DFG Research Training Group Globalization and Literature. Representations, Transformations,  Interventions

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Thoren Opitz, M.A.

World Wide Walt. Self-Fashioning, Marketing, and the Global Imagination from Whitman to Rap


Dr. Opitz was A PhD Candidate at the Research Training Group from 2013 to 2017. He finished and defended his dissertation in summer 2017.

Dissertation Abstract

World Wide Walt. Self-Fashioning, Marketing, and the Global Imagination from Whitman to Rap

In relation to the poems of Walt Whitman that contain places and people from all over the world, and his drive to present his poetic persona to an international audience, the question arises in how far these expressions are dependent on the expanding trade networks of the mid-nineteenth century. This dissertation project investigates the extent to which Whitman's global imagination functions as a representation of the processes of globalization fueled by the capitalist market. Additionally I will examine the way contemporary American rappers combine self-fashioning and marketing techniques pioneered by Whitman to perform their popular poetry globally.
Beginning with Whitman's 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass, I will read Whitman's first global poems within the context of his most commodified book, which includes a commercial continuation of his catalog verse in the form of a hitherto neglected advertisement page. Within this frame, the railroad tracks, telegraph cables, and shipping routes that appear in "Salut Au Monde," serve as the links of an earth-spanning mercantile system. Furthermore, three poems from 1860, addressing immigration, trade delegations, and merchant fleets, will help me determine how the market’s flow of import and export, channeled through New York's harbor, enabled Whitman to write about the world while never leaving North America.
Building both on theorizations of globalization as a world-wide market for the exchange of cultural goods, and the recent "transnational turn" in literary studies in general and Whitman scholarship in particular, I will also engage in a comparative reading of rap’s global imagination through that of Whitman, and vice versa. For rappers increasingly reflect the global market and their own role in it, as is the case in Jay Z's "Oceans," which discusses the middle passage, and Kanye West's "Diamonds from Sierra Leone," dealing with the issue of blood diamonds. Analyzing Whitman and rap side by side helps to dissect the poetics of celebrating self-made identities whose success is presupposed in poetry while becoming products that compete on the market.


"'The White, (Straight) Man's Burden'? Race, Hip Hop and Homophobia in Macklemore's *Same Love*". In: Sascha Pöhlmann, Julius Greve (eds.): Tagungsband zur Konferenz: America and the Musical Unconscious, Dresden/New York: Atropos Press, 2015, S. 245-266.