Martha Nell Smith
"Because the Plunge from the Front Overturned Us: The Dickinson Electronic Archives Project"
Studies in the Literary Imagination 32:1 (Spring 1999)
. . .To have a text corrupt in many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authours that have written since the use of types, almost peculiar to Shakespeare.But not quite. Samuel Johnson might just as well have been writing of Emily Dickinson when he lamented the state of the Bard's texts. He persisted:
. . .No other authour [besides Shakespeare] ever gave up his works to fortune and time with so little care: no books could be left in hands so likely to injure them, . . .no other editions were made from fragments so minutely broken, and so fortuitously reunited. . . .There have been, there are now, and there will continue to be contests over not only who owns Emily Dickinson's words but what object can be called a poem by Emily Dickinson. There are many objects that can be called poems of Emily Dickinson, but what constitutes a poem by her has never been firmly established. Of this fact, R.W. Franklin's splendid The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 1998) is the latest witness. The significance of the difference in these pronouns may, upon first glance, appear to be a picayune critical hair-splitting exercise. Yet this shift in prepositional nomenclature initiated by Martha Dickinson Bianchi in 1924 with The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson was a crucially telling change, and the preposition "by" has, for good reason, never been restored to editions of Emily Dickinson's writings produced since then.
More than previous editors Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd, Bianchi, Emily Dickinson's niece, could not help but have a more direct sense of her aunt's manuscript production and distribution of poems. Handwritten literature moved back and forth between Dickinson's home, the Homestead, and her sister-in-law and brother's house next door, the Evergreens, all throughout Bianchi's childhood and young adulthood (when Dickinson died, Bianchi was 20). Indeed, Bianchi often acted as agent transporting poems between her aunt and mother. Remembering the spring Dickinson died, Bianchi recalled not only that "Susan. . .was under a shadow of apprehension about Aunt Emily" but also that "we [meaning her brother Ned and herself] carried the little notes back and forth as we always had" (Hart & Smith OMC 254n). Thus Bianchi's sense of Emily Dickinson's handwritten works was of a literature lived, of part and parcel of the "Sermon - Hope - Solace - Life" her mother declared poetry to be in a 1900 letter to prominent editor Curtis Hidden Page (Writings by Susan Dickinson [WSD], /susan).
When Higginson and Loomis Todd edited Emily Dickinson's handwritten works for the print medium, they confidently proclaimed them Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890, 1891, and, Loomis Todd alone in 1896). For them, the archive of handwritten manuscripts that stands behind their editions contains literary works, poems, that can be separated and removed from their artifactual presentations and transported into different media (print, e.g.) without altering the poem or work itself. The preposition by was therefore not problematic for them to name their print translations. For Bianchi, however, the archive of manuscripts that stands behind her editions contains poems by Emily Dickinson that had lived and breathed for decades in the love of her aunt and her mother, poems not so easily separable from their artifactual presentations and not so easily transported without alteration into the print medium. Her letters to editors first broaching the topic of publication of her aunt's poems show that she did not want to remove the poems from the letters and personal anecdotes in which they had been transmitted, but was discouraged from doing so by editors whose sense of "poems" was much like that of Higginson and Loomis Todd--that the literary work has nothing to do with its artifactual presentation (Horan 94). No wonder, then, that she found that use of the pronoun by to describe her production of poems generated by her aunt was vexatious enough that Poems of a Lifetime by Emily Dickinson, the full subtitle used to describe her first production of "Aunt Emily's" poems, The Single Hound (1914), was never repeated again in her titles for her print translations. From 1924 on, Bianchi declared her print translations of Emily Dickinson's writings to be of Emily Dickinson, for on some level she realized that those print translations originated or derived from, but were not the same as writings by Emily Dickinson.
