Jackson 2005

From Whiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Jackson, Virginia. Dickinson's Misery: A Theory of Lyric Reading. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.

"The argument of Dickinson’s Miseryis that the century and a half that spans the circulation of Dickinson’s work as poetry chronicles rather exactly the emergence of the lyric genre as a modern mode of literary interpretation.To put briefly what I will unfold at length in the pages that follow: from the mid-nineteenth through the beginning of the twenty-first century, to be lyric is to be read as lyric—and to be read as a lyric is to be printed and framed as a lyric." (6)
"Whereas other poetic genres (epic, poems on affairs of state, georgic, pastoral, verse epistle, epitaph, elegy, satire) may remain embedded in specific historical occasions or narratives, and thus depend upon some description of those occasions and narratives for their interpretation (it is hard to understand “The Dunciad,” for example, if one does not know the characters involved or have access to lots of handy footnotes), the poetry that comes to be understood as lyric after the eighteenth century is thought to require as its context only the occasion of its reading. This is not to say that there were not ancient Greek and Roman, Anglo-Saxon, medieval, Provençal, Renaissance, metaphysical, Colonial, Republican, Augustan—even romantic and modern!—lyrics. It is simply to propose that the riddles, papyrae, epigrams, songs, sonnets, blasons, Lieder, elegies, dialogues, conceits, ballads, hymns and odes considered lyrical in the Western tradition before the early nineteenth century were lyric in a very different sense than was or will be the poetry that the mediating hands of editors, reviewers, critics, teachers, and poets have rendered as lyric in the last century and a half. As my syntax indicates, that shift in genre definition is primarily a shift in temporality; as variously mimetic poetic subgenres collapsed into the expressive romantic lyric of the nineteenth century, the various modes of poetic circulation—scrolls, manuscript books, song cycles, miscellanies, broadsides, hornbooks, libretti, quartos, chapbooks, recitation manuals, annuals, gift books, newspapers, anthologies—tended to disappear behind an idealized scene of reading progressively identified with an idealized moment of expression. While other modes—dramatic genres, the essay, the novel—may have been seen to be historically contingent, the lyric emerged as the one genre indisputably literary and independent of social contingency, perhaps not intended for public reading at all. By the early nineteenth century, poetry had never before been so dependent on the mediating hands of the editors and reviewers who managed the print public sphere, yet in this period an idea of the lyric as ideally unmediated by those hands or those readers began to emerge and is still very much with us." (7)
"My argument here is that the lyric takes form through the development of reading practices in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that become the practice of literary criticism. " (8)
"At the risk of making a long story short, it is fair to say that the progressive idealization of what was a much livelier, more explicitly mediated, historically contingent and public context for many varieties of poetry had culminated by the middle of the twentieth century (around the time Dickinson began to be published in “complete” editions) in an idea of the lyric as temporally self-present or unmediated." (9)
"The reading of the lyric produces a theory of the lyric that then produces a reading of the lyric, and that hermeneutic circle rarely opens to dialectical interruption." (10)

Dickinson Undone

"What definition of the lyric turns words on an envelope into a poem?" (17)
"The lyric reading practiced by every editor since Higginson has actively cultivated a disregard for the circumstances of Dickinson’s manuscripts’ circulation. By being taken out of their sociable circumstances, those manuscripts have become poems, and by becoming poems, they have been interpreted as lyrics." (21)
"a history of reading Dickinson lyrically has been made possible by a history of printing Dickinson lyrically" (37)

