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Vaughn, Emer: "The Circulatory Self: Emily Dickinson’s Trans-corporeality"

The Circulatory Self: Emily Dickinson’s Trans-corporeality

Emer Vaughn, Indiana University Bloomington

This paper considers Emily Dickinson as a “world citizen” in the context of the gradual transatlantic decline of natural theology and rise of evolutionary theory. The shift toward understanding life forms as existing along a continuum, rather than in a hierarchy, combined with a new awareness of the vast scales of geological time associated with Charles Lyell, gave human identity a history and a sense of contingency. Dickinson responded to these changes in part, I argue, by crafting circulatory, trans-corporeal subjectivities. I borrow the concept of trans-corporeality from Stacey Alaimo’s posthumanist ecocriticism, which calls attention both to the materiality of human identity and to its continuity with what we conventionally call nature or the environment. I also build on recent criticism which has drawn attention to the uses of animality in Dickinson’s poetry. In particular, Colleen Glenney Boggs argues that Dickinson’s human subjectivity emerges through animal subjectivity, while Aaron Shackleford points out that Dickinson’s sophisticated anthropomorphism strategically decenters the human. Considering animality as a facilitator of trans-corporeality, this paper identifies “circulatory” subjectivities that emerge in moments of appetitive, sometimes cannibalistic, incorporation and in projections of the self across deep time, creating identities that exist both as and within networks. At the same time, as in poems like “As the starved maelstrom laps the navies,” Dickinson engages the appetites by activating visceral, animalistic responses in the reader. Ultimately, the “world citizen” seen through the lens of trans-corporeality emerges through the circulation of scientific texts, animal and inanimate agencies, and the material circulation of Dickinson’s own writing.