In his introduction to the new variorum, Franklin describes precisely the sweeping judgment (similar to that of Higginson and Loomis Todd) on which his new edition is predicated, a judgment that homogenizes all literary performances, making them over into the images of print: ". . .this edition is based on the assumption that a literary work is separable from its artifact, as Dickinson herself demonstrated as she moved her poems from one piece of paper to another" (27). In other words, "poems" are intellectual, abstract objects which can only be represented in but are not of the material world. This assumption discounts the possibility that form is constitutive of authorial poetics and that Emily Dickinson may have intended different poetic techniques in her arrangements of the same set of words; and this assumption contends that material facts of presentation are extra-literary, or non-literary. Franklin's frame is either/or and in that follows copyright law: either one is considering the literary work or one is studying its artifactual realization. Presumably, then, the editor's responsibility is to find the proper form, the proper container, for the literary work. The difference that the Dickinson Editing Collective, producers of the Dickinson Electronic Archives, has with this position is key to understanding the poetics of the DEA. Our goal is not find the proper (in terms of copyright and critical tradition) literary container for "poems" but to find the medium that transmits more, rather than fewer, of Dickinson's poetic techniques. Propriety is not the issue. The issue is textual pleasure, and enabling audiences to avail themselves of as many pleasures as possible in Dickinson's scriptures. Conventional editing for print production routinely removes these pleasures from the textual representation, in part because they are not visible to those whose editorial glasses focus on typographical sights.
Musing on what might be most suitable to articulate a "poetics of the Dickinson archive," or the collaborations that are making this electronic archive possible, I first thought in terms of the serendipitous inflections provided by markup, its demands for categories and distinctions and the stubborn refusals of Dickinson's writings to conform to anybody and everybody's scheme of things. When Dickinson tops a poem with "Dear Sue" and signs "Emily," is that a poem-letter or letter-poem? When she breaks out into a stanza or lines of poetry in what appears to be the middle of an epistolary prose paragraph or sentence, is that a poem-letter or letter-poem? Do we want to use different terms to distinguish between these different blendings of genre or, as with the capacious term poetry, use the same term to refer to many different types of writerly performances in the epistolary field? Then I thought I might ponder at length one of the most formidable challenges avoided both in literary/textual theory and copyright law that is posed by the facts of Emily Dickinson's literatures (or her various writings and their many translations), in any and all of their manifestations--from her hand to my cool computer screen. Meeting the challenge requires asking in as many ways as can be imagined how to go about reckoning the hierarchies apparently accepted by coding, hierarchies that stubbornly resist parity between the intellectual/textual object and physical object but that insist one must be subordinate to the other. These hierarchies are not a product of the coding itself but are a result of the social imbrications of that coding with the institutions of literature, which in the late twentieth century are almost without exception bibliographic. Thus the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) wants editors to distinguish clearly between "verse" and "prose" and so between "poems" and "letters." Yet while the ways in which texts are first seen is, by design, bibliographic, TEI is also accommodating, and through extensions extensively tested, scholars have made tremendous strides in marking up Emily Dickinson's diverse manuscript performances in TEI without binding them needlessly to bibliographic suppositions. Marta Werner, whose online edition, Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1870-1886, will be published later this year by the University of Michigan Press, has been the editor who has covered the most ground in facing the challenges of markup. Werner has not, however, been an editor working in total isolation but in long-term critical conversation with numerous others (Susan Howe, Ellen Louise Hart, Jerome McGann, myself) investigating various aspects of Dickinson's manuscript performances. Each and all of us collaborate with each and all of the others, not only by direct exchanges of writings but through what might be called collective thinking about the manuscripts, collective not in that it is identical or that we are all in agreement but in that this thinking is all going on at the same time and that we each and all share the assumption that there is much to be gained by availing ourselves of textual pleasures beyond those bibliographic. This ongoing collective thinking about the identities and meanings of documents is, informed as it is by different sensibilities, different talents, different opinions, akin to the long-term collaboration of Susan and Emily: at its heart is a generative, capacious poetics accommodating different sensibilities, different talents, different readers.
Reflecting further upon the poetics of the archive, other aspects of categorizing and coding came to mind but just how I would analyze their "poetics" remained inchoate--e.g., is there a poetics in figuring how to manage the fact that most of Emily Dickinson's writings must be dated approximately, within 5-10 year spans, and what that dating within a range (instead of within a particular year) does to searchability (Pitti & Unsworth). Also, the codings to make the images appear and interact on the screen and to reproduce sound are not images and sound but make those images and sound available, and in that also make something of a poetry. Or, how does one think about the poetics of the fact that the image that one sees in full color but cannot touch, and its luminosity on a fairly decent (but by no means top-of-the-line) screen, actually gives one a better sense of what the manuscripts look and feel like than do halftone facsimiles that one can hold in one's hand? What are some meanings that inhere in this new medium and to what extent is the medium itself the message? Or, more aptly put, how are the poetics of the library, acid-free folder-bound Dickinson archives extended and elaborated through their electronic, fully searchable reproductions?
