Walt Whitman: Poems

The Deconstruction of Self in Walt Whitman's Song of Myself

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp took a urinal, detached it from its usual setting, entitled it "Fountain" and called it art. By putting such a common, unglamorous object in this innovative context, Duchamp raised a new awareness of the urinal. Its familiarities dissipated as it was looked at as art, as sculpture, as a statement, or as a ridiculous joke. Regardless of the reaction, the urinal ceased to be overlooked or taken for granted. This act of taking the familiar and rendering it foreign by forcing people to interpret it differently and look at it in a new way is a method employed by Walt Whitman in Song of Myself. Although his methods and subject could not be more different from Duchamp's, both artists are similar in their basic act of deconstructing and making unfamiliar something that is so commenplace it is never contemplated.

The idea of self is something that seems to make sense at first but loses its meaning rapidly upon contemplation. Most people cannot separate the idea of self from their individual personalities. "Define yourself," a person could be asked, and they would probably reply something close it "it is me, who I am, myself." It does not take long to see the problem. The idea of...

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