In Ghosts of Futures Past, Molly McGarry touches on several things that “struck my fancy,” so to speak. A brief list of these may include the following:
-Mediums channeling those of other sexes/genders, and the complications thereof
-“Free love” and how it upset the “moral hierarchical order” of man-woman marriage—who knew the turn of the century marked the first hippie era?! (Just kidding—I know it’s not parallel, but the terminology made me laugh.
-The “science” behind the “hysterical” woman—and the sexualization thereof
-Phrenology (I’ve just always thought it was cool), and
Of all of these subjects of interest, however, I found the section concerning Walt Whitman to be the most compelling. It is no surprise to me that one of America’s earliest poetic geniuses, who arguably created all-new forms of dealing with language, was also interested in the occult and wished to channel other’s souls. In fact, as the general public became more comfortable with and receptive to spiritualism, such instruments of spiritualistic “tinkering,” such as Ouija Boards, landed on the market. Spiritualism had officially become marketable, and the American public readily consumed.
*Side note: I still think it is really weird that Ouija boards are sold at Toys R Us, right next to Apples to Apples and Monopoly…as if they try to serve the same purposes in terms of entertainment…
This fascination with otherworldly or spiritual means of communication became somewhat of a motif throughout the 1900s, actually; some other major artists who exhibit similar interest and dedication in spiritual efforts include Madonna, who dabbled in Kabbalah (much to the fury and/or excitement of Jews worldwide), and my beloved Beatle, George Harrison.
Both Whitman and Harrison made spiritual beings integral to their lives and their art; however, Whitman’s efforts in the matter were, of course, complicated by the fact that he was gay. This is where phrenology sailed in to “save the day,” by justifying Whitman’s love for and commitment/connection to other men as biologically-based; it was literally “all in his head.” As we talked about last class, biology served to “prove” (read: assuage) certain aspects of American society that were “undesirable”; in doing so, it provided evidence for racism, sexism, etc. As we can see from the image below, sometimes we still see vestigial signs of this phenomenon:
So basically, “Anchor Man” aside, I have a lot to talk about in class today…