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Emily Dickinson: what is called thinking at the edge of chaos?

Reading Emily Dickinson has always been something of a (hopefully exciting) challenge. We all know of plenty of interpretive traditions have been brought to bear on her poetry. The question one is tempted to ask; which one will yield the best results, that is which is the most illuminating, the one that will account for the highest number of elements from this or that text, and that consequently possesses the most far-reaching implications? We've all come across, to limit the list to one example, Christian readings of her poems. It hard not to ask oneself where God is; in the obsessions of the critic, in the text, or in what is known of the mind in 1862 of the former Mount Holyoke student who refused to stand up during assembly? Are we honestly allowed to say that she finally discovered that our human certainties are to be found at a transcendental level? In this essay, I'd like to address another tradition; the venerable English empiricist approach. My starting point is that it seems that, very often, Emily Dickinson looked upon her poems as as many problems. A problem is a question. It does not refer to something you know, but to something you do not know, and that possibly you may never know. In many instances, what she wrote on these odd pieces of paper had to do with issues that are too big for one to understand; life, death, trauma, and more generally things that are beyond what our culture enables us to perceive. Dickinson obviously wrote about objects and about the world. In so doing, she kept trying to define what her self was, or more precisely what passes for self or personal identity. What she found was that these notions were empty notions. What did then she discover at the edge of chaos? Is there something to discover?

Dickinson always alternates between experience and experiment. For her, writing generally proceeds from an experience that remains unnamed. What matters is not the experience itself, that is to say something that violently affected her body or her mind, or probably both. It would seem that she received a sort of wound, or shock, or that she suffered a loss, which resulted in a trauma. That is all readers will know and all there is to know. Then comes the experiment. She experiments with words, as a wound has no meaning in itself. Each poem is a construction. It is an adventure that maybe will help her discover the meaning of her traumatic experience. Experience and experiment as a matter of fact share the same etymology. Both words refer to a trial, and Dickinson was certainly aware of the fact that they usually possess two complementary meanings. Experience especially concerns something violent that happens to you. (The word "peril" interestingly shares the same Latin origin ex-periri with experience/experiment as it derives from a Greek term meaning "passing through.") The words also signify trying to achieve a goal. In her most compelling poems, Emily Dickinson tries.

Partly because there are very few detailed interpretations of it, I chose "It was not Death, for I stood up" (510) (1). Most of the readings devoted to the poem are on the whole circumstantial, with the exception of one which is unabashedly religious. (2) "It was not Death" is one of her darkest poems. Other poems on the same topic are a little more optimistic in that their endings are written in the past tense. That is for instance the case of "After great pain, a formal feeling comes--" (341), also dating from 1862, in itself her most horrid (and most prolific) year. Using the past implies that there is someone in the present remembering the past. The idea is clearly expressed at the end of 341: "Freezing [that is in the present] people recollect the Snow-/First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--" If they can recollect a near-death experience, the implication is that they are still alive, which is borne out by the two lines (in the past tense) that precede: "This is the Hour of Lead-Remembered, if outlived." (Saying "if" implies that some may have died, but the poet and/or persona is still here to tell us about them). 510 begins in the past ("It was not Death"), but, contrary to 341, it ends in the present tense. The poet this time identifies with chaos, with the horror, as if the persons alluded to in 342 had actually ended up welcoming death in the snow

I. The ancient tradition of empiricism

Empiricism of course shares the same etymology as experience/experiment. It constitutes an old philosophical tradition that, it is my belief, should help readers understand a little better the way Emily Dickinson thinks in her poems. Maybe that is not too surprising. We know that she received the best education one could get at Amherst and Mount Holyoke, and that her syllabus included philosophy classes (3). The list of authors taught was heavily made up of British empiricists, especially Thomas Reid, whose books on Scottish Common Sense, even though they criticized David Hume's ideas, very thoroughly summarized them at the same time. Emily Dickinson undeniably possessed a very sound intellectual background which she developed, deconstructed and reconstructed in her own way in order to flesh out her experiments with words. In other words, she adapted what her environment gave her. Mutatis mutandis, she did with empiricism what she often did with the language of late puritanism. She emptied it of its religious meaning and placed it at the service of her experiments, in the same way as she also used the conventions of traditional protestant church hymns as a backbone for a lot of her poems, including poem 510.

Emily Dickinson can thus be seen as part of a tradition. Was she aware of it? We will never know. Presumably, there were a number of ways of thinking which she liked and others that did not interest her. I believe that it is semantically richer to ask the question from the point of view of the reception of her work. In this respect, empiricism is unquestionably one of the most rewarding approaches when one tries to read and interpret her "poems." Not surprisingly, a lot of American writers are also best understood when they are included in that tradition. Gilles Deleuze wrote a famous paper on the subject ("On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature" in Dialogues with Claire Parnet, Paris: Editions Flammarion, 1977. London: Athlone Press, 1987.) Deleuze has also often remarked that for a very long time American philosophers were empiricists and that that explains why American philosophy is still so fascinating to us today. (4) Dickinson probably would have concurred with Deleuze's confession: "I have always felt that I am an empiricist ... [My empiricism] is derived from the two characteristics by which Whitehead defined empiricism: the abstract does not explain, but must itself be explained; and the aim is not to rediscover the eternal or the universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced (creativeness)." (Dialogues, Preface, p. VII). Like the other Empiricists, Dickinson had made her choices: (i) immanence instead of a priori answers coming for a supposedly supernatural level, and (ii) the fact that it is an illusion to believe that things (such as the world, the self or God which are 'habits' in which we have grown accustomed to 'believe,' as Hume would say) are wholes and possess a unity, let alone an essence. Wholes and unities are illusions ... The way our mind works is through the associations, relationships, assemblages which it produces and which are constantly becoming different from themselves.

Empiricism is not a school, nor is it a philosophical system, that is to say it is not a body of knowledge. It is usually described as a method, a way of looking at the world and at oneself, or, more precisely, it is a way of looking at the way one looks at the world and at oneself. True empiricism can be defined as experimenting and constructing new bodies of knowledge without any a priori. It is Britain's greatest philosophical invention. It influenced Emily Dickinson, just as it influenced American pragmatists like John Dewey and William James, or even Richard Rorty, and its legacy is not confined to English-speaking countries. In France, it is certain that neither Henri Bergson nor Gilles Deleuze would have written their &uvres if they had not been submitted to its influence. It might be interesting to note that Deleuze's first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, was devoted to David Hume. (5) Understanding what the implications of empiricism were provided him with his starting point. Later, he began to develop a highly unconventional way of writing philosophy, just like Emily Dickinson developed her unconventional way of writing poetry. Is it still poetry? or philosophy? In addition, it is important to bear in mind that at bottom there are two conceptions of what empiricism is. To simplify, we could call them Locke's and Hume's conceptions. Dickinson's poetry is certainly to be understood in terms of the latter and not of the former.

