Academic journal article Style

Overcoming Oneself as Subject in Dickinson's Poetry: Adorno and Heidegger

Academic journal article Style

Overcoming Oneself as Subject in Dickinson's Poetry: Adorno and Heidegger

Article excerpt

Critics have discovered values and meanings in Emily Dickinson's poems by placing them in certain historical/cultural contexts or interpretive/theoretical frameworks. Among these contexts, major criticism suggests a preference in historicism. Such a preference is demonstrated in two trends of thought: first, after the dominance of modernist interpretation of Dickinson's work, it is time to examine its potential misplacement and place Dickinson back to her original historical and literary backgrounds; second, as different critical discourses should help bring out different signification of Dickinson's work, it is thus productive to explore her connection with discourses of philosophy, science, or religion of her time.

DOMINANT HISTORICISM

While calling Dickinson a modernist since her poetry has met the aesthetic expectations of the modern era, Cristanne Miller nonetheless focuses her discussion mainly on how Dickinson's contemporaries (such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Julia Ward Howe, etc.) had influenced her in both "The Sound of Shifting Paradigms" and "Immediate U.S. Literary Predecessors." Mary Loeffelholz also argues that "most nineteenth-century American poetry" always stands "in place as background" to Dickinson's poetry and that the "cultural work" of the nineteenth century "has most often been assumed as known than read for its possible surprises [...]" ("Dickinson's 'Decoration'" 664, 669). Loeffelholz's purpose is to bring this "foreground/background model" into question because it denies the two-directional influence and interaction between Dickinson's poetry and those of her contemporaries, such as Thomas Wentworth Higginson discussed in "Dickinson's 'Decoration'" and Josiah Holland in "Really Indigenous Productions."

However, if placing Dickinson in a modernist context is problematic because it disregards her interaction with her contemporaries, it might be equally problematic to place Dickinson in the historical context of the nineteenth century without considering how Dickinson's poetry might resist the historical influence of the nineteenth century. In other words, Loeffelholz's questioning of the "foreground/background model" might end up being a reversal of the model and has not touched upon the inherent controversy of the relation between Dickinson's poetry and its external contexts.

On the second trend of thought, critics aim for discovering a different Dickinson through diverse critical discourses but still stay within the historical boundary mostly. What could be more exemplary of this trend of thought than Eliza Richards' statement, while quoting Loeffelholz, that "historicism is certainly an au courant current in Dickinson studies today" in her introduction of the book Emily Dickinson in Context (5). Jed Deppman is one of the few who attempt to explore the possibility of philosophical signification in Dickinson's work. In Trying to Think with Emily Dickinson, he discovers some potential resonance between Dickinson's poetry and ideas of some philosophers/theorists such as Bacon, Locke, Kant, Lyotard, Nietzsche, Nancy, Richard Rorty, Gianni Vattimo, and others. While Deppman recognizes that his "idea of a 'postmodern' Dickinson may suggest ahistoricism to some readers," he nonetheless claims that historical context is absolutely required for one's best reading (10). In the review of Deppman's book, Melanie Hubard points out that "ahistoricism" is "a weakness" in Deppman's approach because those "postmodern thinkers" are "quite alien to Dickinson" (no). It is intriguing that historical context seems to easily grant the legitimacy of one's critical approach as if the link between a text and its historical context is simply natural and nothing arbitrary. Even though Deppman's approach is ahistorical in its nature, he often finds recourse in historicity. On the one hand, Deppman "speculate[s] on sources" of Dickinson's thinking (18). On the other hand, he claims that "her reworking" can actually "predict" the modernist ideas of Lyotard and Nancy (185). …

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