But when I looked at the "call for papers," the contact letter from Marta Werner and Paul Voss again, I decided that such discussions are for other occasions. For this one, writing about the poetics of the Dickinson Electronic Archives insists upon recounting the formation of the Dickinson Editing Collective, about how we came to imagine and produce the Dickinson Electronic Archives project, digital resources "housed" with different publishers and in a website located at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia (IATH; http://www.iath.virginia.edu or www.iath.virginia.edu). Thinking about the poetics of these archives, these interrelated projects, I have come more and more to think that a significant portion of their poetic beauty is in fulfilling part of Thomas Jefferson's dream of an academic village, an institution of higher learning, that, without matriculation and dispensing of degrees, distributes and pursues and produces knowledge. Collaboration, not competition for degrees and plaudits, was at the heart of the poet's vision. As her relationship with Susan makes plain, collaboration did not require uniformity in aesthetic tastes, but appreciation and respect for difference. A much more conventional poet than Emily, Susan nevertheless was unabashed in her pronouncement that "I recognize fully Miss Emily's lack of rhyme and rhythm, but have learned to accept it for the bold thought, and everything else so unusual about it" (Letter to Ward, Feb. 18, 1891, "Reviews, Essays, . . ." WSD). The collaboration between the two women goes well beyond the exchange of poems and Emily's trying to suit Susan with a more appropriate stanza for "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers," and well beyond any supposition that one's tastes is interchangeable with the other's. No, as with the exchange of body fluids during intercourse, like mixes with unlike (even in same-sex activity) and the focus is on communion of interests common and uncommon. Emily and Susan Dickinson were both acutely attuned to literature and its various works, inflections, circulations, and, though informed by their different tastes, that common interest created spiritual, emotional, intellectual, erotic converse. Over a period of forty years, they each wrote poems about similar subjects, they exchanged not only their own writings but those of others whom they admired, they shared works read aloud in the parlors and kitchens of the Dickinson houses. Similarly, even if we were not working in a medium requiring a great deal of group work, collaboration of common interests, not of unstinting agreement, would be at the heart of the Dickinson Editing Collective's vision. The Emily Dickinson International Society (EDIS) was formed ten years ago in 1988, in large part because many of us felt that collaboration was one of the key elements missing from Dickinson studies.
As a result, several collaborative ventures besides the electronic archives projects have been launched. In 1989, The EDIS Bulletin, edited by Georgiana Strickland at the University of Kentucky Press, began to be published, and 1992 saw the first number of The Emily Dickinson Journal, edited by Suzanne Juhasz of the University of Colorado. Several of us embarked on coauthoring books and articles. Out of the alliances generated by EDIS, The Emily Dickinson Encyclopedia, ed. Jane Eberwein, has been published, as has The Emily Dickinson Handbook, ed. Gudrun Grabher, Roland Hagenbuchle, and Cristanne Miller (1998), and an Emily Dickinson Lexicon, ed. Cynthia Hallen, will soon be. And, after a century of certain bodies of knowledge about Dickinson being obfuscated, hidden, and erased (supposedly in the interest of personal and professional well being), the Dickinson Editing Collective is--at IATH, in the Dickinson Electronic Archives; and with the University of Michigan Press, http://www.press.umich.edu/ in Radical Scatters; and Primary Source Media, http://www.psmedia.com/ in Emily Dickinson's Correspondences--for the first time making this suppressed knowledge visible. By making this previously cordoned-off knowledge about her compositional practices and her primary literary mentorship accessible to anyone who can fetch the resources with a web browser, the Collective makes clear its strong commitment to new research and greater access to Dickinson materials. Our ideal would make these sites not only accessible but free. If the realm of publication were Eden and not auction, such idealistic dreams might be realized. But in our fallen and commodified world, certain characteristics of any artistic enterprise must be marked off "For Sale."
