- “And Who Counts As ‘Us’?”: Slipping In And Out Of Emily Dickinson And Myself
Giving isn’t sacrificing. The person who transmits has to be able to function on the level of knowledge without knowing. I’m not at all referring to Socrates now. Just that one should be in a state of weakness, as we all are, and that it be evident. That one have the guts to occupy the position one has no right to occupy and that one show precisely how and why one occupies it. I set my sights high; I demand that love struggle within the master against the will for power.Hélène Cixous, “A Woman Mistress”
“ . . . for dreams are couriers.”Emily Dickinson (L907)
I met Emily Dickinson’s God once. Actually I became a part of that God in a dream. At that time, I was a young undergraduate who decided that I wanted to be an English major because I loved literature and I loved writing poetry. One night I dreamed that I was in that Blue, that Emily Blue, and I did not have to put any questions into language; there was this flowing, this fluidity between myself and what was encompassing me. The next day I wrote a poem about the dream. At the time I was reading her poetry in American literature classes, and I wasn’t understanding most of her metaphors. I certainly didn’t [End Page 75] understand her Puritan voice or her feminist voice or her voice of nineteenth-century conservative Amherst or her voice of envy or her voice of fear. But I believed that to dream of someone was to have that person talking to your soul, and despite my inadequate attempts at intellectually and academically learning about Dickinson, she was very present in my life in mystery and imagination.
In another dream I went to Emily Dickinson’s grave and placed some violets there. Susan, Dickinson’s sister-in-law, had told me, “Emily wants them.” I had that dream while I was still living in my parents’ home, a working-class Italian home on Long Island. At that time I had never visited Dickinson’s home, and when I finally saw the outside of it years later, I did not want to go inside. There was nothing about that place that invited me in. Her house stood up proud and straight “like Tombs -“ (P341), offering a presence that I could not begin to translate in my world. And her grave did not look like the grave in my dream. There was no rounded mound on some hill, overlooking a field. I decided then that I would never want to meet Emily Dickinson. She terrified me because I realized that the Dickinson I was dreaming about had more to do with my own desires of connection, of a meeting of souls through poetry. Standing in front of her grave, I felt the void of slippery worlds, as if I were falling into the mouth of one of my childhood hallucinations confusing my mother with multiple monsters.
In her essay, “My George Eliot” and My Emily Dickinson,” Karen Richardson Gee admits to a different kind of relationship with Dickinson; a relationship of intimacy, as if Dickinson is one of her distant relatives:
. . . fascination and frustration best describe my own relationship with Emily Dickinson. I am endlessly frustrated by her. I want the answers to my questions, but she does not comply with my demands. She meets them with coyness, teasing, and promises. My greatest hope is heaven. One of my college professors — Charles O. Hadley — used to say that he could not wait to get to heaven to get the real story from Emily. I understand what he means.(38)
I don’t understand really understand what Gee’s professor means; I have no desire to meet Emily in heaven because I do not feel that intimacy anymore. I do understand most of Dickinson’s metaphors, now that I can “pass” as an academic, now that I have moved out of my parents’ house and I am not sure if I can even call myself working-class anymore...