on Dickinson Electronic Archive

"On one hand, this simplified series [of editing, from print editions to electronic archive] represents a progressive narrative of ever greater public access to those papers in the locked box; on the other hand, it represents a progressive abstraction of the pages Dickinson wrote, a movement away from the author as “the principle of thrift” toward an economy apparently out of anyone’s control." (46-7)
"The medium changes the genre—or so the DEC claims—by becoming its context. It may be too early to tell what new intersections between genre and medium might be made possible by the Web, but it is already clear that whatever the developing possibilities may turn out to be, the new media return the problem of genre in Dickinson to an old division between private context and public context—and specifically, to a division between private and public temporality." (47)
"There is no question that the DEAis a tremendous resource for readers of Dickinson, and it will certainly change the collective reading of Dickinson in ways none of us can foresee. But will it change our reading of Dickinson’s genre—or will readers still go to the Web as they have to the print editions in order to read more Dickinson poems? Won’t readers still view—because they already expect to view—these poems as lyrics? Will the medium of the Internet have any effect on the imaginary lyric model that has guided the editing and interpretation of Dickinson for so long?" (48)
"All of the versions of Dickinson posted by various hands on the Web partake, by virtue of their medium, of the new time frame of Web discourse: a text available at a click, an illusion of simultaneous production and reception, a public world of individual access viewed by the “global village” in the privacy of home or office. Most importantly, that access will appear unmediated and immediate, and will not appear to unfold through time. Whereas we know that the first edition of Dickinson’s poems (or Dickinson-Todd-Higginson’s poems) was printed by Roberts Brothers in Boston in 1890 (just before the passage of the international copyright law) in a white and gray gift book edition edged in gold leaf, the images of old manuscripts on the computer screen are as new as your screen. The inscription and successive publication dates of each manuscript on the site are meticulously noted, but the site itself seems to hover in electric air."(48)
"The exposure of Dickinson’s private hand to the public gaze has thrilled readers since the nineteenth century, and though new Web technologies may provide more spectacular means for such exposure, it is not technology itself that determines interpretation. My argument that the imaginary lyric in print informs even unprinted editions of Dickinson is not an argument about print per se; the electronic attempts to undo Dickinson’s print history amply demonstrate the limits of technological determinist arguments. The fact that Werner’s immensely technologically accomplished representation of the unprinted Dickinson ends in a fundamental form of lyric reading demonstrates that reading’s dependence on the cultural mediation of any medium—whether print, pixels, or skywriting. As long as there is a cultural consensus that Dickinson wrote poems andas long as poems are considered essentially lyric andas long as the cultural mediation of lyrics is primarily interpretative and largely academic—indeed, as long as lyrics need to be interpreted in order to be lyrics—then the media of Dickinson’s publication will not change the message." (51-2)
"That increased access to the visual archive is itself immensely valuable—but does it make each of us an historian or a viewer? What kind of readers of those images do we become? " (52)
"No edition of Dickinson will essentially change the interpretation of Dickinson if it is an edition of Dickinson’s poems.It is not the medium but the genre that determines the message. And what determines genre?" (52)
"The theoretical existence of literary genres makes possible the practical existence of literary criticism." (52)
"I have been suggesting that they do so because our idea of what a lyric is requires that Dickinson’s private compositions be made ever more public and ever more immediately accessible—ever more readable.That is, the representation of Dickinson’s work has depended on a critical theory of its genre (as privacy gone public, as present-tense immediacy, as an invitation to interpretation), and in turn critical theories of genre have determined the representation of Dickinson’s work (as privacy gone public, as spots of time in the middle of a page or the center of a screen, as addressed to the interpreter). But what if everyone since Higginson has been wrong? What if Dickinson did not write lyric poems?" (53)

"poetry of the portfolio" -- personal collections of verse for private collection and use, produced without thought of publication

"the reading of genre and the reading of history are mutually implicated in each other" -- citing Carolyn Williams, describing discourse and genre as a dialectical pair

Lyric Reading

"a great deal of lyric reading in the twentieth century attempted to restore lyrics to the social or historical resonance that the circulation of lyrics as such tends to suppress. And since, from the perspective of modernity, that interpretation is always a recovery project, the resonance that reading restores to lyrics—especially to Dickinson’s lyrics—tends toward pathos." (70)

sending poems as "gifts" along with letters; "Dickinson’s objectification of her writing mirrored her own practice of including objects with or within the writing; like the pressed flowers, dead insects, assorted clippings, or illustrations that often accompanied the lines she addressed to particular correspondents" (83)