John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding is by and large the book that made empiricism possible. Locke raised new questions and pointed to new directions. With our historical hindsight, however, we know today that Locke was a very conservative thinker and that a great deal of what he discovered frightened him. The main point behind this first conception of empiricism is that innate ideas do not exist and that all knowledge comes from our senses. In other words, our brain is a "blank slate" (tabula rasa) at birth. In his book, Locke also wrote about a number of problems which he found important, but also dangerous. Among other things, he propounded the notion of association of ideas without insisting on it and he also established a classic opposition between wit and judgment (6). He very clearly indicated that he disliked both wit and associations of ideas. For him, the two notions conceal a common danger: they run the risk of betraying what our senses tell us. Locke even went as far as saying that using wit was like "cheating" ... The organization of our mind must be a copy of (outside) reality. It is clear that Emily Dickinson could not have concurred with him. She would only have agreed with Locke when he maintained that we are not born with innate, a priori truths, which is precisely why she criticized Christianity. Apart from that, her poems are certainly not copies of outside reality. What is outside reality, especially if one has suffered a trauma? She wrote her poems in a way that shows that, from an intellectual point of view, she does not know where she is going, and, contra Locke, both wit and associations of ideas are of course of enormous importance for her.

Even on first reading, it is clear that poem 510 is structured by means of associations of ideas or series of coordinating conjunctions (and, or, for, but). Emily Dickinson concatenates ideas and she never knows what her final goal will be, or even whether there will be a final goal. In addition, she associates perceptions in a way that does not duplicate conventional reality. Worse, what looks like perceptions in her poem should in fact be called hallucinations which have been combined in a very personal manner.

David Hume went much further than Locke when he radicalized the latter's most revolutionary intuitions and when he made possible the second conception of empiricism. The real problem is not that everything comes (mechanically?) from our senses. What is given in our minds is already something that is constructed. We have no direct access to outside reality. Hume starts, not from perceptions, but from the notion of associations of ideas. They are mental operations, and there are two kinds of them. In some cases, we repeat what we already know or what our culture has taught us. Maybe, that is because we are tired, or just conventional people. The second possibility consists in inventing new operations. These operations do not follow innate models. Emily Dickinson expressed a similar opposition is a short poem.
   The Brain, within its Groove
   Runs evenly-and true--But
   let a splinter swerve'--Twere
   easier for You--

   To put a Current back
   When Floods have slit the Hills--
   A scooped a Turnpike for Themselves--
   And trodden out the Mills--(556)

Emily Dickinson is here at her most theoretical. In what possibly seems to be an allusion to Ancient Epicurean philosophy, she explains that, in some cases, a kind of clinamen, a "swerve," an accident, a chance action, forces us to leave the "groove." Whether we want it or not, we are sent spiraling into unheard-of territories. There is no going back for those of us that have been submitted to that "swerve" and they can no longer control what they do with their minds or their bodies. Clearly, that only concerns a minority: a poet suddenly on the edge of chaos, for instance.

One extremely important consequence of the fact that nothing is innate is that the self is not a given. It is a construction and it does not have any foundations. Our identity is thus only a assemblage of operations that we have become used to performing together. In his book on David Hume, Gilles Deleuze summarizes the point made by the Scottish philosopher with all the clarity that one may wish: "We are habits, nothing but habits--the habit of saying "I." Perhaps there is no more striking answer to the problem of the Self," (Empiricism and Subjectivity, x.) Another consequence is that identity is based on "faith," Consciously or not, I have chosen to believe that this particular assemblage constitutes my self, Assemblages are of course arbitrary. Hume's pronouncement has remained notorious: Identity is a fiction, What happens when I am no longer able to believe in the fiction? That is exactly what Emily Dickinson's poem 510 shows us,

II. The wound and the word

The real Emily Dickinson as writer (poet? thinker?) was born with the wound (7), Maybe wound is not the right word, but we need a term to refer to that mysterious "It" (the first word of poem 510) that started the whole process, (8) Was it physical or mental in her case? Was it a loss? We will never know, All we need to know is that it apparently was a shock, a trauma, something too big for her to continue living as she had been living before, In other words, after the wound, she literally had to invent a new self for herself, Interestingly perhaps for us, her biographers tell us that she had read that novel published in 1853 which relates the life of a woman who also suffered from a sudden traumatic experience, (9) The cause of it is definitely not what matters, (Being seduced by a man who left her after getting her pregnant? The seduction possibly took place in the forest, that is in the wilderness, a place devoid of meaning, meaning being by definition social), The woman's real life began when she left Boston prison, and henceforth her life became synonymous with writing, Like Emily Dickinson, Hester Prynne writes and thinks in a unconventional way, With gold thread, she embroiders the letter she is forced to wear on her chest, In this way, she embarks upon the construction of a new self and at the same time she constructs her personal vision of time and of space, She chooses to live on a peninsula half way between the city and the forest, that is to say at the edge of the wilderness. Like the speaker at the end of Dickinson's poem 510, Hester too feels the temptation of chaos, of losing herself in the forest, She, however, resists and maintains the precarious balance she has established between meaning (always social) and chaos (meaningless), For her, time points to the future, She does not know what her future will consist in, but her life to come will not follow a predetermined model, In fact, there is no model, Hester will experiment as best as she can with her limited means, In this respect, she is a poet just like Emily Dickinson. Is poetry making sense of a wound? Should one say that one cannot truly write and think (in a meaningful way) without encountering chance, the wound, the accident, the experience?

