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2022 MLA Sessions

Proposal for a session at the 2022 MLA Conference, sponsored by EDIS – The Emily Dickinson International Society

Session Title: The Many Languages of Emily Dickinson

Argument: Emily Dickinson’s use of the English language, fueled by her constant reading of her dictionary (her “Lexicon,” as she called it), opens virtually infinite avenues for interpretation. The fluidity of her writing practice, embodied by her staunch refusal to establish a final, “authoritative,” version of her poems, provides readers with a model of diversity, which the wealth of adaptations in other media (theater, film, tv series, in particular) reflects and illustrates. A highly original linguistic innovator, Dickinson also made a major contribution to poetry by expanding the possibilities of the English language from within, making it sound foreign unto itself in many ways.

Dickinson’s unusual “foreignhood” helps us perceive the beauty of the unknown beyond any foreignness. She creates a poetic idiom that stretches language to a point where it meets and embraces multiple others, in a kind of “internalized” multilingualism allowing her to speak in a lyric voice at once intensely personal and widely universal. Today, Emily Dickinson has literally become a multilingual poet, whose way of seeing the world “New-Englandly” has been successfully transformed into a much broader, more fluid and more open perspective.

In this panel on “The Many Languages of Emily Dickinson,” we intend to explore how learning to speak “Emily Dickinson as a Second Language” can enrich mutual understanding by fostering plurality and dialogue in a growing community of readers. We welcome papers on the many ways in which Dickinson’s poetry unlocks the potentialities of language to help us embrace the world more generously through an expanded use of language(s). Papers on the multilingual dimensions of Dickinson’s poetry—both literal and metaphorical—and on Dickinson in foreign languages, will be of particular interest.

Please send proposals (title, 400-word abstract and short bio) to
Prof. Antoine Cazé before September 15th: