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"The Earth reversed her Hemispheres": Dickinson's Global Antipodality

From: The Emily Dickinson Journal
Volume 20, Number 1, 2011
pp. 1-21 | 10.1353/edj.2011.0006



This essay takes issue with conventional biographical approaches to Emily Dickinson and argues that her conception of authorship instead involved a sustained aesthetic of impersonality. Rather than incorporating Dickinson within an excessively domesticated or genteel context, it would be more helpful to consider ways in which Dickinson remaps the idea of selfhood onto more extensive spatial and temporal domains. The essay consequently traces the poet's deliberate reorientation of religious discourses and her interest in scientific ideas such as astronomy, geography, geology, and the theory of evolution, all of which were specifically concerned in the nineteenth century with the displacement of human consciousness. Dickinson's poetry internalizes a rhetoric of paradoxical opposition through which projections of physical distance become reversed, with the idea of near and far being brought creatively, and sometimes comically, into juxtaposition. Hence the idea of "circumference," for Dickinson, implies a global rather than just a transcendentalist consciousness. This in turn is related to both her interest in the hemispheric South and in antipodean metaphors more generally. The essay concludes by suggesting that Dickinson uses transnational formations to highlight constant reversals of perspective and the prismatic or comparative slant necessarily presented to any given observer. In this way, it argues, Dickinson's poetry should be seen as radically exceeding its domestic circumference, since it self-consciously relates her proximate New England environment to the rotation of the spheres.