The French poet Joe Bousquet should help us articulate the problem, He was a soldier in World War I when he received a wound that left him paralyzed on his bed in Carcassonne until his death in 1950, Bousquet wrote poems in order to go beyond that wound which destroyed his body, but also permitted him to start constructing his identity. He very aptly said, "Ma blessure existait avant moi, je suis ne pour l'incarner." (Les Capitales, ou de Jean Duns Scot a Jean Paulhan, Paris: Le Cercle du Livre, 1955, 103). ("My wound existed before I did. I was born to embody it,") adding that it is like a sign "beckoning" to him. There is no doubt that Bousquet was first and foremost a thinker and that he kept returning to a number of problems that have to do with life and the meaning we try to attach to it. Traduit du silence, for instance, is a long, rambling diary made up of a series of recurrent interrogations about women, poetry, philosophy and of course writing. What he says-in his elliptical style-could very easily be applied to Dickinson: "Se rendre, au-dedans de soi, apte a creer l'ordre que l'on devra subir" (Paris: Gallimard, 1941, 195.) (Make oneself, within oneself, in a position to create the order one will have to undergo.) Writing (outside the groove, the cliches, meaningless repetition) is synonymous with experimenting, projecting oneself into the future (10). It certainly does not mean looking at the past in a vain attempt at finding a cause for my wound.

We are in the same position as the inhabitants of Boston whose road crossed that of Hester Prynne. Can we interpret the letter? the poem? Of course, some readers will immediately yield to a voyeuristic impulse and ask themselves the silliest question there is: what is the cause of the letter? (Will they say-repeat after countless others?--that, like Hester, Emily seems to have placed false hopes on a clergyman?) For others, reading the poem will be a personal experience. It clearly will not be the same experience as that of the poet. But, starting from the words on the page, they will endeavor to discover what possibilities the poet's experiment with words may ultimately reveal about them. Writing is about life, even if it is about pain and death. I read poetry because I want to live more fully and because I want to be myself (whatever that means). And I need Emily Dickinson's help. Indeed, Emily Dickinson was much more than a small provincial poet. She had (almost ...) scientific pretensions. She even coined a startling phrase in one of her other poems written in 1862: "The Province of the Saved." "The Science of the Grave/No Man can understand/ But He that Hath endured/The Dissolution in Himself" (539). The important word is understand. Emily Dickinson is par excellence a writer of theoretical poems/problems. More generally, in order to understand a poem, we need the words of the poem, but also the experience of our wounds inside ourselves. Understanding is creating links and constructing meaning, that is to say systems of oppositions that will enable us to situate ourselves in terms of our losses, wounds and traumas.

Poem 510 is about a horrendous trauma, a traumatic experience. It is apparently also about poetry; it constitues an experiment in which the poet tries to find the words that may help her confer a meaning upon her trauma. It is thus an account of a (mental and/or physical) experience as well as of a experiment with language; Emily Dickinson draws our attention to the fact that we cannot separate the one from the other. Would it be reading too much into these 24 lines if we considered that words like feet, tongues, figures (set orderly) and frame are also terms that may represent a comment upon the techniques and functions of poetry? The fact that these technical words are all here together seems to be more than a mere coincidence. Poetry is about feet, meter, measure, as Dickinson well knew. Indeed, poetry consists in putting a frame upon one's experience, expressing it through ("marble") figures. On the other hand, it is also about intensity ("Dare you see a soul at the white heat?," (poem 365) she wrote at the beginning of another famous poem of hers). Her "feet" are too cold, just like her body is too hot. Will the experiment succeed in conveying the urgency of the experience? The "tongues" are unbearably loud and violent. That word possibly refers to church bells, a way of measuring time, just like feet measure poetry. The bells, however, also produce a clamor, and that clamor is what the senses communicate to the brain, even if it would be more accurate to speak of a hallucination. With the tongue of the bells, poetry is seen as the peculiar alliance of measure and intensity. What is the poet's attitude towards these two opposites; frame and measure, on the one hand, and, intensity, violence, on the other hand, as she tries to write on the frontier separating chaos and order?

III. The failure of metaphor

Empiricism enables us to make sense of what the poet does after the (literally meaningless in itself) wound in order to try and make sense of it. Empiricism is about constructing relationships (or associations). Poem 501 first resorts to a first type of relationships, i.e. metaphor. This first approach is of course traditional and Emily Dickinson shows immediately that it leads nowhere. Then, the last (and partly ungrammatical) stanza of the poem will experiment with a second type of logic.

The poem begins with the indefinite "It," bearing the trace of the wound, and with a series of four metaphors. Contrary to what traditional rhetoric believed, metaphors are obviously no mere ornaments. They constitute figures of thought making up a relation in the tradition of the old Aristotelian logic of subject-predicate; x is a, x being something meaningless and a a preconstructed object to which x is compared. In other words, the unknown is attached to the known. Right from the beginning, however, Emily Dickinson is aware of the limits of metaphors. As the first is not sufficient to give meaning to the wound, she tries three others; x is a, then x is b, c, d (x = it/a = death, b = night, c = frost, d = fire). One presumably imagines that it is possible to hit upon the right object that will stop the process and establish the meaning of the trauma. That attempt sadly is but an illusion that is immediately denounced in the first stanza when a second operation is borne to bear on the operation of metaphor, that is negation; It was not ... Emily Dickinson is aware that traditionally metaphor has always been the promise of a meaning, of an essence, of a revelation. Nobody needs to be told what night or death or frost are. Metaphor thus belongs to a logic of recognition. The problem is that the poet wants cognition, knowledge, not recognition, a ready-made answer, or an instance of common sense which is, as everybody knows, always profoundly reassuring. It follows that the problems becomes; what happens if I stop connecting an unknown object (such as my trauma) to pre-constructed objects or notions? What sort of new relationships can I establish?

With stanza 5, a rupture occurs in the poem, Dickinson gives up any attempts at binary logic, (11) At the same time, as the grammatical tense shifts from the past to the present, she embarks upon uncharted, unheard-of territories, In fact, territory may not be the right word, The word she uses is "chaos," Is it possible to think without using binary oppositions? It would appear that our brains need them and that our cultures are structured upon them, One is either dead or alive, Food is either raw or cooked, That at least is the way we look at reality and make sense of it, Emily Dickinson did not have to read Claude Levi-Straus's Le Cru et le cuit (Paris: Editions Plon, 1964, The Raw and the Cooked, New York : Octagon Books, 1969), She knew that there is an unbridgeable gap between culture and nature, She will never understand, for instance, the bird of Poem 328, It eats the angleworm "raw," and never shows the slightest interest in the poet's "crumb" ... That poem can be read as another comment on the limitations of binary oppositions, Finally, the bird escapes into a medium that literally cannot be represented by human beings, The end of poem 510 is, however, an attempt at another kind of logic, assuming that it is still possible to speak of logic, Indeed, the poem stops abruptly (as often with Dickinson's poems) as if the experiment with words and metaphors could no longer continue, What happens after the end of the poem? The question is irrelevant, Readers will never know, The poem just ends, We may just imagine--for what it's worth--that the poet goes back to her daily life, or that she is engulfed by madness, The poem started with the indefinite "It" It ends with silence and an inability to explain, Why is madness a distinct possibility? Probably because it can be defined as the contrary of thinking, of knowing who you are, where you are, and of being aware of a stable relationship to clock time, None of that can be found in the last two stanzas of 510, We are in the middle of a "stopless" chaos, And in addition, grammatical clarity virtually breaks down, something which also characterizes quite a few Dickinson's poems,

