First it was Abraham Lincoln in the new television campaign for the Lincoln Motor Company (the founder of that firm was a fan of the president, back when the company was started in 1917).
Now Walt Whitman, the father of modern American poetry and, coincidentally, a big fan of Lincoln himself, is helping to launch this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (January 8-11).
Whitman will probably not be seen emerging from a mysterious fog as Lincoln does in the commercial, although that would be unspeakably cool.
Instead, Whitman’s most famous line of poetry is quoted (without attribution) in the official description of the very first CES SuperSession
The Digital Health Revolution: Body, Mind and Soul
January 8, 2013, 9:30-10:30 a.m.
“I sing the body electric” takes on new meaning in our brave new digital world, where devices let us monitor everything from our stress levels to our genetic sequences, and devices with 100 real-time biosensors loom on the horizon. Join moderator Arianna Huffington as she leads four digital health leaders in conversation — on the latest innovations in the field, how those innovations have the potential to change lives, and what the digital revolution means for the body, mind, and soul.
The literarily perspicacious will notice that the first line of copy includes allusions to two groundbreaking writers—not just Whitman, but also Aldous Huxley. Huxley’s Brave New World vision is actually much closer to what is going on at CES than Whitman’s. Unfortunately, Huxley will not be coming out of the mist either, though the thought of his joining up with Whitman in Las Vegas to look at the latest gadgets is mind-blowing—even without Huxley’s Soma or LSD. Add Lincoln, and it is the stuff that dream movies are made of (Steven Spielberg, are you listening?).
Back to Whitman, I Sing The Body Electric is included in his Leaves of Grass (1855). Whitman’s work was a sensation, in part because of his unabashed celebration of the splendor and wonder of the human body and sexuality. The poem is just such a celebration, a spiritual anatomy lesson that is like a painting, whose message is: be not ashamed.
It isn’t clear that is what the CES copywriter had in mind, though writers generally deserve much more credit than they get. If the point is that digital pioneers plan to touch every part of our bodies, that works too.
Meanwhile, Whitman—whose use of the term “electric” was itself quite pioneering—would probably be happy to see his poem alive and well in the context of keeping and making people healthy, head to toe, organ to organ. See you in Vegas, Walt.
For the digiterati and literati, here is the closing section of the poem:
O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest,
Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
Leg fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one’s body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!