Thomas E. Yingling: On "Cape Hatteras"

Because it takes the definition of cultural value as its conscious center, the construction of epic is a far richer field than lyric for analyzing the textual control of difference and the social struggle among peoples, languages, manners, and values that [Louis] Althusser suggests occurs throughout ideological apparatuses such as literature. Epic is, then, a text produced through the figure of voices and discourses disciplined to a single, authoritative, "tribal" understanding, and the multiple elisions and operations of power that legitimate its "collective vision:" form a distinct political unconscious of the text. For instance, when Crane names Whitman’s "choice / … to bind us throbbing with one voice" ["Cape Hatteras"] as that which legitimates and authorizes his own epic project, he exposes one of the important problematics in which his epic is based – the disciplining or binding of difference into unity, the production of a single, authoritative voice that in this case reduces the strong homosexual element in his filiation to Whitman to the rather weak textual traces that adheres in the word "throbbing." In this instance, homosexuality is immediately sublimated, and what appears in its place is praise within a nationalist vocabulary: "New integers of Roman, Viking, Celt – / Thou, Vedic Caesar, to the greensward knelt!"

Early commentators decried Whitman’s influence in the poem for two reasons: according to the lights of Winters, Tate and others, Whitman was guilty of the twin literary offenses of bad form and bad philosophy (in Winters this latter charge reaches a hysterical crescendo and Whitman’s text becomes for him the destruction of all value and ethics outside personal whim and sensation.) In defending Whitman in "Cape Hatteras," Crane writes a poem of fifteen stanzas each sonnetlike in form, thereby making Whitman the muse of a more formal literary inheritance. He also places this homage to Whitman in the second half of a poem the first half of which is a meditation on the negative effects of technology, taking aviation as a synecdoche for the power and the horror of industrialism. By doing this, the poem also tests and tempers the image of Whitman as a jingoist apologist for American technology (as in "Song of the Exposition"). But as a sonnet sequence, the poem also carries the trace of a love poem, and it ends with the image of Crane and Whitman hand-in-hand, never to be parted:

Recorders ages hence, they shall hear In their own veins uncancelled thy sure tread And read thee by the aureole ‘round thy head Of pasture-shine, Panis Angelicus!                                                     yes, Walt, Afoot again, and onward without halt, – Not soon, nor suddenly, – no, never to let go     My hand                 in yours,                             Walt Whitman –                                                         so –

This may strike us as terribly sentimental poetry and as a homosexual union purified of any bodily referent whatsoever; but we should read the "terror" in terrible when making that assessment, for if "Cape Hatteras" traces the terror of sexuality, Whitman in some sense resolves it for Crane. The meditation on flight that takes up the first half of the poem may refer to Crane’s doubts about the legacy of technology in American culture (it ends with the crash of a plane) but it is also symbolic of the ecstatic flight and crash of homosexuality. Freud reminds us that flying is symbolic of phallic power, and the Wright brothers are not only historical figures of invention in the text; they represent as well a metonymic displacement of that other brotherhood of homosexuality the text traces. The plane that crashes is a not so subtle phallic image of the pitch and tragedy of Crane’s life as a homosexual, anxiety over which we may read in a number of his late, rather unpolished texts. …

Details

Title Thomas E. Yingling: On "Cape Hatteras" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Thomas E. Yingling Criticism Target Hart Crane
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 30 Jun 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies
Printer Friendly PDF Version
Contexts No Data Tags No Data

Rate this Content

Criticism
No Data
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Total votes: 0
Use the above slider to rate this item. You can only submit one rating per item, and your rating will be factored in to the item's popularity on our listings.

Share via Social Media