This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
” subtly suggests: “The Brain is just the weight of God . with their disruption and failure (34). For Dickinson. more significantly. Loss of consciousness.. pain.SABine SieLke ”The Brain .” (Fr598)./ And they will differ . “Perception in itself” comes out as “a Gain” and a recurrent motivation of many of her poems (Fr1103).1 Based on what Roland Hagenbüchle calls “phenomenological reduction”—a focus not so much on things and phenomena themselves.2 Our knowledge of the brain and its functions do not resound a proximity to God. and language—all of which her texts insistently interrogate—as the riddling end of her poem “The Brain . paralysis./ As Syllable from Sound . but on how they affect our body and mind—many of Dickinson’s poems are preoccupied with physiological operations and.Heft them .is wider than the Sky .is wider than the Sky .is wider than the Sky . the poem also insinuates that these mental spaces evolve from neurophysiologic processes. on a magnitude that “pain” may easily reduce to “The minute Circumference / Of a single Brain” (Fr833) by resisting the term mind and privileging the word brain.” or: Re-Cognizing Emily Dickinson ickinson’s poem “The Brain .” (Fr598) not only insists on the immense scope of our mental universe. Thus.Pound for Pound . theology. even if “Perception of an object costs / Precise the Object’s loss .” as Dickinson puts it. only poetry can do that.if they do ./ For . this cognitive surplus escapes science. For Dickinson. and the limits of perception are central to her poetry and poetics—a poetics that explores the lacunae and gaps of cognition and exposes the brain’s capacity to break down information and remember experiences and sense impressions in a highly selective and associative manner. Does this in turn mean that poetry may also spell out cerebral processes? © 2008 The Johns Hopkins University Press D 68 .
the latter encompassing what we now call media ecology. on the other (366). however. does it mean to “re-cognize Dickinson”? And why re-cognize the poet in the first place? Re-cognizing Dickinson can mean to approach her poems by way of the cognitive sciences. at the same time. in particular. “The brain is unity” and “[t]he brain is the screen. re-cognizing poetry will necessarily reassess. as art historian Barbara Maria Stafford does. for instance. we need to resist reading into her poetics the insights about cognition that evolved during the second half of the twentieth century and. on the one hand. medicine. Dickinson evolves her own sense of neurophilosophy. that art can teach the cognitive sciences how the brain works 69 . the so-called “decade of the brain. a transdisciplinary field that is itself vast (“wider than the Sky”) and can be defined broadly as “the study of the principles by which intelligent entities interact with their environment.” (Fr782). By now we know. and science.” 6 Therefore. Moreover.4 interaction and environment are key terms here.” Gilles Deleuze famously claimed: thus underlining the interdependence of cognition and our sense of the world. then.3 What. the former implying a certain degree of mutuality. from a presentist position. approaching Dickinson via cognition may be useful for our understanding of both the poet’s writing and its interaction with a cultural climate she seems to have been shielded from by the greenhouse she built around her. Troping cognition in hymnody. distinguishing the (im)material worlds both brain and God are capable of producing on the basis of distinct forms of mediation (“Syllable from Sound”) and in the process evolving her own “Compound Vision” (Fr830) from “that Covered Vision . Dickinson’s work.” as eckart Scheerer summarizes (7). i am hesitant to claim.5 Re-cognizing Dickinson we cannot help but over-interpret and read her poems. situating content topographically in space and supplementing missing pieces. from a new vantage point. the interrelation between the metaphoricity of our concepts and the materiality of bodies. Despite the many fundamental differences in basic assumptions and terminology that separate the study of cognition from literary analysis. that the brain constructs coherent images of the world from fragments. at least in part. seems to resist the very coherence that our brain imposes on our fragmented view of the world—a tendency that is partly due to the poet’s scepticism about the certainties and supposed plausibility of philosophy. since Dickinson’s day we have been able to “weigh” the human brain with more accuracy than she could ever foresee.Sabine Sielke in part due to developments in (bio)technology. the 1990s. At the same time re-cognition of Dickinson may encourage us to pay more attention to our own perception of texts and reflect on figures of cognition and their cognitive effects on processes of reading and remembering. and the media that make up significant parts of that world.Here .
While our predominantly visual culture conceives of the brain as a screen. is metaphoric. .” indeed. but in a highly mediated manner. through making connections. to reclaim eternity for this side of existence. most of Dickinson’s poems were produced at a time when the technologies of photography had just evolved and when apparati such as the zoetrope and the stereoscope marked the early stages of film history. for instance. First. to do the work of science without using a language that is filled with metaphors.” as Craig Hamilton puts it (287)—like the narrator in Jeffrey eugenides’s novel Middlesex when he bluntly remarks: “Biology gives you a brain.” Biologists speak of genes as blueprints and DnA as “information. . 7 in addition to taking account of the materiality and the metaphoricity of mind and brain and complicating their interrelation. and world evolve interactively in mutually effecting intermedial processes. Recognizing Dickinson therefore also means situating her poetics at the threshold of fundamental transformations of our common ways of perceiving. (3) Analogical thinking may be “what the mind does.” as Margaret H. the analogies our minds create do not “analogize” brain and world. metonymic. we need to acknowledge that both art and science work by way of metaphor and mediation. for instance. they may also employ eternity as a metaphor to grasp aspects of existence that remain unspeakable or. he claims. Physicists speak of “waves” and “particles” even though there is no medium in which those “waves” move and no solidity to those “particles.The Emily Dickinson Journal. the entire body of modern science rests on Descartes’s metaphor of the world as a machine. as i have argued elsewhere. they “analogize” tropes and “put pressure on our categories. structure of the mind. Thought itself. Life turns it into a mind” (539). Raymond Gibbs. however. Virtually the entire body of modern science is an attempt to explain phenomena that cannot be experienced directly by human beings. remembering. Language. 1 analogously. brain. that cannot literally be spoken. Yet. secondly. Vol. figurative language in art and poetry may possibly say more about how mind (and brain) work than we have so far assumed. Freeman’s work on Dickinson and cognitive stylistics underlines (259). .” writes zoologist Richard Lewontin. 70 . if this were indeed so. as Dickinson’s poems foreground. in his study The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought. Accordingly. XVII. to acknowledge that mind. it does so. not necessarily by way of analogy. Dickinson’s poems may not only attempt. to be more precise. rather than the literal. No. and Understanding goes so far as to argue that figurative language in fact echoes the poetic. and ironic. we need. “it is not possible.
