Ryan Cull, "Beyond the Cheated Eye: Dickinson's Lyric Sociality" (pp. 38––64)

During the past generation, Dickinson scholarship has shown how historicist and printculture methodologies can illuminate the social nexus of even a notoriously reticent figure. It has also had a broader impact on how we think about lyric poetry in general. For Emily Dickinson's experiments with dual authorship, hybrid-collage forms, and the blurring of stylistic and formal lines between poem and letter indicate the social embeddedness of what critics often still consider a private genre. This essay blends these two lines of thought in order to consider the lyric (and here, especially, Dickinson's lyrics) not only as a socio-historically embedded form but also as a form that may have application to our theorizing of the social. The essay argues that in a sequence of poems and letters in the period from 1862 to 1863 Dickinson identifies a possessiveness at the heart of the lyrical subjectivity that poisons social relations and stands as the most pervasive legacy of Romanticism. The essay then shows how Dickinson criticism, which can serve as a microcosm of critical trends in general, critiques but never casts aside this post-Romantic subjectivity that still limits our social theorizing. Then it shows how Dickinson seeks to do just this, to present within her lyrics an alternative poetic subjectivity that makes possible a revolutionary, pacifistic (though not passive) form of social relation.

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