Walt Whitman's Mystical Ethics of Comradeship

Homosexuality and the Marginality of Friendship at the Crossroads of Modernity

By Juan A. Hererro Brasas

Subjects: Religion, Men's Studies, Literary History, Gender Studies, American History
Paperback : 9781438430102, 216 pages, January 2011
Hardcover : 9781438430119, 216 pages, March 2010

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Table of contents


1. Literature as Religion: Whitman’s Messianic Enterprise
The Building of a Reputation
Theosophy, the Occult, and Whitman’s Apparitions
The Character of Whitman’s Religion
The Creed

2. The Mystic Hypothesis
The Strong Hypothesis
The Weak Hypothesis
The Denial of the Hypothesis

3. A Gospel of Beauty
The Classical Roots of Aestheticism
Whitman and the Platonic Tradition
From Phrenology to Aesthetic Morality
Whitman’s Treatment of the Ugly: The “Kosmic” Vision
Whitman and Nietzsche
Whitman and Oscar Wilde

4. The Love of Comrades
A Messianic Mission
The Nature of Comradeship
Eduard Bertz: Comradeship as Veiled Homosexuality
Mystical Interpretations of Comradeship
Ethical Aspects of Comradeship
Religious Aspects of Comradeship
Social and Political Aspects of Comradeship
Whitman’s Comradeship and Symonds’s Concept of Greek Love

5. Whitman, the Moral Reformer
Poetry and Ethics: Whitman’s Moral Concern
The Character of Whitman’s New Morality
An Analysis of Whitman’s Morality: Briggs’s Theory
Whitman’s Attitudes to War
Robert K. Martin’s Theory: “Fucked by the Earth”
David Kuebrich’s Theory: Post-Christian Millennialism
Reynolds’s Theory: “Immoral Didacticism”
A Probable Synthesis: Nature, Science, and Evolutionary Theory

An Afterthought: Traubel, Homosexuality, and the Whitman Myth
A Queer (Theory) Postscript
A Queer (Theory) Twist: No New Species
Whitman’s Disappointment and the New Sexual Economy
Queer (Theory) Confusion and Its Uses

Abbreviations and Special References
Selected Bibliography

Recovers Walt Whitman as a self-conscious religious figure with an ethic based in male comradeship, one at odds with the temper of his times.


A giant of American letters, Walt Whitman is known both as a poet and, to a lesser extent, as a prophet of gay liberation. This revealing book recovers for today's reader a lost Whitman, delving into the original context and intentions of his poetry and prose. As Juan A. Herrero Brasas shows, Whitman saw himself as a founder of a new religion. Indeed, disciples gathered around him: the "hot little prophets" as they came to be called by early biographers.

Whitman's religion revolved around his concept of comradeship, an original alternative to the type of competitive masculinity emerging in the wake of industrialization and nineteenth-century capitalism. Shedding new light on the life and original message of a poet who warned future generation of treating him as a literary figure, Herrero Brasas concludes that Whitman was a moral reformer and grand theorist akin to other grand theorists of his day.

Juan A. Herrero Brasas teaches ethics and religious studies at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of several books in Spanish, including Primera plana: La construcción de una cultura queer en España (Front Page: The Construction of a Queer Culture in Spain).