At the same time. though. even though much of our work. my project is not to explore “the principles of her cognitive grammar” (“Body” 34). we have always been—and cannot help—re-cognizing emily Dickinson. How much Dickinson’s own single-minded work was part of intermedial cultural phenomena and processes of perceptions is underlined in a text that wholeheartedly disclaims such “connectivity”: “i marked a line in One Verse . Rather.. by principles of hermeneutics.” The poet also participates in a media ecology in transition and professes the increasing importance of the emerging new visual culture.8 Unlike Freeman. as becomes more evident lately. This criticism also paved the way for a rereading of Dickinson as a figure fundamentally engaged with the politics and popular culture and.Sabine Sielke and consequently creating the world. it means to interrogate how interactions between brain. with the science of her time. because it is mine. during the last two decades. who aims at mapping Dickinson’s “conceptual universe” (“Cognitive Approach” 269) and “cognitive intention” (“Body” 28). it remains striking how the poet’s reclusive life and self-marginalization keep impacting Dickinson scholarship. my project of re-cognizing emily Dickinson aims at re-contextualizing our readings of this paradigmatically modern poet in a way that keeps transforming our sense of both the context of her writing and of modernism|modernization.and never consciously touch a paint. Moreover. will you have mine?” (L271). mixed by another person . as is much of cognitive stylistics. Further.” she wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in August 1862. “because i met it after i made it . including Freeman and David Morris. Have you the portrait of Mrs Browning? Persons sent me three . and the playful postures and gender-related power positions enacted in many of her texts.if you had none. it seems to amount to a betrayal of the poet if we drag her into contexts that she tried to keep a distance from. Dickinson has been claimed by a series of critical perspectives that have contributed much to a thorough understanding of her enigmatic experimentalist aesthetics. in some way. Dickinson’s texts are not only interwoven within a network of verbal and visual texts that she “met” or did not “meet. have taken a “cognitive approach” to the poet. and media figure in Dickinson’s poems. her daring insights into various modes of human existence. several critics. As a passage like this one suggests. has focused on parameters 71 .i do not let go it. There are mountains of scholarship that capitalize on the primacy of mind and perception in Dickinson’s work. nor is it to ascertain the poet’s “own individual world truth. turning to the transdisciplinary enterprise of the cognitive sciences may shift the scope of a literary and cultural studies agenda that is still dominated. world. mind. a truth that”—as Freeman argues—“is grounded in a physically embodied universe” (“Cognitive Approach” 270). in the last three decades.
will. if we focus less on how and what texts and images signify and more on serial processes of transmediation from which meanings of texts and images evolve as memories that are constantly being displaced and over-written? Can neurophysiology add to our understanding of cultural practices such as poetry? And what happens to concepts of the subject if we take into account how our brains actually perceive and remember? Given the primacy of mediation.” as William Connolly suggests (xiii). evolving from neurobiology. this shift highlights the fact that our readings of such representations. and belief became “renaturalized. such an approach needs. attention. Vol. that is. and memory. to focus on the ways her poems render processes of cognition which include phenomena such as perception and memory. to re-cognize poems not as modes of cognition but as representations of such modes and. language. there are many potential takes to re-cognizing Dickinson. concepts like consciousness.11 72 . takes into account how reading as a cognitive act negotiates subject positions. are first of all physical matters. racialized. initially aimed at escaping the essentialisms of a “reductive biology. No. XVII. first and foremost the position of the reader. Challenging constructivism. projections of a post. and imagery. molecular genetics. and novel notions about how our bodies interrelate with the world. What happens.The Emily Dickinson Journal.or transhuman subject. gendered. resisting hermeneutics. an experience that.” as Jonathan Crary puts it. as Helen Vendler writes. agency. and class-contoured body that emerged from these debates is being challenged. “a deterritorialization and a revaluation of vision” (149). researchers insisted. experience. and biotechnology are new insights into our corporeality. 1 of difference and issues of the body.10 This shift of perspective allows us to envision an approach to poetry that. to capitalize both on the processes of perception and experience presented in Dickinson’s poetry and on the ways our brains and minds perceive and experience her poems. Yet. The major challenge this shift poses to literary and cultural studies is that it privileges the “compositional dimension of bodybrain-culture relays” over “cultural representations. firstly.” have in principle remained an hermeneutic enterprise. of how poems present the brain as “the setting for memory events” (nalbantian 43). during the 1990s.9 This approach raises the question. the concept of a culturally constructed. we keep interrogating forms of representation and their contexts. Take One is to read Dickinson’s poems as a way into cognitive science. “molds our thinking after her own” (34). As these preliminary reflections highlight. thinking. Take Two aims at re-locating Dickinson at a moment in the history of media and modernization that “effected. mind.” Perception. limited to interrogating the cultural complexities of meaning-making (xiii). Accordingly. secondly. for instance. Take Three shifts gears to focus on the experience of reading Dickinson. though. of which i can only begin to discuss three here. problem-solving.