"Stopless" apparently refers to something that is infinite, Our senses cannot perceive a space that would be without limits, Space is here compared to chaos, that is to something humans will never make sense of, By definition, chaos is what is outside society and culture, For us, chaos no longer exists, Christianity says that it was abolished by the Creation of the World, Returning to chaos can only be a fictitious regression, an attempt at avoiding our place in society, as humans cannot not think without binary oppositions, They cannot live in chaos, In Dickinson's poem, chaos is the ultimate metaphor but one, It tries to define what the wound is, The final metaphor of the poem is the sea, For Emily Dickinson, one cannot live in the sea either, Practically, every time the sea is mentioned in one of her poems, it refers to some unspecified, horrendous danger, It separates the lovers in poem 322, It threatens the poet in her body and in her identity in poem 520. (12)

What the awkward grammar of the last stanza conveys is that, on that ocean without limits, for the passenger who is lost, there is neither hope nor despair ... Despair would be part of an opposition: either there is hope or there is not, In this respect, despair would give an (admittedly negative) meaning to what is left of my life, The poem ends with a sort of zeugma that conflates "a chance," "a spar," and "a report of land," that is an abstract notion, an object and a fragment of language, Or rather the poem does not connect these three things as it says that they do not exist, The shipwreck was so severe so there aren't even a few spars to which the victims might cling, Even chance and accidents are no longer possible. The opposition between chance and necessity and more generally logic has totally broken down. (13)

IV. The unbearable division of being

One crucial characteristic of poem 510 is that in it the poet is depicted in it as a split self. Two series of contradictory representations run through its six stanzas and readers are not told which of the two possibilities they are supposed to choose. The poem is the relation of a crisis.

From an etymological point of view, the Greek term "crisis" means a turning point in a disease. Nothing will be ever the same afterwards. The word points to the fact that you can now discern, distinguish, separate (that is the meaning of the word) two things, two levels, and of course two temporalities. It is no longer possible for the subject to make connections. Two temporalities? In spite of the attempt at identifying with chaos in the last stanza, it would thus seem that Emily Dickinson cannot escape binary logic after all. Should we conclude that, as long as one is still alive, the brain needs oppositions in order to function? In the last line of the poem, the poet is still alive. And whether one is alive or dead, that precisely is what the poem is about.

The two contradictory series are articulated by another type of relationship, i.e. negation: It was not A (death, night, frost, fire), but B, for ... What is, however, remarkable is that, as though it is not A, the poem goes to great lengths to describe that first series (A) and repeatedly returns to the items making it up before negating them. It is as if, at some level, A was more important than B. With her own poetical (philosophical?) means, Emily Dickinson intuits what Sigmund Freud expressed in his celebrated 1925 article on negation. Negation is an intellectual a posteriori operation which is applied upon a representation (here A) that had first welled up into one's mind. A is connected to some unconscious desire that one's consciousness tries to repress by means of negation. The repressed representation can in fact make its way into our mind only if it is negated. However, as Freud points out, there is no negation in our unconscious ("Es gibt in diesem System [that is the unconscious] keine Negation, keinen Zweifel, keine Grade von Sicherheit," "Das UnbewuRte," Internationale Zeitschriftfur arztliche Psychoanalyse, 1915. "The Unconscious," in A. Richards (ed.), The Pelican Freud Library: vol. 11. On Metapsychology: The Theory of Psychoanalysis (159-222), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.) (In the unconscious, there is no negation, no doubt, no degree in certainty.) There are only desires and desire is always positive. In other words, Dickinson's A would constitute--to use a phrase Freud often liked to repeat-a kernel of truth (ein Kornchen Wahrheit).

The split self exposed in the poem is made up of a contradiction of desires (series A) and perceptions (series B) which coexist in the poet's mind. It is not clear whether she desires actual death. She in any case craves extreme states of being (frost and fire) or possibly of non-being (what the night metaphor expresses). In this respect, the experiment conducted in the poem consists in probing how far one can go "beyond the pleasure principle," to quote another celebrated work by Freud. (14) Frost and fire are certainly not pleasurable sensations. They obviously represent unconscious desires, like an attraction for the night and non-being. Non-being can be understood here as some attempt at going beyond social life, its logic and its representations. On the other hand, perceptions indicate that the body resists the temptations of that unconscious desire for non-being. The poet is not lying dead, but standing, it is noon (usually synonymous with light and life in Dickinson's poetry), and her feet and flesh still communicate sensations, even if the former are made of marble.

The problem is that we read with our culture and our personal associations of ideas. The cold, for instance, belongs to another poetic tradition. Emily Dickinson's fellow New Englander Robert Frost was part of that tradition together with her. That is at least the way we are tempted to read them both today. Frost too harbored a deep attraction for the mysteries of non-being. That temptation seems to be universal with its yearning for some kind of irrepresentable nirvana and for the regression to the inorganic that accompanies it. Was it because with both poets we find ourselves in New England? For them, the inorganic was often snow ... "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (first published in New Hampshire, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1923) ends with the same line repeated twice: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep." Will the poet return to the village, society, the promises, the future, or is he already the prisoner of the woods filling with snow? Frost's poem is very close to Dickinson's poem 341 ("After great pain,") a true companion piece to 510, except that, as we saw, 341 is written in the past: "This is the Hour of Lead-/ Remembered, if outlived, /As freezing persons, recollect the Snow-/ First-Chill-then Stupor-then the letting go--" If outlived?

What looks like a desire for chaos in Emily Dickinson's poem would appear to represent an endeavor to escape socially accepted significations with their reassuring binary oppositions. What will I find beyond the realm of the human? That realm consists in a mixture of self, world and God which normally provides us with the landmarks we need in our daily lives. The intensity of the wound has irrupted into that realm and made it imperative for me to find another plane beyond representation in which maybe I will discover a meaning for my "self" and my desire.

