Leaves of Glass: Breaking Bad’s Walt Whitman fixation, and 'Ozymandias' deconstructed

At Poetry Magazine, TV critic Kera Bolonik answers the questions, "how does Walter White compare to Walt Whitman? And what cynical commentary on our times, on humanity, does series creator Vince Gilligan make with this subversive pairing?"

Some snippets from her answers:

• “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” is, among other things, a declaration of disillusionment with convention, and of liberation, of emerging from the passive seat and propelling oneself into the world to participate and engage with it.
• Like Whitman, [White] is large; he contains multitudes.
• Both are intellectual pioneers in their fields, their legacies—centuries apart—demanding risk, casting them outside of society, gliding out into the world, liberated from societal constraints.
• Both strove for perfection in their creations.
• Both had been teachers.

Read the full article here.

Poetry Magazine also has a poem guide for "Ozymandias" (a sonnet that 'has outlasted empires,' as scholar David Mikics puts it) which may help to illuminate the coming season. As Breaking Bad fans know, the poem was featured in a final-episodes trailer here.

Notable Replies

  1. IMHO: The article is little more than poetry buffs wishing that their interests in some small way intersect with a pop culture monolith like Breaking Bad.

    It makes out like the parallel is an undeniable, inextricable part of the Breaking Bad story arc which, in the opinion of a person who has obsessively watched through all released episodes twice in sequence, is utter BS. In the first season I believe there to be absolutely no intention of comparing White to Whitman. The first mention of Whitman is from Gale in season 3 and IMO it's (at least until that point) no more than a storytelling convenience employed by Gilligan to help the story unfold in later episodes.

    Sorry poetry guys, but What's next? The Wire is a modern take on A Tale of Two Cities?

  2. No, The Wire is more properly a modern, televised extension of literary realism, like rolling up Balzac's Comédie humaine with Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, with some of the English writers thrown in: maybe more Bennett than Dickens, in certain ways, although Simon's Baltimore grotesques are certainly Dickensian . . . when they're not straight out of Poe. Add to that certain key moments of Stephen Crane and Frank Norris (and some others), and you've got yourself a working background to Simon's epic cycle.

    Dickens did publish serially, though, like a lot of nineteenth-century writers, so there is a fair comparison there: both forms, the nineteenth-century novel and twenty-first-century longform television serial, aspire to "bring the news" of the day to their audiences, and both occupy a central place in the cultural imaginary. So, notwithstanding your snark, you're rather correct!

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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