is wider than the Sky For . Setting brain.Buckets . and weight are as fallible as the scientific inquirer.is wider than the Sky . to a large extent.Pound for Pound And they will differ ..12 Yet.beside The Brain is deeper than the sea For .put them side by side The one the other will contain With ease . leaving the relationship between brain and sky indefinite. Dickinson’s poem remains ambiguous: just as the sky projected here fits into our mental landscape. “The Brain . be elucidated by scientific inquiry” (73).and you’ll find the Music .if they do As Syllable from Sound (Fr598) in this poem. outside of the system that the subject aims to account for “objectively.hold them .and You . unreliable.”: Materiality and Mediations of Mind The Brain . While in 1986 Damasio confidently claimed that “relations between brain and mind can. for instance. affirms “the existence of an external reality that our nervous systems do their best to represent” and acknowledges that “[b]rain activity is responsible for the generation of the mental phenomena which we collectively designate as the mind” (80.do The Brain is just the weight of God For . Moreover. The whole precariousness of this subject’s position gets pinpointed.Sabine Sielke Take One. Damasio. poet and neurologist part when it comes to the potency of science. for Dickinson.Heft them .beside -”).13 For her. is science’s central flaw— brittle. prone to interferences from within and without.” she sarcastically suggests in another poem (Fr905). Dickinson remains sceptical: “Split the Lark .Blue to Blue The one the other will absorb As Sponges . sky.” that subject. in the final 73 . the brain is part of the material world that encompasses the sky. depth. and sea next to each other and projecting the former as a “container” for the latter two entities. instruments that measure width. Dickinson appears to subscribe to some of the “firm beliefs” on mind/brain relationships held by twentieth-century neurologists like Antonio R.14 ironically positioned “beside” the experimental set-up (“and You . like Damasio. 73). Dickinson.
knock Dickinson’s speakers off their feet. Damasio’s emphasis on the importance of cerebral structures for the evolution of homo sapiens. for instance. and Damasio and Dickinson. XVII.16 Moments of severance. who was well aware of Darwin’s work. Dickinson.” as Damasio has it. Poems like “A Single Screw of Flesh” (Fr293).”15 Moreover. reaffirm the relevance of the continuity. like Tombs . concepts that may cater to our desire to read into Dickinson’s poetics insights that science only evolved much later. sequence. though. Dickinson’s poems resonate a clear sense of the capital function the nervous system has for the sustenance of the subject. 1 two stanzas of her poem “Crisis is a Hair. fragmented texts. Scanning a line like “nerves sit ceremonious. Dickinson’s many disintegrating speakers. Vol.” a text that seems to anticipate chaos theory: Let an instant push Or an Atom press Or a Circle hesitate in Circumference it may jolt the Hand That adjusts the Hair That secures eternity From presenting . also maps the distance between Damasio and Darwin. oftentimes delineated in texts that mimic the subject’s need for cohesion by way of parataxis. contemporary readers may well envision both a funeral procession and the malfunction of what Joseph LeDoux has coined as the “synaptic self.” (Fr372). embedded in discontinuous. on the other. can mark the razor-thin line between living substance or dead material. this poem suggests.17 As she writes: 74 . on the one hand. rupture.The Emily Dickinson Journal. and seriality of neurophysiologic processes for subjectivity. Poems like this one not only manifest Dickinson’s deep interest in science and her many attempts to adapt its registers to her poetry. are informed by the mechanics and physics that monitor the functions of our bodies. “with innate systems that are concerned with the maintenance of the organism’s integrity and with the continuation of the species” (74). disconnection. No.Here (Fr1067) A brief acceleration or slowing down of the bodily system. but they also put forth new concepts of self and soul. cared little about the persistence of the species yet much about the interference liability of the singular subject . “The brain is endowed.
Paglia’s revisionary reading remains suggestive.19 While for the self-proclaimed “amazon feminist” Paglia these preferences designate Dickinson as a “frightening” “Amherst Madame de Sade. as “detached as emerson’s eyeball” and as the many eyes severed from their sockets populating Dickinson’s own poems (624).Sabine Sielke The Brain. By the 75 . because Paglia’s readings tend to dissociate singular parts. and body parts and to roam in “cleaving” minds and “split” brains whose “Sequence ravelled out of Sound . of empirical studies of subjective experience and mental life and to “the division and fragmentation of the physical subject into increasingly specific organic and mechanical systems” (Crary 81). limbs.” indeed (Paglia 624). Dickinson’s presents the brain—“humming merrily along in its underground railroad of daily custom” (Paglia 624)—in terms of mechanics and electrical currents.” (Fr867). as Paglia also aptly observes. First. associate. brains and “cleaving” minds (Fr867) are reminiscent of “horror films. Paglia poignantly observes the tendency of Dickinson’s poetry to dissect the perceiving subject into separate organs. if not splattered.and true But let a Splinter swerve ’Twere easier for You To put a Current back When Floods have slit the Hills And scooped a Turnpike for Themselves And trodden out the Mills - (Fr563) Significant here are two things. within it’s Groove Runs evenly . when we take it not as a depiction of what Dickinson had in mind when writing but as a hint at how our brain—having turned into a Deleuzian “screen”—has come to work. And Paglia’s comparison is by no means as far-fetched as it seems.18 Living a life of its own. as the poems in question can be related both to the texts of de Sade and to a rise. this brain seems. in the early to mid-nineteenth century. foregrounding the physical materiality of our mental existence.opon a Floor . and remember.” such interpretations shock or bemuse more than convince readers. Such splintered. though./ Like Balls . fractions. such an organ seems to withstand willpower—be it human or godly—and fails to be an adequate host for faculties of volition. Secondly. and limbs of Dickinson’s poems surgically from both the textual tissues in which they are embedded and the cultural contexts from which they evolved (637).