V. The frontier of non-being

What Emily Dickinson discovered is that experimenting after the wound essentially means asking the question of the self. The wound is what gave her the opportunity of redefining who she is, or rather what talking of a self can possible mean.

In the first part of the poem, the self is identified first and foremost with a representation of death. Death of course cannot be represented, but only suggested by means of images and metaphors, which is what the poet sets out to do when she adds metaphors to metaphors. It is up to her readers to interpret the metaphors and to develop some of the connotations which the assemblages of details in the poem hold in store. To limit ourselves to the obvious, the speaker identifies with a horizontal position. Presumably, she imagines that she is lying inside a coffin. What seems to matter is that she now longer has to move, just like the clocks which no longer "tick" or the ground which no longer "beats." (Are these allusions to her heart?) At the same time, she says that she would need a "key" in order to breathe. All these metaphors negatively point to what we usually associate with life, that is to say movement and activity. The key she does not possess implies that she is no longer autonomous, that she is utterly passive, and that life should come from outside herself, but that it doesn't.

This accords with the fact that she describes herself in geometrical terms, "shaven" (like piece of wood?) and "fitted to a frame," Life, on the contrary, would mean being unpredictable, and certainly not mechanical or geometrical, The progression of the metaphors in the poem point to an attempt at a final identification with the ground which doesn't "beat"-that is with the inorganic-and with a complete absence of tension, The poem thus creates its representations: it describes a series of sensations that suggest that the body is now without sensations, At the same time, another series of images contradicts the first series of metaphors, In this second series, the self is not in a horizontal position, but standing, It is as if the poet was split between her fantasies of death (series A) and her perception (series B) that her body is still alive, The body, that is to say reality, resists and imposes completely different perceptions: she is compelled to hear the deafening noise of the bells (a symbol of time which cannot be stopped?), It is noon and she is alive whether she likes it or not, In other words, the self is poised on the frontier between being and non-being, just like Robert Frost's persona was standing on the frontier between, on the one hand, the snow and chaos, and, on the other hand, the village and the future,

In associating these sensations, the speaker sees things a lot, she hears the "tongues" of the bells, she feels "siroccos" on her flesh and a chancel under her feet, Smell does not appear to be mentioned, Why these particular three series of sensations? It would seem that they are all connected to representation and they indeed conjure up images easy to identify, They are, however, all unsatisfactory, and, as a consequence, the poet is forced to continue her experiment and to resort to new metaphors, and specifically new sensations, It was not Death and it was not those sensations, "[a]nd yet, it tasted like them all," Taste is clearly more intimate and personal than the other three senses, The main point to consider seems that taste does not produce images, unlike seeing, feeling and hearing which immediately create a representations of objects, With taste, the poet opts out of the known world and plunges into a mad desire that cannot be represented, It is the closest she comes to experience what death supposedly is like, (15)

The end of the poem moves from an identification to "figures" ("set orderly, for Burial") to a complete absence of figures and an attempt at approaching chaos, Not surprisingly, the pronouns "I" and "my" no longer appear in the last two stanzas, We are now in a position to understand what the experiment carried out in whole poem consisted in; what happens to the self when it stops being an assemblage of sensor-motor reactions needed in daily life for practical purposes? Is there another possibility for structuring the self? Once again, it is important to look at that problem bearing in mind that the approach offered here is empiricist. We are dealing with relationships between sensations, or more precisely between what the early British empiricists like John Locke or David Hume called ideas; For them, anything in the mind is by definition an idea. (16) It can be a sensation, or the memory of a sensation, or a hallucination making use of sensations. In other words, if everything comes from sensations, the self is no more and no less than the way we organize what comes from our bodies or what we remember about it. In her own way, Emily Dickinson is no less daring and unconventional than Arthur Rimbaud who advocated "un long dereglement raisonne de tous lessens" (a long and reasoned disordering of all the senses). (17) He was questioning whether we could experience reality differently from tradesmen and all those hateful petits bourgeois so full of their illusory common sense. (The experience can only be temporary. One of course returns to daily life by necessity afterwards. Rimbaud himself finally gave up literature and became ... a tradesman. After writing one of her short texts, Miss Dickinson perhaps left the solitude of her bedroom for the kitchen in order to make one of her famous black cakes ...)

In poem 510, Emily Dickinson's ultimate purpose can thus be seen as an attempt at defining her self. The wound-whatever it was-jogged her out of her everyday superficial persona. Can one discover what our stable, identical, definitive identity is? Probably not. The poet does not. We know that she will write other poems tomorrow and the days that will follow. She will survive, even though she comes close to being submerged by chaos at the end of this poem which does not relate the experience of a breakdown. It does not relate the experience of a breakthrough either.

VI. Of bodies and haecceities

Empiricism is a tradition, a way of thinking, not a theory or a set of conclusions. As we saw, it did not begin with Hume, even though he seems to have been the first who expressed its underlying principles with all the clarity necessary. There were, however, "empiricists" before Hume, and the tradition did not obviously stop with him. That tradition encompasses a great many thinkers who obviously, apart from an empiricist approach to thinking, are often theoretically poles apart. Yet, being part of this great empiricist movement means that reading them helps us perceive what should be considered important, for instance, in a literary text.

In this respect, when Emily Dickinson's experiments with language in order to try to discover how far one can go, it could be suggested that, in modern parlance, she attempts to construct for herself a Body without Organs. In other words, she radically asks the question; what is "my" "self' when it is not something conventional or superficial? The answer is that it is not a self, and that it is not something you possess ... It is not identity either, as you are always becoming different from yourself. It could be said that, in the poem, the experiment becomes a sort of new experience in stanza 4; "as if my life were shaven." It is as though she now stood radically naked in body and mind. Only the essential is left. What for instance do feet matter for me now after the wound and its trauma? That is the only question worth asking, Antonin Artaud, who coined the phrase Body without Organs BwO ("Corps sans organes,") in his 1947 radio program, Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu (in ffiuvres completes, volume XIII, Paris, Editions Gallimard, 1974, To Have Done with the Judgment of God, Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975), before it became popularized by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, considered that it designated another manner of being oneself different from our quotidian social self, that is to say, to return to Dickinson, from the way she behaved with her family or her servants, (18) In other words, there are thousands of ways of relating to my body, or rather of connecting its parts, giving each of them this or that function,