But I am getting a bit ahead of myself, or ourselves. What is the significance of my title, taken from a note jotted down by Dickinson that has been quoted by myself and other members of the Collective time and again over the past decade, and how does understanding it foster a greater comprehension of a poetics of the archive? "The plunge from the front overturned" us--how so, and what is "the front" of Dickinson's poetic oeuvre to late twentieth-century readers? In poems such as "Myself was formed - a / Carpenter - " (F 22; P 488), Dickinson herself compares the work of a writer to that of a builder, and in lyrics such as "I dwell in Possibility - " (F 22; P 657) compares poetry itself to a "House." In this metaphorical scheme of things, a poem's "front" is comparable to that of a house. Constructing a house, the last things built are those things most easily visible--the frontispiece of brick, wood, paint, doors, shutters, porches, roofs; making a poem for conventional public distribution, the last things "built" are the pages of the book in which it appears, the frontispiece of typesetting, arrangement, font, paper type. For the first century of reading Dickinson, she has been known through this bibligraphical machinery, from the "front." Ironically, knowledge about her poetic project--its aims, philosophy, and her performances to realize those goals and principles--has been overturned by this "plunge from the front" although it is indeed very possible that she would not even be a topic for investigating the literary imagination without that plunge.
Formed in 1992 after the first Emily Dickinson International Society conference, the Dickinson Editing Collective has embarked on a project to overturn that plunge from the front by completely re-editing all of her writings outside her fascicles (or manuscript books)--i.e., poems, letters, letter-poems sent to 99 (or more) correspondents, as well as fair copies, drafts, and fragments found among her unbound sheets--in production performances that digitize images of her manuscripts and provide diplomatic transcriptions and notes in searchable electronic form. This format enables new kinds of critical inquiry previously unimaginable within the constraints of the book, the machine that has made the object, "Dickinson poem," and that has determined how that object is seen, interrogated, and theorized.
A century ago, when Dickinson's writings were first translated into a format by which they could be distributed to the reading public, her holographic productions were reimagined by editors as print objects. In the 1890s and through the first eight decades of the twentieth century, then, "Dickinson poems" were circulated via six volumes edited by Loomis Todd, Higginson, and/or Millicent Todd Bingham, eight volumes edited by Bianchi and Alfred Leete Hampson, and six volumes edited by Thomas H. Johnson. For the vast majority of her readers, Dickinson's poems have been seen as typographical objects, and the iconic page in the reader's mind's eye has been the printed page, not her manuscript page. Though for him the literary work is an intellectual object best (i.e., most legibly) represented as a typographical object, the publication of R.W. Franklin's The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (1981) made Dickinson's manuscript page and her holographic performances visible again via superb halftone photographic reproductions. Dickinson's textual world, conceived for decades in terms of the typographical page, began to be reconceived in terms of her handwritten artifacts. The Manuscript Books directed critical attention primarily toward the fascicles (books Dickinson made and left for posterity), but that is only one textual body among several corpora of Dickinson's writings. All of her textual bodies must be studied in order to understand Dickinson's poetic objectives and artistic manipulations of writing technologies; examining her scriptures--epistolary, fragmentary, and mixed media (featuring cutouts, drawings)--in their holographic forms is necessary in order to reimagine her literary project as what it in fact was, an astonishingly energetic and ambitious creative endeavor not bound to and by the Book and print technology's presentation of literature. As well as the print world of books, journals, and newspapers, Dickinson's textual world was also one of intensive manuscript circulation and exchange.
Indeed, the archives of original documents stand behind all of these bibliographic archives as well as the recent major editorial projects--Franklin's variorum, Radical Scatters, Emily Dickinson's Correspondences, and Open Me Carefully. All of these various editions produced for different critical moments witness the story of Emily Dickinson's reception from the last fin de siecle to this, ushering in the new millennium. At this point, Jacques Derrida's opening reflections in Archive Fever are most instructive for analyzing the different ways the archives of the original documents drive different editorial performances:
Let us not begin at the beginning, nor even at the archive.Derrida retains the binding that arkhe makes of commandment and commencement. But because they so aptly delineate the different ways the manuscript archives inform the latest archival productions--Franklin's bibliographic archive of texts, the 1998 variorum, and the Dickinson Editing Collective's electronic archives--for our purposes and considerations, 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.