Yet her disjunctive poetics bespeaks an increasing general awareness of the fact that “the body itself produces phenomena that have no external correlate” and no discursive conception (Crary 71). Particularly significant in this context may be the work in physiological optics—most importantly on the subdivision and specialization of the human sensory apparatus—evolved by Johannes Müller from 1833 on. Müller mapped the perceiving subject in great detail. in essence. . Distinguishing five types of sensory nerves in 1826. “finding adequate. Dickinson’s poetry may thus not so much attest to the restrictions and limits of representation of physical experience posed by the medium of language in general. “of a body with an innate capacity. powerful metaphors. more specifically. to the metaphors we employ to account for such experience. Pierre Flourens was able to specify different parts of the brain. By the mid-1820s. Müller gives “an account. our problem is the discovery and narration of the physics of the mind” (87).” and of a sense apparatus “that renders differences equivalent” (90). implying that the physics of the mind reads like a story rather than a poem. . 1 1840s. the computer—the master trope of communication and information systems. Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim situated the mind and emotions exclusively in the brain and engaged in mental mapping using experiments instead of relying on the previously common “scientific” practice of introspection (Crary 81). for instance. even if Dickinson’s poem offers us a narrative.20 Accordingly. to misperceive.” as Crary underlines. For Damasio the body-mind dualism persists in part due to “our limited ability to describe processes that are not mechanical or electronic. of the development of living organisms and the work of the human mind since the 1990s—has made way for the trope of the network and connectionism that displaces notions of linearity with a sense of synchronicity. XVII. As eric Wilson reasons. since metaphors are bound by history and tend to constrain our thinking. even if Damasio privileges the trope of narration. Dickinson was probably not aware of these findings. but. one might even say a transcendental capacity. above all distinguishing the cerebellum (motor center) from the cerebrum (perception center). in a way. introducing into physiology “the doctrine of specific nerve energies” (Crary 89). Müller showed that the same stimulus—for example. had located memory and intelligence in the brain and situated emotions in various internal organs. physiologist Xavier Bichat.The Emily Dickinson Journal. 76 . Describing a fundamentally arbitrary relation between stimulus and sensation. and even if the “cognitive paradigm” has come to mark a major shift in narratology rather than the study of poetry. . Vol. the problem is that of finding adequate. No. electricity—applied to different nerves provokes different effects (such as the experience of light in an optic nerve and the sensation of touch on the skin) while different stimuli may also produce the same sensation in a given sensory nerve. powerful metaphors” remains a problem for scientists and poets alike.
her poems pinpoint the very problem all explorations of human consciousness face: their inescapable self-referentiality. xxi-xxii). Yet. While this resistance to the new “faith in seeing” and to the realist impulse of her age manifests both Dickinson’s modern disposition and an “increasingly subjective organization of vision. photography.” (L280).” she concludes (160). “there are fundamental disagreements on the mental processes that enable basic human abilities such as memory and language.” “[Dickinson’s] writing emphasizes the experiential realities of the entities that have no name” (313).” (L260).” This innate self-referentiality characterizes cognitive science as well.’tis . Or as Fahnestock puts it: all our enquiries “come down to human brains acting on human brains” (175).. the new technologies ascertained the truths that remain hidden from our gaze: “not ‘Revelation’ .. in fact. / But our unfurnished eyes . and reversibility. As she mistrusts what Martin Jay calls the emergent “scopic regimes of modernity” (qtd. thereby acknowledging both the significance and the limitations of 77 . distinctly .21 Like Dickinson who “continually defines and redefines her terms. How can we be “aware of Death. At the same time. the devices of optical illusion that emerged in the first part of the nineteenth century and the technologies of photography and microscopy that enhanced scientific observation reassured Dickinson that the eye does not qualify as “the pre-eminent organ of truth” (Christ and Jordan xx).” she asks in her poem “This Consciousness that is aware” (Fr817). so far “little is firmly known about how the brain works overall. Take Two.” the poet wonders. “it cannot see. lack of conceptual terminology does not disprove a phenomenon’s existence. separated by the visual spaces opened up by the “mimetic capacities of film.” cognitive science keeps interrogating its analogies (Hamilton 290). “The Mind is so near itself .Sabine Sielke connectivity. “itself unto itself and none / Shall make discovery . “widening the gaps between her words” and practicing what Susan Manning calls a “defiant linguistic minimalism. in Christ and Jordan xxii). “How adequate unto itself / it’s properties shall be.” Dickinson wrote to Higginson in April 1862. despite the high prestige surrounding cognitive science.that waits. Dickinson still capitalizes on tropes of visual perception.” as Jeanne Fahnestock underlines.” this modernity can only be understood as being inextricably intertwined with the rise of realism (Christ and Jordan xx. Dickinson wrote when a substantial “reorganization of vision” had been underway for only a few decades (Christ and Jordan xix). Quite the contrary. for her.” that “most profound experiment / Appointed unto Men . This conceptual irresolution hints that.. More than that. and television” and the virtual realities created by computer graphics (Crary 1). Perception at the Dawning of the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Twice removed from our own universe of perception.