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari offer that the BwO plays the same role as Duns Scotus's concept of haecceity which they adopted and adapted in Anti-Oedipus (Cf, chapter I.2,) (19) and then developed in Mille Plateaus (Cf, chapter VI) in order to account for what sort of reality my mind exactly consists in, A haecceity is made up of "relations of movement and rest between molecules or particles, capacities to affect and be affected," (A Thousand Plateaus, English translation, 261,) It could be argued that here Deleuze is pursuing Henri Bergson's empiricist objective: how can I explain what is specific in a thing without imposing upon it an illusory unity? The BwO is first and foremost a problem of relationships, or associations to speak like the Empiricists, It all depends on the way the parts of the body (which is no longer my body) are connected, Parts are longer seen as organs, that is to say as instruments or means towards an end (which is the etymology of the Latin organum) and the body is no longer considered in the practical way education has taught us to use it, (Am I allowed to hazard a guess? The individual Emily Dickinson retreated from the world because she knew that that was the only way for her to be herself whatever that means, Is that also why she only wore white dresses? Was it her personal way of achieving a plane of life where she could be more unique, less conventional? White like the white page on which she tries to writes herself, just like Hester Prynne invented herself starting with the first letter of the alphabet?)

The consequence is that my identity is no longer a whole possessed of its unity, but an assemblage of singularities, body parts, and more generally intensities, since a part is important, not for its (social, practical, traditional) use, but for its intensity which is anything but rational, Like a modern Metaphysical poet madly in love or worshipping a formidable deity, the poet seems to be saying "I find no peace and all my war is done, /I fear and hope, I burn and freeze like ice,/I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise," (Petrarch in fact, translated by Sir Thomas Wyatt,) (20) In the same process, time and space are abolished, Memory especially has vanished: my present state has nothing to do with the roles I used to play in my community, The BwO is thus an experience of limits, When the subject does not become mad, it can see itself as that special and unique assemblage, The accident and the wound have led it to witnessing an event, or, if one prefers, it has led it to the advent of a new temporary vision of what I am (except that "I" is no longer an "I,") Once again, from a theoretical point of view, Joe Bousquet intuitively guesses that this is were the real problem lies. In a famous letter to Rene Magritte, he summarized in a very striking manner the whole point this essay has been (ponderously) trying to express: "Le corps est le firmament de tout le reel imaginable. Nous sommes la carte de ce firmament ranimee dans le coin ou on l'a mise." (Lettres a Magritte, Paris: Le Talus d'approche, 1981, 16.) (The body is the firmament of all the real that can be imagined. We are the map of that firmament brought back to life in the corner where it was placed [forgotten?].) Instead of self, it would then be better to speak of haecceity. Duns Scotus as the first Empiricist? Emily Dickinson as the heir of Duns Scotus?

Speaking of traditions, it may be interesting to remember that, not long after Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins developed a similar type of intuition. We do not know whether Emily Dickinson had heard of Duns Scotus, but Hopkins most certainly had, and his concept of inscape directly derives from Duns's haecceity. (The etymology of the word is uncertain: hece as thing, or more probably ecce as this is?) In Hopkins' case, it was also a unique and unstable arrangement of singularities and relationships (inside a thing and with its environment) that expresses what is special in that particular thing. There is no doubt that Emily Dickinson rediscovered the need to understand that the I is not an essence given once and for all, and that it certainly is not the copy of a model which, as it were, would be hidden somewhere. I am not even an "I," and accordingly the first person pronoun slowly disappears from poem 510. What is left is an assemblage: "The life of the individual cede[s] its place to an impersonal, and yet singular, life, that releases a pure event liberated from the accidents of interior and exterior life, in other words, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens. "Homo tantum," sympathized with by everyone, to the point of reaching a kind of beatitude. It is an haecceity, that is no longer of individuation but of singularization: life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil because only the subject that incarnated it among things made it good or bad. The life of this individuality disappears and yields to the singular immanent life of a man that no longer has a name, because he cannot be confused with any other. Singular essence, a life...." (Deleuze, "Immanence: Une vie", Philosophie, no. 47, 1995. "Immanence: A Life" in Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, New York, Zone Books, 28-29).

Deleuze probably found his inspiration, not only in Hume, but also in Spinoza, a philosopher to whom he kept returning practically throughout his life. Spinoza is of course the thinker who asserted that the only valid question one should ask is: "Quid Corpuspossit?" (Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata, 1677. Ethics, Trad. G.H.R. Parkinson. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2000, Book III, scolium of proposition 2). "What can our body do? So far, no-one has determined it." Deleuze borrows (and adapts, as empiricism is constant adaptation in order to try to solve problems) the conception of modus as it is propounded by Spinoza. It is an illusion to believe that one possesses a fixed self. What actually happens is that one constantly goes through an infinity of moduses, i.e. ways of being. It is tempting to say that my identity is what remains identical as time passes. It is also a mistake. I am always caught in a process of becoming. If the process stops, it only means that I have become insane, or that I will always be a conformist, playing the same role over and over without any evolution. In other words, there is no horse. There is only a horse at rest, galloping, ambling, jumping, copulating, suffering ... A horse at times lives in its domesticated body, and at other moments invents a free body for itself. Perhaps, apart from Emily Dickinson, no writer has better illustrated these "moments of being" (as she called them) than Virginia Woolf. When Mrs. Dalloway walks through London, she is an endless series of haecceities, her mind is succession of assemblages of heterogeneous sensations without anything personal about them.

Poem 510 remains a fascinating example of what a haecceity is. A haecceity doesn't use metaphors. It is made up of another type of relationships or, if one prefers, of associations. It is here that Emily Dickinson shows herself a true empiricist. As Gilles Deleuze forcefully reminds us, "[t]his geography of relations is particularly important to the extent that philosophy, the history of philosophy, is encumbered with the problem of being (the sky is blue), and the judgment of existence (God is), which presupposes the other. But it is always the verb to be and the question of the principle. It is only the English and the Americans who have freed conjunctions and reflected on relations. [...] Substitute the AND for IS. A and B. The AND is not even a specific relation or conjunction, it is what which subtends all relations, the path of all relations, which makes relations shoot outside their terms, and outside everything that could be determined as Being, One or Whole." (Dialogues, Chapter "On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature, 42-43. The original quotation is of course more striking and unsettling as in French EST (is) is pronounced exactly like ET (and)....)

