restricted access The International Reception of Emily Dickinson by Domhnall Mitchell and Maria Stuart (review)
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The International Reception of Emily Dickinson. Edited by Domhnall Mitchell and Maria Stuart London: Continuum, 2009. 320 pp. $150.00.

Emily Dickinson is exemplary exactly in her extremity. Her lyric stands for lyric as such. In her, compression is extent, omissions demand elaborations. Her very privacy is a public intervention. She attests and tests the limits of lyric, as well as its limitlessness.

The potential reach of Dickinson's condensed texts is reflected in this collection of essays engaging Dickinson across the world. Such a project immediately entails its own set of questions: what marks the borders for discussing "reception"? How are the categories of nation, language, or culture to be demarcated and defined, and what might govern their interrelationship? What aspects of reception are cogent? Scholarly, popular, elite, performative? What is the role and what are the possibilities of translation, with its fraught theoretical and practical problems? What interpretive frameworks does Dickinson's work call for or conform to?

The essays collected in The International Reception of Emily Dickinson address these questions to different degrees and with different emphases, enacting them in ways that vary according to each cultural forum. Most essays are grouped around a national rubric: Dickinson in the Low Countries (by Marian de Vooght), in Norway (by Domhnall Mitchell), in Sweden (by Lennart Nyberg), in Portugal (by Ana Luisa Amaral and Marinela Freitas), in Brazil (by Carlos Daghlian), in Japan (by Masako Takeda), in England and Ireland (by Maria Stuart), in Australia (by Joan Kirkby). Some adopt essentially linguistic borders: Dickinson in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (by Sabine Sielke); in francophone Europe and North America (by David Palmieri); in Hebrew (by Lilach Lachman); in Slavic traditions (by Anna Chenokova). Within each bounded frame, others emerge, reflecting the interests and traditions these national/linguistic orders themselves deploy. The result is Dickinson reading different cultures as much as different cultures reading Dickinson.

The opening essay by Sabine Sielke on Dickinson in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, for example, in effect offers a history of theoretical engagements with Dickinson. The author thus proceeds to confirm Robert Spiller's remarks on German scholarship as tending "to look at human experience in terms of absolutes and to clear your theoretical positions before proceeding to empirical practices" (8). She fulfills her own description of Germanic literary study as theoretically inclined, emerging out of the idealist-phenomenological philosophical traditions of German thought. This essay accordingly traces Dickinson studies through its categories of formalism, modernism, transcendentalism, gender, and New Historicism. [End Page 371]

The second essay by David Palmieri on francophone Dickinson studies, however, turns from theory to translation of Dickinson poems, not only into the French language but into French literary culture, as deployed through psychoanalysis and symbolism. "Puritanisme" becomes a French category. Dickinson comes to share French views of America. Over time and somewhat slowly, Dickinson thus comes to join Whitman but mainly Poe—who the French, in Baudelaire's translations, read as French—as an American classic.

It is impossible here to review each approach offered through the course of the essays in this collection. All the essays offer a cogent account of the main figures, scholarship, translations, editions, chronologies, and genres-including music, drama, cinema and art—associated with Dickinson's appearance and emergence within each national-linguistic world. Formalism, modernism, and gender are recurring topics, often tracing a literary and cultural history—Domnhall Mitchell emphasizes, as do others, the institutional strata of Dickinson's reception via libraries, curricula, university settings, and the development of American studies—in each language/territory. As Lilach Lachman reflects, changing approaches to Dickinson "reveal differing preferences and practices of poetry, but also a change in zeitgeist that is historical and cultural (156)." The portraits of Dickinson that emerge are equally portraits of each cultural world, often, as Maria Stuart traces, through misreadings, not least across such overlapping cultural boundaries as American, Irish, Australian and British English. Dickinson, despite her being so emphatically circumscribed both geographically and culturally, finds astonishing recognition across great distances—as seen in Masako Takeda's discussion of Dickinson in terms of haiku.

On the whole Dickinson's own historical specificity is less emphasized in the essays...