1 the increasingly visual cultures that were emerging. peripheral vision. and one that led toward an increasing standardization and regulation of the observer and an abstraction and formalization of vision (150). “[c]onsciousness in Dickinson.24 Once vision became relocated in the subjectivity of the observer. binocular vision. No.23 By the early nineteenth century. “to physiological optics.” as Paglia puts it. While Dickinson’s poetry resists such regulation.” while at the same time exposing the precariousness of a perception produced by bodies that are vulnerable. Dickinson thus presents us with after-images. it nonetheless relates an increasing knowledge about “the constitutive role of the body in the apprehension of a visible world” and “the capacities of the human eye” (Crary 150)—such as retinal afterimages. “autonomous vision” with its own temporality. and throwing threshold glances into eternity. Practicing a “Compound Vision” (Fr830). never lost a belief in wholeness or “completed portraiture. Crary concludes. trying to achieve 78 . vision “had been taken out of the incorporeal relations of the camera obscura and relocated in the human body. her poems seem to take their cues from insect morphology and turn subjectivity into what Crary calls “a precarious condition of interface” (2). They make the act of perception itself a new object of vision. “takes the form of a body tormented in every limb” (652). both being interdependent effects of modernism and modernization. “sundered from any relation of the observer’s position within a cognitively unified field” (19). taking off from William James’ work. Crary explains. “two intertwined paths opened up”: one that affirmed the autonomy of vision. deriving from a newly empowered body.” thereby shifting notions of perception “from the geometrical optics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Stein. XVII. a “presence of sensation in the absence of a stimulus” and a subjective. and transitory (Crary 98). Quite frequently.22 As she opts for a “Covered Vision” (Fr782). the poet exposes the impediment of our philosophically and technologically enlightened views. and the thresholds of attention.The Emily Dickinson Journal.25 Thus the many eyes “put out” in her poetry function not merely as a “formula.” as she called it. they also enact what Crary describes as the contemporaneous “automatization of sight” and “the unloosening of the eye from the network of referentiality incarnated in tactility and subjective relation to perceived space” (19). Dickinson’s modernity can thus be clearly distinguished from that of her contemporary Walt Whitman as well as that of a paradigmatically modernist figure like Gertrude Stein. “an optical experience that was produced by and within the subject. Vol. which dominated both scientific and philosophical discussion of vision in the nineteenth century” (16). for blinding and disembodied vision (631).” for which the sense of touch had been integral. mutable.” as Paglia has it.
without? i had no portrait. but am small. in a few days. that the Guest leaves . projected identity into eternal. like the Wren. with whom she shares “a preoccupation. and my Hair is bold.” Dickinson exposes its cracks and thus the limits. “to cut a thought across in the middle” (308)—a method of capturing single moments of cognition that cannot “be bounded by the decorum of the sentence” (309).” The agility of Dickinson’s mind has its own modernity.” but instead she “constantly essays the impossible adventure of fixing perpetual motion” (308). Unlike James. a portrait of her agile mind at work. but i noticed the Quick wore off those things. Dickinson. not of consciousness and thought. as she wrote in “Portraits and Repetition. More than that: once the body became the locus of cognition and memory in modern science as in modernist poetry.” as she famously claimed in one of her letters to Higginson in July of 1862: Could you believe me .You will think no caprice of me . missing limbs and cut-out eyes. without breach. “in the guise of physical description. loss of cognitive functions in turn were figured not merely as missing syntactic links but as mutilation. who was fascinated by the multiplicity and seriality of his photographic images. Dickinson had no “portrait. like the Sherry in the Glass. like the Chestnut Bur . crack. 79 . and forestall the dishonor .” (Fr497). Dickinson has no interest in the continuity of those movements. but of our conceptual universe (Manning 319).” as David Graham puts it.Sabine Sielke identity by an insistently processual writing practice.but has no Mold of me. by contrast.” “repeat this too often any one is of one’s period and this our period was undoubtedly the period of the cinema and series production” (177). The method of her poems is.and my eyes.(L268) Dickinson’s “distrust of photography” as a technology closely associated with death is counterbalanced by her faith in language. or division.27 Similarly. now. which she attempted to claim for this side of eternity in her poetic texts. and he has Molds of all the rest .Would this do just as well? it often alarms Father . While James claims thought to be “sensibly continuous. as Manning has it.He says Death might occur. 26 She could not.are One . “with charting the movements of consciousness” (309). They were figured as losses that prefigure the ultimate loss of knowing that cannot be known. “Dickinson gives us.” as Manning argues. unmediated space—a space where “One and One . in “streams of consciousness. unlike Whitman.
and molds our thinking after her own” (34). Although it did not.” Helen Vendler claims that Dickinson invents “structures that mimic the structure of life at any moment she conceives it” and “[b]y those structures . and vision are physiological processes fundamental to literary and cultural analysis (Scheerer 17). that is highly mediated. adjusts our pace to hers. it did send many shivers down my spine (and still does. Vol. The Experience of Reading Dickinson in her essay “emily Dickinson Thinking.”29 Poetry thus also disorients the reader. for instance. at times even the “drastic interference with. thought.28 To me. the reading of poetry involves the modification. and physically. as cognitive poetics assumes. XVII. be “displayed by a string of words”? According to Tsur.The Emily Dickinson Journal. . or at least delay of. i myself remember reading Dickinson for the first time as a highly physical experience. it is flawed because. channels our reactions. 1 Take Three. with the “theoretical pluralism” they require— we become aware of the fact that mind. as Dickinson famously phrased it in one of her letters to Higginson. explorations of the processes of cognition. spoken or written” (Fahnestock 175). of course. intellectually. We may re-focus our attention. plays with his or her emotions. . but rather offer poetic. and analogy and modes of perception. if we take acts of reading as processes of cognition—including cognitive operations of rhetoric that underlie figures like simile.) How. 80 . metaphor. are emotional qualities conveyed by her poems? How can “‘altered states of consciousness. we may start accounting for the disorienting effects her poetry has on us and this can be done in various ways. which. We may also pay closer attention to the dimensions of Dickinson’s poetry that re-mediations tease out and bring to the fore—be they music inspired by her work or computer games that stage interactive encounters with “emily. on the “graphocentricity” and visual effects of her texts (Smith 839). it is suggestive because it underlines the way that Dickinson’s disjunctive poetics produces what i would like to call “experience effects” that turn our experience of reading her poems into a cognitive process that affects us emotionally. in addition. which usually serve as “efficient orientation devices” (281). entail thought as well as emotional processes (Tsur 279). No. then. After the reception of Dickinson’s poems has moved from efforts to straighten her discontinuous lines to the celebration of their disruptiveness. Dickinson’s poems do not present to us the poet conceiving life or thinking. this claim is both full of insight and flawed. the regular course of cognitive processes.’” Reuven Tsur asks. or re-cognize the importance of sound patterns for “the affective content of a text.”30 Meeting Dickinson in virtual space or making her into an avatar is one way of re-experiencing and thus re-cognizing the poet as well as of re-cognizing literary and cultural studies. “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off” (L342a).