To evaluate Dickinson's process and ambitions as a writer--a "private" producer of lyrics, poetic epistles, mixed media layouts, epigrams, and drafts, who apparently had "public" ambitions--Dickinson "poems," "letters," "drafts," and "fragments" need to be unedited, and more of the forms of her literary expressions transmitted, so that reproductions of her writings are no longer entities that fit comfortably into the genres designated by the books, The Poems of Emily Dickinson and The Letters of Emily Dickinson. To do so, or to "undo" so (Werner 13), requires that readers recuperate a sense of the state or the groups in which Emily Dickinson herself left her documents--"individual correspondences, the manuscript volumes, and ungathered poems and drafts" (Hart 45), as well as the scraps, fragments, and notes. Also important to recuperate is a sense of the two major corpora--the manuscript books and the hundred of poems, letters, and letter-poems shared with Susan Dickinson. Cultivating such a sense requires reimagining (in the various handwritten forms of calligraphic orthography, angled "dashes," and angled and vertical, as well as horizontal, lines; Rowing in Eden 79-95) the writings that have been known and studied for the past century as literary objects ("poem," e.g.) made for print-determined genres. However, typographical translation erases her widely varying holographic nuances and designs, flattening Dickinson's visually expressive scriptures into mechanically regularized alphabetic forms and into genres predicated on sharp distinctions between the epistolary and poetic.
In order to facilitate such a reconceptualization of Dickinson's textual world, the Dickinson Editing Collective (coordinated by myself, with General Editors Ellen Louise Hart and Marta Werner) is producing electronic archives of her writings. Having "concluded that, in addition to the new variorum being prepared by Franklin, a hypermedia archive of Dickinson's writings should be produced in order to take into account her method of publication and more fully disseminate the range of her manuscript art" and documentation of her writing processes to her readers (Smith 77), one of the Collective's primary goals for the electronic archives, then, is to open up access for examining Emily Dickinson's writing practices. Highlighting her scribal publication, the archives present Dickinson's corpora via photographic reproductions and diplomatic transcriptions of these writings in electronic format. Such a production performance has numerous advantages for expanding access. Besides searchability, making information more readily retrievable and manipulable, itself a resource of inestimable value, users can compare, by examining writings side-by-side, various versions of poems and the diverse contexts Dickinson used to present her literatures. Also, full color display of the manuscripts on the computer screen makes visible paste marks, stains, pinholes, and gradations between pencil and pen that are muted and often indistinguishable in the monochromatic halftones in books, marks that Dickinson incorporated into her poetic expression. Visible too are serendipitous technological artifacts making certain elements, the edges of the page, e.g., more clearly articulated (halftone reproduction tends to cut off page edges, making margins appear smaller than they in fact are). Thus many more elements of Dickinson's writing project and its technologies, of the holographic artifacts Dickinson bequeathed to the world, get to be seen by many more readers via production performances in the electronic medium, a powerful tool for helping readers to reconceptualize the texts beyond the "Alabaster Chamber" of the printed page. Knowledge about Dickinson's writings that has been privatized and made available only to a privileged few will be redistributed with a much wider circulation, and new collaborations between editors and readers, heretofore impossible, made possible.
In order to produce these electronic archives of Dickinson's writings outside the fascicles or manuscript books--work sent to contemporary audiences, and her drafts, scraps, fragments, and notes, or work apparently not sent to anyone--I have assembled and/or am working with teams of editors, coders, scanners, advisors. The three main editors reside in Maryland, Santa Cruz, and Atlanta, and then we have coeditors in Charlottesville, Utah, Norway, San Francisco, and Iowa. IATH serves as our principal support and advisory group, and through an electronic discussion list, the general editors and coders at the University of Virginia, at the University of Maryland, and at Georgia State Univeristy are able to analyze various issues and hypothesize solutions, with input from advisors at the Collaboratory at the University of Michigan and the Brown Women Writers Project.
