Catachresis is a dominant trope in Emily Dickinson’s poetry, allowing her to revise concepts formerly uncontested. It extends the meaning of one expression toward another, without pointing outside of language. As such, it is instrumental in bringing about non-mimetic poetry. Dickinson’s performances of gender invite two different figures: metaphor and catachresis. While Dickinson reserves metaphor for the performances of familiar gender roles, she employs catachresis for the performance of new gender constructs. As a figure of impropriety, catachresis posits a radical subversion of the production of meaning, allowing for the poetic figuration of formerly unscripted performances. Moreover, the many selves performed in the poems are scattered over experience, whether real life or imagined. In such a way, Dickinson’s catachretic performances of “supposed person[s]” contribute to the construction of particular, real selves, which family, friends, and critics have understood as “poses.” Catachresis allows Dickinson to retain a constative-performative aporia, or a sense of undecidability between the autobiographical and the rhetorical or figurative. This trope, predominantly orchestrated in the context of gender performance, also spills over into poems on various other subjects (God, death, and psychological states). Ultimately, catachresis serves as the quintessential trope that enables Dickinson to lift the unthought into language.


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pp. 25-56
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