ENGL748C - Seminar in American Literature; Dickinson and Sexual/Textual Geographies

Humanities scholars want our work to reach the general public, and Emily Dickinson is having quite the moment – Wild Nights With Emily and A Quiet Passion, two feature films focusing on her life and work, have been released over the past two years, as well as My Letter to the World: Rediscovering the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson, a documentary that premiered at the Morgan Library at the end of their major exhibition, “I’m Nobody! Who Are You? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson” (January 20 through May 28, 2017). Via curatorial storytelling in the arrangement of the manuscripts featured, the Morgan Exhibition emphasized just how powerful is the proclamation “I’m Nobody.”   In 2019 Apple TV will premiere Dickinson, an original series that “takes viewers into the world of” Dickinson, “audaciously exploring the constraints of society, gender, and family from the perspective of a budding writer who doesn’t fit into her own time. . . .Dickinson is Emily’s coming-of-age story, one woman’s fight to get her voice heard.” Wild Nights With Emily “explores the vivacious, irreverent side of” Dickinson “that was covered up for many years and recently revealed—most notably Emily’s lifelong romance with another woman,” her sister-in-law and muse, Susan Dickinson, her constant champion and reader. This film, the Apple TV series, and the Morgan Exhibition are all explicitly feminist and to varying degrees queer, and stand in telling contrast to the conventional descriptions of the reclusive, emotionally crippled, almost accidental genius poet.


The titles of the two feature films parade the fact that Dickinson’s sexual geographies have always been contested, and debates over her manuscripts and their meanings, over authoritative and authoritarian versions of her scriptures, reveal that her textual geographies have likewise been contested. While some readers, critics, theorists, and biographers opt for controlled and officially delimited textual reproductions and biographical accounts, other choose exploration and discovery. Queer criticism and theory, feminist criticism and theory, theories of authorship and the author, biographical theory and life writing, textual theories and reproduction, and reception theory all inform this investigation of the intersections of biography, textual reproduction, and reception to produce an author and body of texts for scholarly and public consumption. Doing so, critical genealogies such as those feminist lineages that have given birth to bold depictions of the writer Dickinson for the big and small screens will center our critical attentions on the continual recurrence, in different contexts, of the same questions of definition, value, and purpose of all literary study.


So public humanities and sex in public as well as the fact that editing is at the center of everything will be major subjects in this course which dives deeply into the case of Emily Dickinson to consider major questions central to advanced graduate studies in literature and to literary study in 21st century academe.


Meets the The Long Nineteenth Century​ requirement in the MA Literature track