Taxis in Absence: Elliptical Logic in Emily Dickinson


Max Weidman

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Emily Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts her whole life. We possess some of the hundreds of poems she composed during that life, the first from 1850 and the last from the year of her death in 1886. Much thinking about this body of work has focused on the concision of the poetry, the brief, terse lyrics by which Dickinson expressed her ?multitudes,? in the word of her contemporary, Whitman. Concision is a fine term, having a root in the Latin caedere meaning ?to cut,? with which to introduce a notion of ellipsis. The project underway is to explore what is missing from her poetry and make some generalization about how these absences contribute to the experience of reading it. Ultimately, it will be argued that her conspicuous (and intentional) elisions or omissions foreground the problematic status of the logical constructs with which we interpret poetry, hers or any other?s. I wish to demonstrate that whatever coherence we witness in the poems is an adherent and not inherent product of the words in play. Dickinson foregrounds the apparatuses by which we make sense of her poetry; she neither simply invokes nor flatly denies them?she draws attention to their artificiality. In this way we come to see, as poet and critic Charles Olson urges, that form (of logic, of grammar) is never more than an extension, a precipitant, of content.


Dan Fineman




Ford Research Endowment

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