See Sielke.” and “billions of neurons” (86).. as Fahnestock recalls. providing mutual ratification” (174). Thus. neurophysiologists emphasize the scope of neurophysiological processes in the brain that activate and coordinate what Antonio Damasio calls “the vast expanse of the cerebral cortex. the cognitive sciences now constitute a large field of inquiry in constant flux. buffered. Jeanne Fahnestock elaborates these differences. 7. . Camille Paglia notes that Dickinson “prefers the word ‘brain’ to ‘mind’” (625). may we re-cognize Dickinson.” Rather we may re-cognize writer and reader as intermediaries. 1. and is neither self-willed nor reducible to an effect of cultural discourses or to a “synaptic self. Sr. “every mind [is] . 2. each person is part of a collective of minds that is unreliable because it depends on the structures of its individual subjects’ materiality. the term was introduced by Longuet-Higgins in 1973 and “gained a wider currency only in the late 1970s” (7).Sabine Sielke a focus on cognition complicates notions of self and mind.” its “myriad units. or intersubjects who relate to alterities in highly channelled. . Fashioning the Female Subject (43-60). Still. Drawing on the neurosciences. highlighting the fact that cognitive science seeks neural substrates of sensation. Notes i thank Ottilie Schmauss and Patrick Stärke for indispensable research assistance and David Schumacher for final touches to the form of this essay. At the same time. and patterned ways. as Paul Churchland reminds us. who declared the 1990s the “decade of the brain” in his Presidential Proclamation of 17 July 1990 (159). among other disciplines. The complexities of cognition—many of which are far from being understood in their entirety—make up only a small portion of its research agenda. 6. “[m]any of the formal devices identified in rhetorical stylistics have been given psychological reality in brain research. interagents. psychology. This subject is by definition unique not only insofar as cognition is individual. only if we consider cognition as both individually “embodied” and embedded in an history of metaphor and mediation. artificial intelligence. such re-cognition offers new ways of seeing Dickinson’s work. For work on the role of science in Dickinson’s writing see Hiroko Uno as well as Fred White who provides us with a list of “Dickinson’s Science Poems. computer science. it was President George Bush. and learning— mental processes that do not necessarily involve language and are far from the rhetorical lexicon (161). 5. of course. but also because. 4. As Scheerer notes. 3. privileging a sense of the subject that is based on materiality. and linguistics. not vistas into the poet’s mind and brain. the product of a distinctive and individual learning history” (qtd. a materiality from which perceptions of reality necessarily emerge as “body-brain-culture relays” or what might be called mixed media (Connolly xiii).” Dickinson studied “Mental Philosophy. selectively processed. attention categorization. 81 . in Turner 151). philosophy.” as she shared with Abiah Root in 1845 (L6).31 And. Like Dickinson.
While “[t]raditional stylistic analysis .” they explain. Thought processes are also at the forefront of Jed Deppman’s work. Raymond W. computing has gained an increasing relevance for literary studies and. for instance. “are as physical as is the activity within a microchip. for literary studies engaging cognition. among many other texts. 10. for example.” (Fr508). L359). 21. 9. “The phenomena of the mind. Whereas earlier information-processing and artificial intelligence (Ai) approaches trace mental processes as information progressing through a system in a series of stages.but Heaven over it . most particularly. . “Trying to think with emily Dickinson. i may add. This happens at the same time that. 13. 1 8. No. “i read my sentence .” (Fr867). 15. . her poems “Before i got my eye put out . .” writes Damasio. 20. “Behind Me . tends to make use of linguistic theories or frameworks in order to explain or predict interpretation.” (Fr336). 18. and “Renunciation . . Metaphor constitutes much of our experience and helps constrain the way we think about our ordinary lives” (8-9). and psychology. XVII. cognitive science. his essay. in “i felt a Funeral.is a piercing Virtue” (Fr782). ranging from the analysis of immediate stimuli to the organisation of subjective experience” (280-81). “the entire Western scientific community rejected organology and phrenology. “i’ve seen a Dying eye” (Fr648). 19. for instance. or the movement of physical particles we have never seen” (86). PeD—also called connectionism or neural networks approach—frames cognitive processes “in terms of networks that link together neuron-like units” and proceed simultaneously rather than step by step or linearly (Matlin 20). 14. literary studies and cognitive science” (ix). in Dickinson’s lifetime. 16. “i’ll clutch . Vol. and the (Cognitive) Sciences: Re-Cognizing Literary and Cultural Studies. “is the way in which linguistic analysis is systematically based on theories that relate linguistic choices to cognitive structures and processes” (ix). see Herman.” (Fr432). this fallibility was perhaps most evidently exemplified by the fate of phrenology: “By 1843. in my Brain” (Fr340).”(Fr743).” 11. as Martha nell Smith convincingly argues. See. or the transmission of radio waves.” a science that was previously popular and respectable (790).” (Fr385).” 12. . Re-membering the Subject. Reuven Tsur defines cognition as referring to “all information-processing activities of the brain.steadily . Damasio underlines the importance for “scientific inquiry” of a transdisciplinary interplay between neuroscience. Dickinson mentions the name “Darwin” in a letter addressed to elizabeth Holland in early January 1971 (108.” what is “new about cognitive stylistics. intermediality. As Uno points out. elena Semino and Jonathan Culpiter define cognitive stylistics as “a rapidly expanding field at the interface between linguistics. Such speakers are featured. For the proximity of narratology and cognitive science. philosophy. 82 . Greenblatt. My reflections here represent the first stages toward a chapter of a book on “Memory. Synapses became visible in the 1950s with the use of the electron microscope (Cummins and Cummins 322). for instance. “i felt a Cleaving in my Mind . Gibbs argues that “the constraints on how we speak and write are not imposed by the limits of language but by the way we actually think of our ordinary experiences.and clutch .dips eternity .” writes Samuel H. See. no one comes close to Paglia in making us aware of the fact that Dickinson’s poetry is replete with separated limbs and body parts. More specifically. and “A Pit . 17.The Emily Dickinson Journal.
