[H]is is the Onanism of Poetry[…] Such like is the trash they praise, and such will be the end of the outstretched poesy of this miserable Self- polluter of the human mind. Byron on KeatsTHE ART OF MASTURBATION Sam Ladkin, School of English
But what more base, more noxious to the bodyThan by the power of fancy to excite,Such lewd ideas of an absent object,As rouse the organs formed for noble endTo rush into th’embraces of a phantom,And so do the deed of personal enjoyment. William Farrer, A short treatise on onanism; or, The detestable vice of self-pollution. Describing the variety of nervos or other disorders, that are occasioned by that shameful practice, or too early and excessive venery, and directing the best method for their cure, By a physician in the country (London, 1767)
Anon. Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of SelfPollution) [1712?]Samuel Auguste Tissot, L’Onanisme; ou,Dissertation physique sur les maladies produitespar la masturbation) 
Michel Foucault: [One] thing to distrust is the tendency to relate the question of homosexuality to the problem of “Who am I?” and “What is the secret of my desire?” Perhaps it would be better to ask oneself, “What relations, through homosexuality, can be established, invented, multiplied and modulated?
Richard Lovelace, from “Lucasta” Now on my Down I’m toss’d as on a Wave, And my repose is made my Grace; Fluttering I lye, Do beat my Self and dye, But for a Resurection from your eye.
Petrarch on Laura from Canzoniere 30 (with prose translation)mi piacquen sì ch’i l’ò dianzi agli occhi,ed avrò sempre, ov’io sia, in poggio o ‘n riva[Her speech, and face, and eyes] they so pleasedme that I have them before my eyes, and I willalways have them there, wherever I am,whether on hill, or at the shore
“Why is she so cruel, he asks, in a fit of self-abnegation. The answer, of course, is becausehe has made her so, in a generic rather thanactual sense.”Jonathan Sawday, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and thehuman body in Renaissance Culture (London, 1995), 207.
“Youth is the seedtime of good habits, as well as in nations asin individuals” – Thomas PaineMichael Moon comments:“What is merely analogical in Paine became reified in thenineteenth century into a national preoccupation with the“waste” of America’s “seed,” meaning both the country’spromise and potential and the “reproductive secretions” of itsmale citizens”.Michael Moon, Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality inLeaves of Grass (Cambridge, MA, 1991), 18.
Walt WhitmanIf I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my ownbody, or any part of it,Translucent mould of me it shall be you![…]You my rich blood! your milky stream pale strippings of my life![…]I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious”“I talk wildly, I have lost my wits, I and nobody else am the greatest traitor,I went myself first to the headland, my own hands carried me there.”“The young man that wakes deep at night, the hand seeking to repress whatwould master him, […] The pulse pounding through palms and tremblingencircling fingers, the young man all color’d, red, ashamed, angry”.“[t]his poem drooping shy and unseen that I always carry, and that all mencarry”.
Walt Whitman“Who touches this [book] touches a man.”“My little books were beginnings – they were the ground into which Idropped the seed”.“Give me exhaustless, make me a fountain,That I exhale love from me wherever I go like a moist perennial dew,For the ashes of all dead soldiers South or North.”Quotations from Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems, 1855-1856ed. Sculley Bradley et al. (New York, 1980); Andrew Lawson, Walt Whitman and theClass Struggle (Iowa City, 2006); and Walter Lowenfels, with Nan Braymer, WaltWhitman’s Civil War: Compiled and Edited from Published and Unpublished Sources(New York, 1960).
The poem is of the same nature as central value, becausethe whole function of its discourse is acknowledgement.Consequently, universal access to the poem is a policy toovercome scarcity. To effect this, Whitman devised a“song” that would reconcile variety and order, equalityand constitution, one and many without compromisingeither term.Allen Grossman, “The poetics of union in Whitman and Lincoln”.The American Reniassance Reconsidered, eds. Walter BennMichaels and Donald E. Pease (Baltimore, 1985), 192.
Derridean HierarchiesNature Sex Procreation Speech PresenceCulture Masturbation Representation Writing AbsenceWriting “is dangerous from the moment that representation claims to be presence and the sign of the thing itself” (144)See “That Dangerous Supplement” in Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore, 1976), 141-52. Note should be made, too, of Derrida’s the use of term “dissemination”, and the book of that title.
Rousseau: “Affecting oneself by another presence,one corrupts oneself [makes oneself other] byoneself [on s’altère soi-même]”.As Derrida comments:“Rousseau neither wishes to think nor can thinkthat this alteration does not simply happen to theself, that it is the self’s very origin”. OfGrammatology, 153.
And sexual auto-affection, that is auto-affection ingeneral, neither begins nor ends with what one thinkscan be circumscribed by the name of masturbation. Thesupplement has not only the power of procuring anabsent presence through its image; procuring it for usthrough the proxy [procuration] of the sign, it holds it at adistance and masters it. For this presence is at the sametime desired and feared. The supplement transgressesand at the same time respects the interdict. This is whatalso permits writing as the supplement of speech; butalready also the spoken word as writing in general.Derrida, Of Grammatology, 154-5.
