From “Most Arrows” Autonomy and Intertextuality in Emily

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From “Most Arrows”  Autonomy and Intertextuality in Emily Powered By Docstoc
					History of Media, Art and Text
Collaborative Presentation
Part Two – Robin Ashworth

Presentation exploring Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson’s Fragments and Related Texts

On Radical Scatters:
These sites, concerned specifically and primarily with the scraps, fragments, studies and notes Emily
Dickinson left on errant, available pages, pieces and remnants of paper, examine the possibility of pinning
down and assigning concrete meaning to the seemingly elusive and momentary thoughts of a brilliant
poet. Painstakingly catalogued, documented and transferred to facs imile, the virtual fragments constitute
a metaphorical archeology of Dickinson’s late period. Tremendous emphasis is placed on the potential of
these notes to form works in their own right. Collectively, the bound fragments form a body of nonlinear
pseudo-text with no identifiable beginning or end.

What seems to be missing is the obvious consideration that these scraps, phrases, notes and fragments are
the most fundamental evidence of one artist’s creative process. I would suggest that Dickinson, like
DaVinci, Michelangelo, Eliot, et al, produced any number of studies, drafts and exploratory/experimental
sub-works as she moved through her creative effort to produce one or many works. The “radical scatters”
are not so radical when placed within the context of a creative effort moving toward a finished work.

Furthermore, the value of these pieces as individual works is equally comparable to visual studies for
greater works – be they paintings or poetry – in that they reveal close, specific tracings, in the form of
literary gestures or verbal brushstrokes or musical riffs, the careful as well as the reckless recording of any
creative notion, any dream- induced vision, any scrap of phrase that may give rise to instantiation of

Emily Dickinson was “a poet of immense depth and stylistic complexity whose work eludes
categorization. For example, though she frequently employs the common ballad meter associated with
hymnody, her poetry is in no way constrained by that form; rather she performs like a jazz artist who uses
rhythm and meter to revolutionize readers' perceptions of those structures” (Paul Crumbly).

That she valued her bits and pieces is abundantly clear; she had them assembled, bound and saved. They
are the progeny of her creative union: the joining of thought and act resulting in process. Thus these
“radical scatters” are the points of departure for other works, or for open-ended interpretation.

In the context of hypertext, these scattered phrases and pages are formative and fundamental to an
understanding of a body of text that functions as an unfinished work (as all hypertext is potentially

Radical scatters (as derived from the explanatory paragraph for which this site is named) has as much to
do with the viewer’s perspective as it does with the direction, intent and ultimate “life” of these
fragments, tracings and fledgling literary thoughts on various scraps of paper; what we believe about the
significance and purpose of these writings is total speculation in the face of what is utterly unknowable in
the mind of the now dead poet, just as what path those birds will take once the tracker loses sight of them
is also utterly unknowable.
That said, it is curious to note texts Miss Dickinson took great pains to obscure with a looping, eclipsing
hand….yet kept the pages among her papers.
From “Most Arrows”: Autonomy and Intertextuality in Emily Dickinson’s Late Fragments

“The fragments, on the other hand, a mob of traces, some in verse, others in prose, if we prefer a
distinction that is by this time in extremis, belong to the pre-scriptive processes of thought or, rather, since
these are "retrieveless," to that moment when the words that lie in wait for thoughts suddenly ambush
them, tracing a path for them in a writing that briefly keeps pace with thinking -- perhaps even outstrips

“Outside the labor of the poem's argument, alone again, the fragment seeks the exact conditions for poetry
and becomes pure potential; moreover, by reversing the conditions of inwardness, it extends,
exponentially, the original impetus of both poem and oeuvre toward nonclosure.”

“A trope, or turn, "A Woe | of Ecstasy" does not so much orient the poem in which it appears as a citation
as illuminate the inner contradictoriness -- the paradoxes, the antinomies -- out of which (Dickinson's)
poetry is engendered. Again and again, fragments and their traces, like opposing poles, pull away from
each other.”

“And the poem, constituted out of such fragments, arrow-texts aimed in different directions, must
perforce break apart again, if only to demonstrate that it, too, is only an excerpt, a citation from a text
without beginning or end, a thought subject to be thought again and again.”

“The often violent contest played out in the manuscript volumes between a line (a word) and its alternate
is at last eased by Dickinson's decision to make all parties -- poem or letter, fragment and variant --
equally autonomous, equally transient. Rather then resolve the issue of variation, then, perhaps the central
formal issue of her work, Dickinson carries it to extremes, at last choosing to exit the work in order to
enter a language of pure risk. Sifting through the manuscripts of these fragments and drafts, the reader
receives a profound intimation of the freedom and joy of that final scene of writing. Having abandoned
the institution of "authorship" early on in her writing life, Dickinson was able to set in motion a work
without beginning or ending.”