It is now perhaps possible to understand a little better why the last stanza of Emily Dickinson's poem does not contain the verb IS. There is no predication, and consequently no metaphor. (21) The logic which is at work has become that of coordination: a and b or c but [like [without d or e orf]], that is to say the logic of haecceity. The self is a temporary assemblage of heterogeneous singularities. That would also explain why the last stanza does not contain any personal pronouns either. There is absolutely nothing personal about this assemblage. Virginia Woolf will carry out a similar sort of experiment when her narrator describes Mrs. Dalloway passing into London like "a knife through everything:" "She would not say of any one in the world that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. [...] She knew nothing; no language, no history; [...] and yet to her it was absolutely absorbing; all this; the cabs passing; and she would not say of Peter, she would not say of herself, I am this, I am that." (Mrs. Dalloway, London: Hogarth Press, 1925, 11)

Emily Dickinson experimented on her own a certain conception of writing, or thinking as writing, as an adventure or experiment starting from an extreme experience. It is unquestionably a little easier to read her poetry 150 years or so after her poems were written. It might even be argued that she is even more "modern" than Virginia Woolf, or should it be said more experimental, as far as her use of language is concerned. Even though Woolf's character would not say "I am this, I am that," she still uses the first person pronoun (and her narrator the third person). That is probably due to the fact that, over the last hundred years, we have rediscovered a way of dealing with experience which is the great honor of empiricism to have brought to light. It seems justified to contend that Dickinson is part of an old anti-idealistic intellectual tradition that started (at least) with Duns and then Hume, and that has been granted a new lease of life thanks to modern thinkers like Bergson, Wahl and Deleuze. If we assume that her great discovery was something than can today be called haecceities, that is unquestionably something that best expressed in a poem. A poem is a series of original relationships built inside the poet's mind in relation to a shock presumably coming from the outside. What is the meaning of the singularities making up this unique, heterogeneous assemblage of several siroccos, two feet, a spar (which does not exist....), a report of land (which does not exist either), church bells and marble (feet)? What does it mean to speak about meaning? Maybe we have not finished with empiricism if we choose to consider that it provides the most fruitful approach humans have elaborated to make sense of their traumas. Of course, the meaning arrived at is disappointing (a chance, a spar, a report of land), it does not produce something familiar we could cling to in order to reassure ourselves. It seems now impossible to resort to conventions like x = this or y = that object or notion, or, more deeply, to rely on superficial notions like the self, the world or God. Conventions, and abstractions for that matter, do not explain anything. What is important is to trace how the self finds itself constituted through singularities. What the wound taught the poet is that there is no going back and there will never be a reassuring answer. Maybe we have not quite finished reading Emily Dickinson.

Daniel Thomieres, the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, France

(1) #510 is the reference of the poem in Thomas H. Johnson's handy edition, which most scholars still possess today (New York/Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1955). In Franklin's more recent edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), it is now #355.

(2) Readers who are interested in this type of approach could for instance turn to Cynthia Griffin Wolff's biography of Emily Dickinson which includes interpretations of particular poems. See Emily Dickinson, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. Practically all these interpretations follow the same mechanical religious pattern. Everything Dickinson wrote is supposed to have described her fight with God. This is certainly true of some poems, but, in other cases, God seems to be only an object in the critic's mind. Wolff analyses poem 510 pp. 338-339, immediately asserting that "It" refers to "the resurrection from the tomb to Paradise." In the end, "the speaker has dropped back to the basest human level." Why drop? why back? This reading is a perfect example of the superimposition of an arbitrary pattern upon a text. Why God? Why not politics? feminism? One thing is clear, Emily Dickinson's biography remains to be written, bearing in mind that her real life is to be found in what took place in her bedroom between her pen and the white page. As far as poem 510 is concerned, even though a chancel and bells are mentioned, there doesn't seem to be anything religious in the poem. In the last stanza especially, Dickinson was really elsewhere. For her, there is no fight with god. There is just no such thing as what some other people call a God. There is no man either, and no "human levels" whatever that is. There is only an assemblage of pre-individual singularities, a chance, a spar, a report of land, or rather these things are said not to exist, even though they are mentioned. God is not. We are definitely closer to Nietzsche than to more mainstream American writers fully integrated in a more conventional 19th century tradition. In other words, Wolff sees the whole poet's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as the endless repetition of the old cliche of the romantic poet. Was Emily Dickinson's a 19th century's poet? It would be truer to say that her poems belong to the 20 th century when they were published and when they started to be understood. It is also possible to find Wolff's remarks on the style of the poem in contradiction with what the poem says. That critic speaks of "fusion," adding that the "chancel" is a tomb ... This assertion is most unfortunate as it is made about a poem which methodically deconstructs the concept of metaphor.

(3) Probably the best study ever published on Emily Dickinson is Jed Deppman's book, Trying to Think with Emily Dickinson, Amherst, The University of Massachusetts Press, 2008. I am greatly indebted to it. Deppman does not analyze Poem 510. I have tried to imagine what he might possibly have said about it. His conclusions would most certainly have been different from mine, but, after all, just like him, I have tried to think, and to think with Emily Dickinson. I have also tried to assess to what extent Dickinson could be relevant for 21st century readers. The problem is undeniably a problem of hermeneutics: in what tradition(s) do we inscribe ourselves in order to interpret her poems? Deppman quite rightly insists on the fact that Dickinson was aware that she lived in a universe in which there was no referential stability as far as language and religion were concerned. She accordingly chose to experiment with language and thought. In conclusion, my thanks heartily go both to Jed Deppman and to Emily Dickinson for the irresistible incentive they have given me. Deppman also provides a comprehensive survey of the impressive formal education the poet received. Contrary to what people may imagine, in Massachusetts, girls were certainly not discriminated against as far as the teaching of science or philosophy was concerned.

(4) In this respect, it is perhaps important to know that Deleuze was influenced by Jean Wahl's doctoral thesis, Les Philosophies pluralistes d'Angleterre et d'Amerique, Paris: Editions Felix Alcan. 1920. The Pluralist Philosophies of England and America, Oxford: Open Court Company, 1925, which devotes a lot of time to explaining the originality of William James--among others to European readers. Then came Wittgenstein and his British and American followers who completely confused matters, as Deleuze very strongly points out. (Cf. Le Pli, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1988. The Fold, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, 76). After William James, Alfred North Whitehead was the last English-speaking philosopher of value. Or should we say that it was-in her own inimitable way-Emily Dickinson?