The General Editors have divided the work so that Werner is responsible for producing an electronic archive of Dickinson's Late Fragments, Smith & Hart for producing an electronic archive of Dickinson's most prolific correspondence (with Susan Dickinson), and all three are responsible for producing electronic archives of her 99 other correspondences. To produce this vast resource, we have enlisted various coeditors to take responsibility for producing electronic archives of particular correspondences (e.g., McGann is responsible for Dickinson's correspondence with Higginson). Through dickinson-l, the discussion list, we share information about successes, failures, and indeterminables and brainstorm strategies for production that will most effectively enable access to Dickinson's writing practices. Responsibilities inevitably overlap, and that has so far proven to be the source of both the most tension and serendipitous problem-solving. Also, the pace of production will be quite different for the respective areas of the project. E.g., the late fragments constitute far fewer documents than the extensive correspondence of poems, letters, letter-poems, notes, quotations, and scraps to Susan. The fragments present, however, as diverse a body of documents as the correspondence to Susan. The correspondence to Higginson, on the other hand, while somewhat diverse, does not offer the wide variety of drafts, fragments, illustrations, layouts, and cutouts as does the correspondence to Susan, and has more documents than the fragments but well less than half the number (or 40%) of the writings that the Susan corpus does. Thus the Susan corpus will share coding strategies with all of Dickinson's other kinds of writings, while each of the other correspondences and each and all of the fascicles present the teams with only a few of the problems that the diverse elements in the entire manuscript corpora pose.
To deliver all of these elements in searchable, durable electronic form, Editing Collective members have pursued different tasks of development. As noted, the leader in delivering materials in a workable SGML format is Werner, whose Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1870-1886, an online edition, has just been published. Describing her "Electronic Transcripts: Interpretation," Werner declares:
In addition to facsimiles and diplomatic transcripts, this edition contains e.text transcriptions of the fragments and related texts. The e.texts, each of which is organized as a structured set of tagged (SGML-marked) descriptions denoting salient features of the manuscript's physical appearance and the text's substantive content, translate significant information displayed graphically by the facsimiles and diplomatic transcriptions int o a system designed for processing--search and analysis--by computer applications. . . .("The Interpretation of Radical Scatters")In Werner's markup scheme (with which the Collective concurs), "the manuscript body (classified as a DIV0) is understood as the primary level from which all investigations, textual or critical, commence." After that, the encoder must "identify all of the possible texts (classified as DIV1 S), nesting within" that body (e.g., poems, letters, letter-poems, fragments, notes and ideas toward poems, working notes and phrases, trial lines, variant lines, and any other types that might be identified). From this most basic description, one can see that textual structures overlap, that subtypes are nested within types, elements within elements, and in complex and unpredictable ways. Not even a smidgeon of the many problems that Werner has faced and that the Collective will be facing can be touched upon by this essay, but an example of how she has handled coding at the most basic level, which turns out also to be most complex, serves well to illustrate what the Collective must face in coding one of the major Dickinson corpora--the multitude of writings to Susan Dickinson--and how the coding itself has profound implications for critical understanding.
Susan Dickinson herself recognized that Emily Dickinson's writings did not fall into neat generic distinctions and wrote of the latter's "letter-poems." As one can see from Open Me Carefully, this is not surprising, for she received a wealth of writings that do not fit neatly into categories such as "poem" or "letter." Since TEI recognizes verse or prose but not both as characterizing the same writing, coders are immediately faced with a dilemma. The basic units of a poem are the verse line and stanza and those of prose are the sentence and paragraph. How, then, will "letter-poems" and their units and subunits be coded--as letters or as poems? To use either standard division would regularize and thus misrepresent the documents, so Werner has chosen to divide texts not into paragraphs or lines of verse but into "segments," each of which may represent a different size or type of internal division. So there are "poetry segs," "prose segs," "complete phrase segs," fragmented phrase segs," "variant segs," "stanza segs," "salutation segs," "signature segs," and so on. Werner's strategy, which enables coding of genre-defying elements that appear irregular within the frame of poetic or epistolary conventions alone does not bind one to a single set of formal conventions nor does it deny the formalities of writings such as Dickinson's epistolary poetic, but recognizes that there are formal conventions outside the usual frameworks and codes them as such. This digital analysis of Dickinson's grammar collaborates with other critical insights to generate ever more keen analysis of Dickinson's diverse mixing of prose and poetry in writing that is not quite either though it has strong elements of each. Questions about the components of a document that contains writing that in another field definitely appears to be a poem, and so would have lines and stanzas as constitutive parts, but that has been enclosed within "Dear Sue" and "Emily" and other conventions of personal correspondence, so might have salutations, sentences, and paragraphs as constitutive parts, begin to be reframed, and open up opportunities for much more probative analyses of the literary historical significance of Dickinson's writing practices.
