Often in comparison with Eastern thought, Dickinson’s poetry has been interpreted in terms of how it deploys an apophatic modality to negate or silence language in favor of various figurations of the transcendent. Conversely, her poetry has also been interpreted as proleptic of postmodernism by deploying a semiotic modality to block transcendence and return the reader to the immanence of the text’s language. Both these interpretations view Dickinson as witness to a gulf between immanent language and its transcendent referent, though the interpretations diverge in terms of which side of this gulf they see her pursuing and valuing. While in many respects incompatible, these two interpretations have both been so convincingly argued that they point to a third modality that encompasses both. This essay uses the term “communication” to describe the intricate co-presence of the apophatic and semiotic modalities within individual Dickinson poems. The essay concludes that Theravada Buddhism, which has not yet been compared to Dickinson’s thinking, is an especially illuminating comparative paradigm for her poetics of communication.


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pp. 46-64
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