Emily Dickinson's poetic mapping of the world
This thesis investigates Emily Dickinson's spatial imagination. It examines how her poetic landscape responds to the conditions of modernity in an age of modernization, expansionism, colonialism and science. In particular, I look at how the social and cultural representations of nature and heaven are revised and appropriated in her poems to challenge the hierarchical structure of visual dominance embedded in the public discourses of her time. Although she seldom travelled, her writing oscillates between experiential empiricism, sensationalistic reportage, and ecological imagination to account for the social and geographical transition of a rapidly industrialized and commercialized society. The notion of transcendence, progress and ascension in Enlightenment and Transcendentalist writings, based upon technological advancement and geographical expansion, characterized the social and cultural imagination of her time. Alternatively, an increasingly cosmopolitan New England registers a poetic contact zones as well as a Bakhtinian carnivalesque space, in which colonial relations can be subverted, western constructions of orientalism challenged, and capitalist modernity inflected. Dickinson voiced in her poems her critical reception of such a phantasmagoric site of a modern world. I explore how her cartographic projection registers the conflicting nature of modernity, while resists the process of empowerment pursued by her contemporary writers, presenting a more dynamic poetic vision of the world. In the first chapter, I explore her use of empirical mapping as a poetic approach to challenge the Enlightenment notion of progress and modernity. I look at her poems of social transitions, especially her poems of the Bible, the train, the pastoral, and the graveyard, to show how she addresses the issue of modernization. Her visit to Mount Auburn and the rural landscape movement are explored to show her complex poetic response toward modernity. In the second chapter, I focus on her poems of emigration and exploration to see how she appropriates frontier metaphors and exploratory narratives that dominated the discourses of national and cultural projects of her time. The colonial expeditions and national expansionism of her time are examined to show her revision and deconstruction of quest narratives. In the third chapter, I examine her commercial metaphors in relation to cosmopolitanism. I discuss her metaphors of tourism to see how her poems are based upon the notion of consumption as a poetic mode that is closely related to the violence of global displacement and imperial contestation. Her tourist experiences and reading of travel writings will be examined to show her critical response towards the dominant visual representations of her time. In the last chapter, I explore her poems of visitation and reception to show her elastic spatial imagination through her notion of neighbouring and compound vision. In particular, I discuss her poetic reception and appropriation of the theories of Edward Hitchcock and Thomas De Quincey. I conclude suggesting that her spatial imagination reveals her poetic attempt to account for the conditions of modernity.