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Noble, Marianne and Gary Stonum: "Emily Dickinson and Philosophy"

Emily Dickinson and Philosophy

Marianne Noble, American University
Gary Stonum, Case Western Reserve University emeritus

“You enshroud yourself in this fiery mist,” Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote to Dickinson, so that “I cannot reach you.” Deeming her an “enigmatical being” with but “rare sparkles of light,” he initiated a persistent image of Dickinson as a sibylline poet who intuited rather than thought and who shrouded her meanings in enigmatic verse. Against this image, Emily Dickinson and Philosophy reads her in the company of comparably bold and important thinkers and demonstrates that her thoughts are often quite comprehensible and that they contribute to the major philosophical themes of her age and ours. Comparing her work to that of major philosophers and movements, the essays in the collection demonstrate that her aesthetic practices were of a piece with her philosophical inquiries, and that specifically philosophical vocabularies and methods can both explain and reframe her artistic choices. The book demonstrates that she engaged with the vocabularies, arguments, assumptions, and clashing paradigms that appeared in the philosophical debates in her college town, zigzagging on and off the roads connecting the Scottish Enlightenment, European Enlightenment, Romanticism, and German Idealism, adapting specific philosophical issues, controversies, distinctions, and terminology in her poetry. She also anticipates some of the central thinkers of more recent philosophy—Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and others.
In the presentation, we establish why we thought it has been important to have a book on this topic. We also highlight some of the continuities that emerged among the dozen essays, foregrounding poems that frequently came up as philosophical touchstones, and also some of the disputes between our contributors