What might it mean that Dickinson pursued her poetic project "by following the options released through a scriptural and epistolary environment rather than a publishing and bibliographical one" (McGann 45)? If such a move by this major American poet indicates a "democratization of poetry, integrating it into quotidian production" (Rowing 111) and therefore a turning away from the "courtly muses of Europe" of the sort that Ralph Waldo Emerson yearns for in "The American Scholar," how is that important for readers at the turn of the millenium? That coding such texts for delivery through computer systems demands no longer thinking simply in terms of paragraphs or stanzas but in terms of both and more simultaneously is thus a crucial and welcome critical step forward. By contrast, coding Dickinson's "letter-poems" simply as poetry or simply as prose reveals how the writings must be misconstrued in order to fit into a single set of conventions.
Indeed, one can see the problem in conventional bibliographic representation. Franklin's printing of "Show me Eternity, and I will show you Memory - " (FP 1658) indicates well how a letter-poem text must be changed in order to be delivered within the frame of a single set of conventions. He says that this "poem" concludes "a letter to Susan Dickinson, following the signature 'Sister.'" Yet the "Sister" he intellectually attaches to the first eleven physical lines of this letter-poem is in fact physically attached to the second segment of this letter-poem. The word appears, as Hart has so persuasively argued, after a physical space that marks off it and the next eight physical lines as the second segment of this three-part writing (Hart, "Encoding" 263-265):
MorningFranklin must ignore the physicalities of Dickinson's document in order to declare as a "letter" writing that does not differ metrically or in subject matter from writing on the same document that he wants to declare "poem." In Franklin's intellectual scheme of things, the first eleven physical lines of this letter-poem would be marked as a sentence (or as sentences) of a letter, and then the following fourteen physical lines would be marked as verse units; thus the logic of the markup would divide this documentary body and its constitutive parts into separate pieces. This dismembering representation bears no correlation to the logic of the physical document nor, as it turns out, to the linguistic content, and in fact distorts a sense of the text so that Hart's insight is unavailable to readers of the new variorum, her critical understanding of Dickinson's poetics "overturned" through the silent erasures of bibliographic grammars: Hart notes that the letter- poem's first segment concludes with the extraordinary logic that "doubt measures the strength of commitment that faith demands and is itself the form in which faith continues," that Dickinson in turn marks this leap in faith with a "leap in the [letter-]poem, which appears physically as a break between" segments. The letter-poem "pairs opposites that are actually complements, morning and night, faith and doubt, eternity and memory, finally leading to the poem's central pair, 'Sue' and 'Emily'" (264). To advance representation and understanding of this document, the Collective, concurring with Hart's interpretation of this as a three-part literary document (and not with Franklin's that this is a two-part document of an epistle followed by a poem), is adopting Werner's more capacious, flexible but nevertheless rigorous markup scheme.
Ironically, that critical step forward has been taken because the fact that the manuscript is the primary level for coding requires that, in order to translate them into electronic forms, the Collective "read her poems backwards" or behind, away, through, and finally without the frontispiece of poems of Emily Dickinson produced for bibliographic publication. Overturning bibliographic biases for new critical understandings is important not only on the micro level of the line, sentence, stanza, and paragraph, but also on the macro level of corpora. Bibliographic biases have held that the fascicles, the poems in the manuscript books, comprise Dickinson's main body of writing. In sharp contrast, the Collective's work more and more shows that the fascicles are not more literary and artistically significant but are parallel and perhaps even secondary to her main body of writing--the correspondences. This is especially important because studying the correspondences--Emily Dickinson's writings which she chose to send to her contemporaries that have survived in manuscript and/or transcription--makes, as the example of "Morning / might come / by Accident - " shows, suppressed knowledge about her compositional intricacies and the intricacies of her primary literary conversation, still mysteries after a century of study, available.
Though Franklin's variorum project hierarchizes "poem" over "letter," erasing, as we have just seen, "letter" when it is deemed insignificant for literary considerations, his work nevertheless calls into question, at least implicitly, any assumption that the manuscript books are the central literary works by Emily Dickinson. The versioning display of poems sent to contemporaries in the same font as those recorded in the fascicles refuses Johnson's method of subordinating all versions of a poem to one primary fair copy version (which he might find in a fascicle or in a correspondence). Unlike Johnson, Franklin's hierarchy is not invested in "fair copy" but in "poem." As the example so aptly shows, this investment in bibliographic taxonomies for a poet whose work was decidedly graphocentric erases yet another of Dickinson's corpora: the letter- poem, central to a Dickinsonian poetics in which poetry is "Hope - Sermon - Solace - Life."