23. 3 vols. 1958.” Tsur focuses on poetry and emotional qualities. Cambridge. alternative mental performances. 83 . Thomas H. Paglia calls her a “decadent voyeur” (664). 31. Works Cited The following abbreviations are used to refer to the writings of emily Dickinson: Fr The Poems of Emily Dickinson. rapid and delayed categorization.” Emily Dickinson Journal 15. 3 vols. ed. linguistics. 26. L The Letters of Emily Dickinson. symbol and allegory. and artificial intelligence” (221). Citation by poem number. R. Compare to Deppman who argues that “[s]uch trying poetry [try-to-think poetry] invites us to join and repeat her thinking about and beyond thinking” (100). Ricca on Dickinson and video games. Tsur clearly differentiates cognitive poetics from cognitive linguistics: “Cognitive linguistics shows very successfully how a wide range of quite different metaphors can be reduced to the same underlying conceptual metaphor. decision style. 29.” Seo-Young Jennie Chu convincingly shows that Dickinson “uses specific mathematical principles to account for mysteries like death. and otherness) by thematizing it” “as collages which employ the signs of mathematics. and relates perceived effects to poetic texts in a principled manner” (314).” they also may “be understood as embodying the problems of the shifting values of mathematics and metaphysics” (113). it accounts for the perceived effects of poetic texts. presented at the 2007 eDiS conference in kyoto is highly suggestive in this context. sensuous metaphors and the grotesque. in “Aspects of Cognitive Poetics. Andy Clark talks of “the embodied.1 (2006): 35-55. “Dickinson and Mathematics. meter and rhythm. 1998. ed. 30. For Michael Theune. in 1833 Sir Charles Wheatstone claimed that the human organism “had the capacity under most conditions to synthesize retinal disparity into a single unitary image” (Crary 119). reads “A Completed Portrait of Picasso. Seo-Young Jennie. embedded perspective” as a recent paradigm of cognitive science that calls for “a wider view—one that incorporates a multiplicity of ecological and cultural approaches as well as the traditional core of neuroscience. identity.” 24. for instance. Johnson and Theodora Ward. unity. ambiguity and soft focus. Crary writes.Sabine Sielke 22. the relation of self to God. MA: Harvard UP. 25. and for representing the relation of a perceiver and the position of a knowing subject to an external world” (27). Franklin.” 27. wonder. 28. Dickinson’s poems not only “raise the problems of mathematics and its relation to metaphysical questions (of definition. in her essay “Dickinson and Mathematics. W. See Sielke. claiming that these differences make poetic expression unique. “During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the camera obscura was without question the most widely used model for explaining human vision. Cambridge. “Threshold Glances. Chu. poetry and altered states of consciousness. MA: Harvard UP. and conflicting prosodic patterns. The subtitle of Stein’s “if i Told Him” (1924). Citation by letter number. Work by nicole Panizza on Dickinson’s “musicality” and Brad J. and the limits of human language” (1). whereas cognitive poetics makes significant distinctions between very similar metaphors.
