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Ricca, Brad: "Serial Readings, Cliffhanger Expectations: Emily Dickinson as Superhero"

Serial Readings, Cliffhanger Expectations: Emily Dickinson as Superhero

Brad Ricca, Case Western Reserve University

My presentation will focus on Dickinson’s “affiliations beyond the local,” specifically, her recent appropriation into that most 21st century of categories: the costumed superhero.

A 2012 novel by Eric Nixon called Emily Dickinson, Superhero casts Dickinson in the unlikely role of costumed vigilante in a fictionalized, historic Amherst setting. After a brief reading of this very silly, but surprisingly well-researched book, I want to explore this new affiliation of the poet’s popular stature and how it is perhaps not as unlikely as it may initially seem.

My claim is that Nixon’s recast of the poet as masked adventurer is actually speaking from a longstanding cultural and hermeneutic persona that the poet indeed may be trying to evoke. In thinking of Dickinson as superhero – with special powers, secret origin, unique costume, and mysterious arch-enemy – Nixon is not changing the general understanding of Dickinson at all, only rearticulating it into a systematic terminology of urban and literary myth that may finally make sense of why we continue to think of Dickinson in heroic, superhuman ways. We may dismiss Emily Dickinson, Superhero as nonsense, but the conceit is not only very aware of how we already think of the poet, but of (perhaps) her own plans for a larger-than-life persona.