The Tramp and Strike Question: Terminal Enthusiasms
The epilogue to the book gestures toward the destiny of enthusiasm in the post-Civil War era. In the wake of the trauma of war, the end of slavery, and the birth of a technologically-oriented culture of disenchanted realism, political enthusiasm no longer seemed necessary or viable. At the same time, the final lesson of Walt Whitman circa the centennial of the American Revolution is not so much that political enthusiasm has come to an end but that it must take on new, unheard-of forms specific to its historical era—in Whitman’s view, that meant a struggle for the rights of labor against the corruptions of capitalism (what he called the “tramp and strike question”). As one indication of how literatures of enthusiasm continued to operate in the late nineteenth century, the chapter discusses Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward and Whitman’s contemporaneous interest in anti-capitalism. Enthusiasm is finally what Whitman calls the “latent right of insurrection,” a “quenchless, indispensable fire” in the convulsive context of political tyranny.
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