Obviously, producing the Dickinson Electronic Archives, collaboration, or a new model of scholarship, has emerged and is still emerging.
Collaborate - to work jointly with others esp. in an intellectual endeavor. To work together, not alone; to work jointly, in concert, not identically. Werner's coding strategy collaborates with critical observations by other members of the Collective, with Thomas Johnson's fretful observation that Dickinson's letters "are so nearly the quality of her poems as on occasion to leave the reader in doubt where the letter leaves off and the poem begins" (L p. xv), and with Susan Dickinson's recognition that something other than "poem" or "letter" was going on in her beloved friend's writing. This call and response commencing in Dickinson's gifts to the world and continuing through all their handlings are at the heart of Dickinson's poetics. Her works, housed in library archives up and down the United States' northeast corridor, animate the many texts that they perpetually generate. The electronic archives are reproducing images that fill those library archives, making available to a much wider audience than has previously had the privilege a more direct experience with Dickinson's handwritten works, which feature line breaks not determined by metrical conventions, punctuation marks not bound to conventions, alphabetic letters not bound to the conventions of either upper or lower case, and other textual behaviors that bear little resemblance to what print leads readers to expect. The electronic archives are also making available the scene of Dickinson's writings, the manuscript page of formal stationery, shopping bags, torn envelopes, and the like that have been disappeared until the past couple of decades. By collecting images of all these items stored in individual folders in a number of different libraries in databases with cross linkings and mutual searchability, the electronic archives are bringing together virtually what has been dismembered by property rights and by literary orders. The poetics of the archive, then, is a poetics of collaborations--multiple, diverse, generative.
Dickinson and her contemporary admirers were constantly extending her texts to her audiences. Through ellipsis and alternative choices, e.g., Dickinson demanded that readers collaborate in the making of poems (Rowing 51-95). Her sister Lavinia and Susan Dickinson both relished reading Dickinson's poems aloud to audiences, and accounts of her Norcross cousins testify that Emily, so long assumed to be isolate and antisocial, enjoyed reading her work as well. In the Dickinson Electronic Archives, one can see that her works extend even outside themselves as Titanic Operas and Contemporary Youth's Companion, both contemporary poetic responses to Dickinson's legacy, grow. And with the Whitman Hypertext Archive, the DEA is producing a series of major pedagogical projects for the postsecondary classroom. Way leads on to way, and the DEA also features a major online editorial project of writings that, unlike those of Emily Dickinson, have never been edited for presentation in books--Writings by Susan Dickinson. This ongoing process of research and retrieval turns conventional editing procedures upside down and inside out for, instead of waiting until all is polished and ready for presentation in a book, the Collective makes the materials available as we work, with all of the mistakes of mistranscription and misattribution laid bare. In these writings by Emily Dickinson's most constant, most admired, and most admiring audiences, readers can see for themselves the scope and breadth of collaboration. Like Emily Dickinson's writings, Susan Dickinson's engage audiences in the making of meaning and revisit conventional subjects such as nature, love, and the role of the divine. But Susan's work, laiden with nineteenth-century conventions, is also markedly different from Emily's, and marks the fact that working together effectively does not require working exactly the same as. This fact about collaboration, remarked earlier in the archives of this essay, is probably the most important one for Dickinson's various audiences, with our very different tastes and very different stakes, to take to heart. Differences need not lead to commandments of social order but can provide additional opportunities for commencements.
The archives found in Dickinson's room and in the keepsakes of her correspondents have generated archive upon archive--of the library, of the book, and now of the computer. Emily Dickinson asked Thomas Higginson if her literary work breathed, not if it was orderly, celebrated Possibility, and believed that words begin to live, not die, when shared (JP 1212; FP 278). The ever proliferating, ever more collaborative archives generated by her work are a powerfully resonant affirmative answer to her question.
Copyright 1994 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney <firstname.lastname@example.org>