The Insatiables: Walt, Mark, Bram
Four months after his death at 67 from ALS, openly gay Dudley Clendinen's four-page reverie "The Good Short Life" is a highlight of the The Best American Essays 2012 [Kindle] selected by David Brooks. When it appeared in the NYT magazine, Dudley's essay sparked nearly one thousand letters and a book contract with Algonquin. An even more-discussed essay in the anthology is Jose Anotonio Vargas's "Outlaw" about his exhausting struggles to conceal his illegal status in America, even as he won a shared Pulitzer Prize for the Washington Post. Vargas also is expanding his essay into a memoir.
The essay that makes the collection worth buying is Mark Doty's "Insatiable." In eleven pages it covers Bram Stoker having based Dracula on Walt Whitman (whom he visited three times), Whitman's homosexuality, Doty's sexual compulsion and his breakup with novelist Paul Lisicky after sixteen years together, a list of memorable hookups, the nature of love, and his belief that "deep and attentive touching was a necessary sort of research." After quoting passages from WW and BS, Doty writes:
"Whitman fuses the erotic and the spiritual, as the kiss to the bare chest begins an epiphanic experience, a moment of peace and of understanding, whereas the mouth is brought to Dracula's chest in a kind of rape, a horrible force-feeding which can lead only to repulsion and contagion. And so there it is: the intersection of the chosen and the compulsive, of consuming and being consumed, of the celebratory and of erasure."
Doty is completing What Is the Grass, a "book-length meditation on Walt Whitman, desire, and the ecstatic," of which this essay is part.