(sorry... papers not yet available...)
The Dickinson archives of manuscripts, by the poet herself, by her correspondents, and by her various editors are housed in many libraries. The vast majority of Emily Dickinson's manuscripts are, of course, in the Houghton Library of Harvard University or the Frost Library of Amherst College. The archives of printed publications generated by the Dickinson artifacts are housed with many different publishers, some with competing claims regarding authenticity, authority, legitimacy.
When Jacques Derrida muses on the meanings of "archive," he retains the binding that arkhe makes of commandment (where men and gods command, the laws where authority, social order are exercised) and commencement (where things commence, where physical, historical, or ontological beginnings set events and existences in motion). But because they so aptly delineate the different ways the manuscript archives inform the latest archival productions--R.W. Franklin's bibliographical archive of text, the 1998 variorum, and the Dickinson Editing Collective's electronic archives--for our purposes and considerations on this panel, they will be unbound.
Commandment--authority, social order--describes the guiding principle of Franklin's splendid variorum. While versioning reigns in Franklin's production, presumably to show more fully the range of Dickinson's intentions, and he does not, by representing multiple textual versions of a poem, privilege one over another, he throughout privileges not the "work" (as he claims) but the linguistic idea of a poem's "text," the literary component that he believes is separable from its artifactual realization. Through this assumption order is imposed on that which is otherwise unruly--the messy handwritten artifacts of poems, letters, letter-poems, scraps, notes, fragments. The idea of "poem" (or whatever text) disciplines and contains views of Dickinson's writings so that they conform to social order and literary law, whatever the material evidence may suggest. According to this principle of commandment, the material evidence, the manuscripts, contain the idea of "poem" and an editor's job is to deliver that idea in a container that makes "poem" extractable. Here textual boundaries are clear, commanded as they are by the ideas that demarcate genres for books.
Commencement--physical, historical, ontological beginnings--describes the guiding principle of the Collective's production of electronic archives. Unpersuaded that "poem" is an "idea" easily separable from its artifact, the electronic archives feature images of Dickinson's manuscript bodies in all their sizes, shapes, and messiness. What constitutes a "poem" and poetic meanings is left up to the reader. A work might sport a stamp or a cutout from Dickens that the reader deems part of a "poem," and the electronic archives refuse to bind that element as extra-literary. Finger smudges, pinholes, paste marks, coffee stains, and traces of ribbons, flowers, or other attachments offer a view into the manuscript circulation and exchange so central to Dickinson's literary world. Also featured are images of the printed pages, the bodies that have transmitted Dickinson's writings to the world, and in these are stories of Dickinson's history as a poet whose writings are read and enjoyed by a wide audience. The tidy organizations of those printings bound into Poems and Letters juxtaposed with the not fully intelligible bindings of manuscripts (into fascicles or correspondences) by Dickinson herself, as well as with her many writings unbound (single sheets, notes, drafts, fragments, scraps) renew ontological questions about the identities of these many writings. Textual boundaries are not clear. Underscored is the fact that an ideal idea of "poem" or "letter" must dominate for the writings to be neatly divided by bibliographically-determined genre. With many of the documents, readers cannot help but begin to ask "what is this?" "What is this writer doing?" The electronic archives, then, are not interested in producing Dickinson's works in order to make books but in order to probe and learn from her work as a writer.
Panelists will explore various insights, issues, serendipities, and disappointments raised by the archives upon archives generated by and repeatedly perpetuated by Emily Dickinson's writings practices.
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Copyright 1999 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
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