From The Interpretation of Radical Scatters

“the fragment, which does not fulfill the presuppositions of wholeness, is not a popular object for literary
scholarship and perhaps not even a possible one. The fragment cannot be controlled. Thus the encounter
of literary scholarship with the fragment creates a contradic tory situation. Either the discourse about the
fragment must deny it as what it is and falsely make it into a whole, or it must itself be put into question
in its claim to master the text. . . . The fragment can only be approached by a discourse with no claim to
power.” -- Hans-Jost Frey

“Excluded from this version of the archive are fair- and rough-copy message- or message-drafts to
identified or unidentified recipients; brief but complete poem drafts; extra-literary texts such as recipes
and addresses; quotations and passages copied or paraphrased from other writers' works; and textual
remains preserved only accidentally because Dickinson used the same writing surface to compose other

“Radical Scatters is fundamentally historical -- that is, it is capable of development, innovation, and
“In order to determine whether or not certain birds possess homing instincts, a person known as a
"liberator" throws several of them up into the air one at a time, each time facing in a different direction.
The birds are then watched out of sight, and the points at which they disappear from view are recorded.
When a significant number of vanishing points has been noted, a chart called a "scatter diagram" is drawn
up for study. At times, for reasons that are not yet fully understood, some birds on the outward course
drift widely across the migration axis. These drifts, called "radical scatters," both solicit and resist
definitive interpretation. Dickinson's late fragments are the textual equivalents of the scattered migrants.
Freed from the forty bound manuscript volumes, the accumulated libraries of her poetic production, they
fly outside the codex book and to the lyric's many ends. No editor can hope to bring about their
harmonious synthesis. Rather, they require an alternative model of presentation, a new paradigm based,
perhaps, on what Ira Livingston calls a "chaology of knowledge." Instead of classifying the fragments
according to conventional bibliographical and generic codes we need to find wa ys of not naming them as
they flash by; instead of binding them into chronological order in a codex book, we need to find ways of
launching them into circulation again and again in the hopes of illuminating the tensions and freedoms at
the heart of Dickinson's late work.”

“Yet the painstaking -- and ongoing -- effort to identify all such trace fragments and link them with the
messages and poems in which they appear will not effect any lasting closure: neither residents nor aliens,
neither lost nor found, these trace fragments are caught between their attraction to a specific, bounded text
and their desire to continue the search for an open, absolute text that can never achieve positive existence.
A truly devious and enlightening reading must therefore attend to the mystery of the encounter between
poems, letters, and fragments, listening especially to the ways in which the fragments, like leitmotifs, the
turns and returns of a melody, both change the modalities of the compositions in which they momentarily
take asylum and carry these leitmotifs beyond the "finished" compositions into a freer, often more
amplified, space.”

Other links to Dickinson:

“visuality and sound still collaborate in Dickinson’s late linguistic practice”

“On the surfaces of Dickinson's manuscripts the turbulence of the mind expresses itself in a series of
legible signs and illegible marks -- in letters, dashes, pointings, strike-outs, pen tests, blurs, blank spaces.
Some of the signs, especially the alphabetic symbols, we believe we know how to decipher and interpret;
others, such as the angled dashes and flying quotation marks, we recognize as expressive, but interpret
and represent awkwardly; still others, not signs, even, but subsemiotic marks made accidentally by the
author, time, or the elements, we cannot interpret, though we sense intuitively that they, too, are part of
the manuscript's environment and contribute in some way to its signification.” (From Radical Scatters)

“Dickinson uses the dash to fragment language and to cause unrelated words to rush together; she
qualifies conventional language with her own different stra ins; and she confounds editorial attempts to
reduce her "dashed off " jottings to a "final" version. Not only does she draw lines through her own drafts
but also through the linguistic conventions of her society, and her challenges to God are euphemistic
imprecations against conventional religion. Even the allusion to the Morse alphabet is not entirely
irrelevant: through her unconventional use of punctuation, particularly the dash, Dickinson creates a
poetry whose interpretation becomes a process of decoding the way each fragment signals meaning.”

“Dickinson's transition from a dominant use of the exclamation mark to a preference for the dash
accompanied her shift from ejaculatory poems, which seem outcries aimed with considerable dramatic
effect at God or others, to poems where the energies exist more in the relationships between words and
between the poet and her words. In this intensely prolific period, Dickinson's excessive use of dashes has
been interpreted variously as the result of great stress and intense emotion, as the indication of a mental
breakdown, and as a mere idiosyncratic, female habit. Though these speculations are all subject to debate,
it is clear that in the early 1860s Dickinson conducted her most intense exploration of language and used
punctuation to disrupt conventional linguistic relations, whether in an attempt to express inexpressible
psychological states or purely to vivify language.”
(From "Emily Dickinson’s Volcanic Punctuation." The Emily Dickinson Journal (1993))

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