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Wu, Shu-Ching: "Overcoming Oneself as Subject in Dickinson’s Poetry: A Mediated 'I'"

Overcoming Oneself as Subject in Dickinson’s Poetry: A Mediated “I”

Shu-Ching Wu, Kainan University, Taiwan

This essay interrogates what is at stake when Dickinson’s poetry is situated within a social, cultural, or historical context in order to define its distinctive poetic value. The relation between Dickinson’s lyric self and the other (i.e., external contexts) is one with tension and spontaneity and is a dialectical relation as defined by Theodor Adorno. Such a dialectical relation emphasizes the self’s resistance, not the self’s immersion in society. Therefore, to situate Dickinson’s poetry within a particular external context runs the risk of undercutting the lyric self’s resistance.
This dialectical relation is full of tension and spontaneity because the lyric self is mediated and conditioned by the other but not controlled by and subsumed under the other. With further discussion of Adorno’s and Heidegger’s thoughts, I will discuss how they put each other’s ideas at stake and thus delineate a more genuine dialectical relation between the self and the other. It is with the understanding of this dialectical relation that I will interpret Dickinson’s poems and show how her lyric self “has overcome himself [or herself] as subject” (Heidegger's words). Nonetheless, Dickinson's lyric self challenges both Adorno's and Heidegger's arguments because the lyric self's resistance to social definition results from the possibility of a mediated “I” in poetry. The lyric self's resistance is thus not always socially or politically motivated as Adorno argues. The lyric self overcomes his/her subjectivity not because the self always prepares a ground plan for the world as a first move but because the self is already a mediated “I” from the very beginning—an “I” mediated by a fictional other as soon as it is written.