The Sublime of Intense Sociability: Emily Dickinson, H.D., and Gertrude Stein

The Sublime of Intense Sociability: Emily Dickinson, H.D., and Gertrude Stein

The Sublime of Intense Sociability: Emily Dickinson, H.D., and Gertrude Stein

The Sublime of Intense Sociability: Emily Dickinson, H.D., and Gertrude Stein

Synopsis

"This book explores how Emily Dickinson, H. D., and Gertrude Stein each develop strategies that allow them to access the inspiration and poetic knowledge known as the sublime while at the same time rejecting its traditional structure of domination and violence. Consciously writing "as women," these writers inscribe the sublime with values of empathy and intersubjectivity associated with women's psychological development, values not usually accommodated by the history of the sublime or by modernist American culture." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

For three years, out of key with his time,
He strove to resuscitate the dead art
Of poetry; to maintain “the sublime”
In the old sense. Wrong from the start—

No, hardly, but seeing he had been born
In a half savage country, out of date;
Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn….

—Ezra Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly”

FROM CLASSICAL GREECE TO THE PRESENT, THE SUBLIME HAS BEEN ONE OF THE West’s dominant aesthetics, dramatizing the persistently problematic relation between subject and object, self and other. As Samuel Monk very generally and simply put it, the sublime is “a state of mind awakened by an object” (8). The object may be an object of nature: a storm, a mountain, the sea. It may be a person or a text: an authority or precursor you simply must reckon with. Whether “natural” or “rhetorical,” this object constitutes a demanding, even threatening, otherness that forces the person encountering it to reconsider his or her own status in relation to it. Traditionally associated with rhetorical and/or physical power, the sublime is the mechanism that organizes this relation such that the object yields its authority to the subject it empowers. It is also the aesthetic magic that helps to disguise, codify, or naturalize this exchange.

Literary texts require new translations every twenty years or so. Likewise, it seems that every generation has needed a new sublime. This is well illustrated by the history of its central text, Longinus’s On the Sublime. Written some time in the first century as a Greek guide to rhetoric, its circulation and even its authorship are somewhat obscure. When it was rediscovered by French and then English critics in the late seventeenth century, it became a key document in Western aesthetics, one that seemed to authorize the individualism and affect of romantic poetics. In the 1980s, it was again embraced, this time as support for the “new” value of excess or jouissance in literary texts. The 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s all saw impor-

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