Emily Dickinson: Poetry, Heresy, and Desire
The myth of Emily Dickinson is inseparable from her poetry. The author of over 2,000 poems, which she secreted in the little bundles her first archivists called “fascicles,” she was famously reclusive and heretical. Her social circle concentrated on her family, her small acquaintance in Amherst, MA, and a few lively correspondences among American intellectuals. By the late 1850s, she had made steps towards a seclusion from the world that would last the duration of her life. She dressed in white. Her life spanned the greater part of the nineteenth century: the Industrial Revolution, the American Civil War, Reconstruction, and the beginning of the Gilded Age. While the external events of her life were few, its internal events were as varied and dramatic as the age in which she became a poet. In her poems are the chill of mortality, the blaze of unruly passions, a menagerie of animals, grief, suffering, ecstasy, paradoxes of intellect, emotion, and form, pleasure, pain, power, time, and defiance. How do we read Dickinson’s poetry? And how do we read her myth?
In this course, an introduction to Dickinson’s poetry and its afterlives, we’ll study her poems and letters alongside her critical and popular reception. What constitutes Dickinson’s poetics? And what is distinctive about that poetics? What should we make of her startling and contradictory images and forms? What are the popular understandings and misunderstandings that have grown up around her life and work? To what degree should our reading account for the material legacy of Dickinson’s fascicles and the editorial approaches to her posthumously published poems? How should we position Dickinson with respect to her influences and contemporaries from Shakespeare to Transcendentalists and nineteenth-century poetesses? How do Dickinson’s poetry and correspondence—particularly, the enigmatic “Master” letters—theorize desire? And what does the poet’s work have to say about queer desire? Why and how has Dickinson been taken up in twentieth- and twenty-first century iterations of feminism? How should we understand Dickinson’s importance to poets and critics writing in her wake? And what are the implications of the contemporary explosion of critical and creative responses to her work? What can we say about Emily Dickinson and the world? In addition to Dickinson’s own body of work, readings will draw on her own touchstone texts as well as selected entries from critical and poetic interlocutors. These are likely to include: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sharon Cameron, Hart Crane, Spencer Finch, Virginia Jackson, Keats, Paul Legault, Christanne Miller, Milton, Emerson, Susan Howe, Adrienne Rich, Shelley, Shakespeare, Susan Stewart, Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Wordsworth.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 21 — November 11, 2021