(5) Gilles Deleuze, Empirisme et subjectivity, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1953. Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. For Hume's conception of the subject, see An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

(6) Locke briefly introduced the principle underlying associations of ideas in II.33 of Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690. Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing, 1996). The opposition between wit and judgment is to be found in II.11.2.

(7) Although he expresses the idea differently, that is also the theoretical point made by David Porter's seminal study of Emily Dickinson, The Modern Idiom, Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press, 1981, in which he explains her poetics as an answer to something too intense for her, Cf, especially his chapter I, "The Crucial experience" (9-24.) I try to go beyond that position. What does the poet actually do with words after the wound and/or trauma?

(8) It is always essential to return to Cristianne Miller's Emily Dickinson: A Poet's Grammar, Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press, 1987, which offers an extremely thorough analysis of Dickinson's idiosyncratic use of language. In her discussion of poem 510, Miller of course focuses of the poet's indefinite It and on her insistence on repeating it (Cf, pp. 100-101.) My hypotheses and my conclusions are, however, different.

(9) Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1850, New York: W, Norton & Co, 1962).

(10) The tradition in which I propose to look at Emily Dickinson is as old as the world. She may have found examples of it in the Bible. Possibly, its first exponent was Jacob. It is, however, important to distinguish which aspect of Jacob's life we choose to take into consideration. I am not thinking here of the fighter who proved stronger that his opponent and was promised the land of Canaan for his descendants. (Another example of the romantic poet, which Dickinson celebrated in poem 56, "A little East of Jordan," an early text, that is pre 1862.) I am thinking of the man who suffered a strange wound (never satisfactorily explained by scholars: leg? groin?). Who was he fighting with? a man, an angel, God, himself, his past? Genesis 32 does not say. One thing is certain: his real life began after that encounter. He received a new name, Israel, and a new identity. With the faults of his past forgotten, his mission was now ahead of him. Mutatis mutandis, the same happened to a man called Saul who fell from his horse as he was on his way to Damascus. After his accident, he felt compelled to develop a new ego, adopt a new name, Paul, and take an interest in language and letters as a means of constructing systems of meaning and belief. Jacob and Saul remain the two most famous examples in a long list of wounded men who turned to language and in many cases to literature. Closer to us, we could mention Ernest Hemingway. The difference is that, in spite of their biblical ancestors, Nick Adams in In Our Time or Jake (short for Jacob ...) Barnes in The Sun Also Rises do not possess the certainties of religion. They suffer, survive, and barely succeed in establishing some kind of balance in their lives. For Emily Dickinson, as for these "modern" characters, there is "no report of land," no promised land.

(11) Such is also the conclusion arrived at by Sharon Cameron within a different theoretical framework in her Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, that remains another of the best books devoted to the poet, She offers a brief but exciting reading of Poem 510 (48-53),

(12) The less negative image of the sea one can find in Dickinson's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] seems to be in "Wild nights! Wild nights!," (249) where it is compared to strong erotic passion, another case of uncontrollable excess.

(13) The whole poem begins as a radical critique of metaphor and ends in a completely metaphor-less way. Admittedly, the last stanza mentions that things look "like Chaos." Is that a real simile? By definition, chaos cannot be represented. The unknown is not compared to something that is known (as in a classic metaphor), but a something which is more unknown. As a consequence, there is no comparison to speak of.

(14) Sigmund Freud, Jenseits des Lustprinzips, Leipzig, Wien und Zurich, Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1920. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Standard Edition, vol. XVIII, London: Hogarth Press, 1930.

(15) Another tradition that can be appealed to when reading the end of the poem would be to approach it as an instance of the sublime, Emily Dickinson may not have read Kant's Critique of Judgment or Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1757, New York: Columbia University Press, 1958, but their ideas had largely been popularized by the end of the first half of the 19th century, The poet very well knew that literature can help us envisage moments when an overpowering violence fascinates us, Indeed, a lot of her poems posit that there must be something that cannot be represented (let's call it an infinite dimension as opposed to our finite nature), but which my mind insists on trying to represent, In this respect, it is always extremely rewarding to return to Gary Lee Stonum's extremely stimulating study, The Dickinson Sublime, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990, which incidentally has some very good remarks on a possible reading of Poem 510, (Cf, 73-76,) Stonum, whose approach is obviously different from mine, reinforces my conviction that what matters is the role of the reader, in other words the tradition of interpretation in which one places oneself, and also that the sublime raises first and foremost the question of the self, Stonum also points out that this type of poems is part of an attempt at writing on the frontier between the habitual self and the traumatic perception of objects that cannot be perceived.

(16) "whatsoever is the object of the under-standing when a man thinks, [...] whatever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking" (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, I.i.8, p. 6).

(17) Arthur Rimbaud, "Lettres du Voyant," to George Izambard, 15 May, 1871. Correspondance, Paris; Fayard, 2007. Complete Works, Selected Letters: A Bilingual Edition (Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 2005).

(18) If one prefers a less revolutionary pronouncement, it is always rewarding to re-read Henri Bergson, that great French empiricist, "Si la surface de notre tres petit corps organise (organise precisement en vue de Faction immediate) est le lieu de nos mouvements actuels, notre tres grand corps inorganique est le lieu de nos actions eventuelles et theoriquement possibles," Les Deux sources de la morale et de la religion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1932, 274), (If the surface of our very small organised body (organized precisely with immediate action in view) is the surface of our real movements, our very big inorganic body is the locus of our actions that are theoretically possible),

(19) Gilles Deleuze et Felix Guattari, L'Anti-Gdipe: Capitalisme et schizophrenic, Editions de Minuit (coll. "Critique") 1972. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: The Viking Press, 1977).

(20) The Poetical Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt, (London: Bell and Daldy, 1866).

(21) One interesting way of classifying writers would be distinguish those who rely on metaphor from those who could be called less traditional, less "Aristotelitian", that is to say more "modern" and experimental. Choose not metaphor, but metamorphosis, used to repeat Gilles Deleuze. Perhaps one remembers what he said of Kafka, who, like Emily Dickinson, was another extreme experimentalist. "Kafka deliberately kills all metaphor, all symbolism, all signification, no less than all designation. Metamorphosis is the contrary of metaphor. There is no longer any proper sense or figurative sense, but only a distribution of states that is part of the range of the word. The thing and other things are no longer anything but intensities overrun by deterritorialized sound or words that are following their line of escape." (Kafka: pour une litterature mineure, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1975. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1986, 22).
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Date:Sep 22, 2015
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