THIS PATHOS OF DISTANCE, BEING A THING INSIDE HIM ONCE I FELTArriving by night in sleeves to drape the need, coming fromsomewhere deep inside this absence of birds. The shame in simplybeing here. Being in my vapors, dim imaginations spooked bycuffs and code, reviving now a tale of rapture, identity withdrawn,murdered, as it were, by the secret heat of combat. Someone’sinward hot desire, a lame expression of the need itself, this form,my overproduction. We were once ourselves, but now, traversing thetrench, a fault between dim pockets of damaged life, I’m beginningto feel something, a mind without sex, a shudder with no reference,yr breathtaking crevasse, a loss I can’t mourn and which I’ve hastilymapped onto this making of waste.Rob Halpern, Music for Porn (Callicoon, New York, 2012), 11.
Voice offers the “bestowal of presence acrosstime” and “[t]he theater of that presence is thepoetic line”Allan Grossman on Whitman
Jonathan Culler, “Apostrophe”1. Apostrophe serves as an intensifier, “as images of invested passion”.2. Apostrophe is pervasive in lyric: “the lyric is characteristically the triumph of the apostrophic” over the narrative.3. Apostrophe “makes its point by troping not on the meaning of a word but on the circuit or situation of communication itself.”• Jonathan Culler, “Apostrophe” Diacritics 7.4 (1977), 59-69 . Print.
Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism, with referenceto John Stuart Mill’s aphorism: the “lyric is not heard butoverheard”:The lyric poet normally pretends to be talking to himselfor to someone else: a spirit of nature, a Muse, a personalfriend, a lover, a god, a personified abstraction, or anatural object…. The poet, so to speak, turns his back onhis listeners.Quoted Jonathan Culler, “Apostrophe” Diacritics 7.4(1977), 59-69 (60)
[T]o apostrophize is to will a state of affairs, toattempt to call it into being by asking inanimateobjects to bend themselves to your desire. Inthese terms the function of apostrophe wouldbe to make the objects of the universepotentially responsive forces.Jonathan Culler, 61.
Moving in a halo of shame, the love of a militiaman,democracy’s soul, a thing that fails to happen,suspended in this mindless blow, incalculableinterval where we almost make contact with thepresent. Singing in the fault of our temporal divide,who will have been here to hear this. Mon petitsoldat, mon semblable yr touch makes me otherthan the meat I am.Halpern, Music for Porn, 101
Peter Coviello argues, “virtually every strand ofWhitman’s utopian thought devolves upon, andis anchored by, an unwavering belief in thecapacity of strangers to recognize, desire, andbe intimate with one another.”Peter Coviello, “Intimate Nationality: Anonymityand Attachment in Whitman,” AmericanLiterature 73.1 (2001). Print. 85.
Titian, Venus of Urbino  Uffizi, Florence
Giorgione, Sleeping Venus [1510?]Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden
Édouard Manet, Olympia  Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Bibliography• Paula Bennett and Vernon A. Rosario II, eds. Solitary Pleasures: The Historical, Literary, and Artistic Discourses of Autoeroticism (New York, 1995) (which includes Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s rightly renowned “Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl” (133-53)).• Peter Coviello, “Intimate Nationality: Anonymity and Attachment in Whitman,” American Literature 73.1 (2001). Print.• Jonathan Culler, “Apostrophe” Diacritics 7.4 (1977), 59-69 . Print.• Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore, 1976).• Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London, 1981).• Allen Grossman, “The poetics of union in Whitman and Lincoln”. The American Reniassance Reconsidered, eds. Walter Benn Michaels and Donald E. Pease (Baltimore, 1985).• Rob Halpern, “Pornotopias,” Crisis Inquiry: A Special Volume of damn the caesers with attention to the work of Rob Halpern and Keston Sutherland (2012), 97-114 (103). Print.• Rob Halpern, Music for Porn (Callicoon, New York, 2012).• Foucault, cited in Rob Halpern, “Realism and Utopia: Sex, Writing, and Activism in New Narrative,”Journal of Narrative Theory 41.1 (2011): 82–124 (113). Print.• George Kateb, “Walt Whitman and the Culture of Democracy,” Political Theory 18.4 (1990), 545-571 (564). Print.• Thomas Laqueur, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation (New York, 2004).• Andrew Lawson, Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle (Iowa City, 2006).• Marjorie Levinson, Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of A Style (Oxford, 1988).• Walter Lowenfels, with Nan Braymer, Walt Whitman’s Civil War: Compiled and Edited from Published and Unpublished Sources (New York, 1960).• Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians (London, 1966).• Michael Moon, Disseminating Whitman: Revision and Corporeality in Leaves of Grass (Cambridge, MA, 1991).• Jonathan Sawday The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the human body in Renaissance Culture (London, 1995).• Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems, 1855-1856 ed. Sculley Bradley et al. (New York, 1980).• John Wilkinson, “Contemporary Lyric and Epic Constraints: A Reading of Rob Halpern’s Weak Link,” Chicago Review 55.2 (2010). Print.• Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible” (London, 1990).