric is in part rooted in the Romantic zeitgeist, Wordsworth and Whitman transmuted it by employing it as a weapon of ideological resistance, for it is highly subversive in several ways: First, it collapses the foundation of Western thought—the subject/object dichotomy—without which there can be no dualism. Second, it causes a radical orientation towards nature that overcomes what Heidegger called “gestell,” the technological attitude, in which nature is subjugated for the use of human kind. Third, it bridges the great Cartesian schism, the separation of mind and matter. Fourth, it democratizes the objects of the material world, including all of its human inhabitants. Fifth, it forcefully challenges the rationalist paradigm in its privileging of childlike wonder and love as a more viable way of knowing than rationcination. Sixth, because it leads to subjectivity, it constitutes the first attack on the cherished Western notion of objective truth. Seventh, it calls into question the primacy of language, often requiring “anti-language” for expression. Eighth, it leads to a godlike persona and a quasi-religion, both of which challenge religious orthodox structures. Last, it radicalizes the poetic medium itself in its call for the transformation of the reader's consciousness. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Literature, American|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Donald J Moores, "Mystical discourse as ideological resistance in Wordsworth and Whitman: A transatlantic bridge" (2003). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3103714.