"Full of new insights and surprising new discoveries, the sheer scope and range of the research are exhilarating. As a work of cultural history, this book is tremendous, but the author also does a fantastic job of using the research to provide new readings of Whitman’s writing. One of the reasons it is such an exciting volume is the contribution it makes to our overall understanding of attitudes toward the body in the nineteenth century, particularly in the context of the Civil War. This work will appeal to a broad audience: certain anecdotes and pieces of information, while rather macabre (I challenge readers to forget the doctor who bound books in human skin), are so compelling that readers with a general interest in American history, the history of the Civil War, or in the history of medicine, will find it irresistible." ~Martin T. Buinicki, author of Walt Whitman’s Reconstruction
The preservation, exhumation, and exhibition of human remains become, in the hands of the literary critic Lindsay Tuggle, an illuminating basis for a provocative reassessment of America’s foremost poet, Walt Whitman. In The Afterlives of Specimens, Tuggle aligns Whitman’s life and work with the practice of preserving and learning from cadavers or body parts during the Civil War era. She offers new insights into Whitman’s poetics of the body, both by limning the history of body preservation and by considering his development using the work of various psychologists and literary theorists, including Sigmund Freud, Jacques Derrida, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Tuggle thoughtfully analyzes Whitman's experience of mourning, in which melancholia, nostalgia and the poet's physical decline were entwined. With regard to Whitman's "specimen soldiers," she writes that "as symbols of embodied mourning, Whitman's specimens conjure psychic and physical attachments that were, melancholically, impossible to sever.~ David S. Reynolds, "Fine Specimens," in The New York Review of Books
Walt Whitman witnessed drastic changes in relations between the living and the dead. In the space of a few decades, anatomical dissection evolved from a punishment inflicted on executed criminals to an element of preservationist technology worthy of Abraham Lincoln's martyred corpse. The Afterlives of Specimens explores this space between science and sentiment, the historical moment of convergence when the human cadaver was both lost love object and subject of anatomical violence. The extended public display of Lincoln’s body was made possible by recent innovations in embalming, honed on the cadavers of unknown soldiers. In the intervening years, Whitman transitioned from a fervent opponent of medical bodysnatching to a literary celebrity who left behind instructions for his own autopsy. How did Whitman arrive at an understanding of the corporeal afterlife so far removed from his initial anxiety in the face of posthumous wounds? What catalyzed this startling transformation, and how did it respond to cultural changes in medical, mourning and burial practices? The Afterlives of Specimens establishes Whitman’s role in shifting cultural understandings of the body as an object of posthumous discovery and desire.
This is an exciting book. From the opening claim that Whitman's word 'specimen' is etymologically grounded in voyeurism, Afterlives of Specimens is arresting in its insights. Well-researched and original, it makes a major contribution to Whitman studies while also contributing to Civil War history and to our understanding of the intersection of science and mourning." ~ Kenneth Price, codirector, The Walt Whitman Archive