"Whatever genre we might assign to Dickinson’s lines during the years they were exchanged between Dickinson and various individuals, they became lyrics in 1890. The maze of particular practical-social relations to which they pointed before they were published as lyrics became a much more abstract and simplified social relation after publication determined their genre." (87)
"Once the lines were published and received as a lyric, those several and severally dated subjects and objects and their several stories faded from view, since the poem’s referent would thereafter be understood as the subject herself—suspended, lyrically, in place and time." (90)
"My point has been that we would only know that a poem intended (if poems could intend) to be a lyric once it has been critically rendered as such at various moments before the moment in which you encounter it." (115)
"It is by now apparent that the opening paragraph of Dickinson’s Miseryis a smashed & grabbed version of the literary theoretical problem of how to recognize a poem when we see one—not in a possible world but in the one in which we find ourselves at the moment. In the chapters that follow, I will argue that neither a purely theoretical nor a purely pragmatic answer can adequately address that problem, since the question of how to get from past to present—from lyric history to lyric theory and back again—requires a combination of the two. It requires us to think both historically and theoretically: in Dickinson’s case, to think through the differences between what Dickinson’s texts might have been at other moments (notes of consolation, say, or newspaper verse, or commentary on enclosed flowers, elegies for soldiers or a dog or a culture or a season, or thank-yous, or appeals for publication, or scandalous secret winks, or language surrounding a dead insect) and the lyrics they have become. Because we cannot go back to a moment before they became lyrics, or back to a moment before lyric reading was the only way to apprehend a poem, we must try to keep both their material and contingent as well as their abstract and transcendent aspects in view at the same time. As the history of lyric reading attests, that is not easy to do." (116)

Dickinson's Figure of Address

"Rather than measure the length of her lines or isolate metrical passages or concentrate on texts in the fascicles not included (as far as we know) in letters, we might want to notice how Dickinson’s figures of address tend to insist that we not make about her writing the very generic decisions we have made." (126)

making ED into a figure who didn't seek publication helped sell early published versions of her poems (128)

" If her old-maidenly strangeness, her nunlike privacy worked (and still works) to make her poetry seem to readers like the voice that speaks to no one and therefore to all of us, this must be because from the moment that Dickinson’s writing was published and received as lyric poetry has devolved a history of reading a particular structure of address into the poems. This structure is one in which saying “I” can stand for saying “you,” in which the poet’s solitude stands in for the solitude of the individual reader—a self-address so absolute that every self can identify it as his own. " (128)
"In turning from “I” to “you,” and from the metaphor of speech to the act of writing, Dickinson’s writing traced an economy of reading very different than the one that Higginson and Mill and Vendler projected for the lyric and most readers of Dickinson as a lyric poet have imagined: a circuit of exchange in which the subjective self-address of the speaker is replaced by the intersubjective practice of the writer, in which the writer’s seclusion might be mediated by something (or someone) other than ourselves." (133)

valentines with cut-outs of prints intertwined with lines of verse (141)

"Though a letter or a poem to Susan might imply the historical Susan as its ideal reader, the letters and poems that have come into our hands have, in their passage, implicated us as readers as well. Rather than imagine ourselves voyeurs identified with a privileged lyric solitude or solitary readers of a fragmentary romance novel—that is, rather than worry about whether Dickinson wrote lyrics or letters or letter-poems— we might begin to take account of the way in which a third position has been built into Dickinson’s structures of address." (159)

"Faith in Anatomy"

"In this chapter, I will suggest that Dickinson has epitomized assumptions about both literary and personal identity not only because those assumptions are always mediated by gender and genre, but because they participate in the notion that writing itself is incarnate." (178)
"As we have seen, Dickinson (often literally) enfolded print into her writing; I have been suggesting that if Emily Dickinson does not live and breathe in her writing, she didlive and breathe print culture. As we have also seen, various pages and marks of that print culture not only made their way into her writing, but provided the pages on which she wrote. For Dickinson, print literally did precede handwriting, and part of the effect of its doing so is often to decorporealize and yet personalize that writing." (198)

Dickinson's Misery

"I have not been arguing so far that Dickinson did not write lyrics. I have shown that she did not write the lyrics we have read: since the lyric is a creature of modern interpretation, I have suggested that we have made her writing intothe genre we have read." (204)
"Dickinson did and did not do what the poetesses in the print public sphere did so well: she did hypostatize the figure of the generic, suffering woman, but she did not abstract that figure into a personification that became the property of that sphere—or at least it did not become such an abstraction until well after the era of sentimental identification had passed.35 Instead, she folded that public personification, as she folded other poetic genres, into texts that often point away from rather than toward their subject." (228)


"I have tried to place Dickinson’s variously intentional and unintentional ways of writing next to nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twentyf irst-century ideas of lyricism that have replaced those ways of writing with ways of reading." (235)