Gudrun Grabher.The Emily Dickinson Journal. ed. The Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. Christ. nY: Penguin. Malden. 89-99. 1997. 159-79. Connolly. ed. neth. and Computers: The Foundations of Cognitive Science.” Journal of English Linguistics 30. Middlesex. new York. Fahnestock. Jonathan. ed. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P.eclectica. CA: CSLi Publications. Margaret W. David. Cambridge. Gilles. ed. xix-xxviii. and Understanding. The Triple Helix: Gene. 1998. 1994. Culture. Joseph.html>. kilcup. Cambridge. Jeanne.: Benjamins. Atwill.” Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. elena Semino and Jonathan Culpeper. Freeman. 73-87. Hamilton. David B. and John O. 2002.” The Emily Dickinson Handbook. Lewontin. Richard Graff. Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences. 2000. Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination. MA: Blackwell. Minds. Cognition. William e.” Neurosurgery 37 (1995): 790-805. _____. Cambridge. Neuropolitics: Thinking. Albany: State U of new York P. ed. “Modelling the Mind/Brain Relationships. MA: MiT Press. “Why emily Dickinson Would not Smile for the Camera. and Janet M. eugenides. 1998.org/ v9n3 /graham_ david.1 (2005): 84-103. introduction. and Cristanne Miller. Antonio R. 1995. Berkeley: U of California P. Cambridge. Susan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century.” Exploring the Concept of Mind. nY: Picador. Orlando. karen L. Body. 2005.” The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema.3 (2005): 279-94. Caplan. Margaret H. Craig. Richard M.” Language and Literature 14. Roland Hagenbüchle. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Andy. 2002. MA: MiT Press. Matlin. Samuel H. Amsterdam.. iowa City: U of iowa P. new York. Cummins. Herman. “The Languages of Pain. and Denise Dellarosa Cummins. “The Body in the Word: A Cognitive Approach to the Shape of a Poetic Text. Brains.” Eclectica Magazine 9. Damasio. and World Together Again. Carol T. Richard C. <http://www. Gregory Flaxman. No.” Emily Dickinson Journal 14. 1986. Caplan. Gudrun. Speed. 1 Clark.3 (2005) 25 July 2007. iowa City: U of iowa P. Richard M. Raymond W. 84 . Morris. FL: Harcourt.”A Cognitive Approach to Dickinson’s Metaphors. and Environment. “Rhetoric in the Age of Cognitive Science. 2003. eds. Jordan. 2002. ed. Robert. ed.” The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. 258-72. 2002. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P. The Emily Dickinson Handbook. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. eng. “Precision and indeterminacy in the Poetry of emily Dickinson.” Exploring the Concept of Mind. ed. 2000.: Cambridge UP. “How Conscious Could Consciousness Grow? emily Dickinson and William James. Greenblatt. Vol. ed.“The Brain is the Screen: An interview with Gilles Deleuze. Organism. Grabher. Stanford. Walzer. 1990. Being There: Putting Brain. MA: Harvard UP. 1986. 2002. Language. 1999. iowa City: U of iowa P. Jeffrey.” Emerson Society Quarterly 20 (1974): 33-56.1 (2002): 73-90. “Trying to Think with emily Dickinson. _____ “Momentary Stays. 2003. Deppman. LeDoux. Manning. XVII. “A Cognitive Rhetoric of Poetry and emily Dickinson. 23-47. Crary. Arthur e. 365-72. Hagenbüchle. Deleuze.” Soft Canons: American Women Writers and Masculine Tradition. Graham. The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought. Jed. Roland. 306-31. “Phrenology in the Science and Culture of the 19th Century. exploding Forces: A Cognitive Linguistic Approach to the Poetics of emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Gibbs. and Cristanne Miller. Roland Hagenbüchle. 2006. David.
< http://www. _____.2 (1998): 95-111. 2003.shtml#tsur03>. new York.Sabine Sielke nalbantian. Ulla e. Music. Olaf Breidbach and karl Clausberg. ed. 165206. Scheerer. < http://web. neth. Vendler. Brains/Practices/Relativism: Social Theory after Cognitive Science.: Benjamins. Suzanne. Hitchcock and the Poetry of Science.1 (2001): 34-56.4 (2002): 834-57. “Dickinson’s Chemistry of Death.com/ehost/delivery?vi d=6&hid=120&sid=e15da637-2bc1-4880-a64f-52c25960f7bf%40sessionmgr8>. Stafford.1 (2001): 99-116. 1997. 1985. Moore and Rich. 2002. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P. Houndsmill. Fred D. Memory in Literature: From Rousseau to Neuroscience. Camille. and the Visual Arts. elena. “‘One and One are One’ And Two: An inquiry into Dickinson’s Use of Mathematical Signs. Smith.: Hans-Bredow-institut. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. 464-66.” Emily Dickinson Journal 5. Wilson.” Emily Dickinson Journal 10. iL: U of Chicago P. ed.und Naturwissenschaften. iL: northwestern UP. 2002. 1991.: Palgrave Macmillan. Reuven. Tsur. Uno. 25 January 2007. Turner. “Toward a History of Cognitive Science. Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis.ufl.” College Literature 19. “’Sweet Skepticism of the Heart’: Science in the Poetry of emily Dickinson. 1999. nY: Vintage. Semino. “Computing: What’s American Literary Study Got to Do With it?” American Literature 74. eckart. 2008. Martha nell. Michael. or: Putting the Subject on edge. Ger. “Towards a new Analogics: Cognition as Collage. Dydo. “Metaphor and Figure-Ground Relationship: Comparisons from Poetry. Sabine. 201-18.ebscohost. ix-xvi Sielke. 1935. Stein. _____. Boston.1 (1988): 7-19. “emily Dickinson Thinking. “Dickinson’s Threshold Glances.1 (1998): 27-43.” International Social Science Journal 40.” PSYART 4 (2000). Hiroko. “‘Chemical Conviction‘: Dickinson. Chicago. Gertrude. edu /ipsa /journal/2000_tsur03. “if i Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso. eric.” American Transcendental Quarterly 12.” Parnassus 26. White. 85 .” A Stein Reader. and Jonathan Culpeper. Theune.1 (1992) 3 Mar.2 (1996): 93-99. 1993. Amsterdam. eng.” Lectures in America.clas. Stephen. “Portraits and Repetition.” Video Ergo Sum: Repräsentation nach innen und außen zwischen Kunst. Foreword.“ Emily Dickinson Journal 7. Barbara Maria. Paglia. evanston. Hamburg. Fashioning the Female Subject: The Intertextual Networking of Dickinson. Helen. MA: Beacon.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.