THE DARKEST GUSH: EMILY DICKINSON AND THE TEXTUAL MARK
by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
Much current language theory talks about gap or lack or loss. It is hard to get away from this. The word is taken as a substitute for the thing, a replacement for some unbridgeable loss. Maybe this is one reason to use double words. To use double endings. To double materials in the same page space, one proposes excessive language activities (instead of one word--put two, put three!). And thereby one finesses the theory itself. Perhaps even answers it. Words are unstoppable, they create intersecting realities and are not just bridges into one. A further answer would "suggest that the word should be understood not only along the axes of its relationship to other words but in the context of its functioning within the dialogic relationships between the speaker and listener." "The sign...is thus always socially formed. Its actual use and meaning, in the case of language, is reciprocally determined by whose word it is and for whom it is meant" (Tony Bennet, Formalism and Marxism, Methuen 1979). As I suggested, the source of Dickinson's alternatives might well have been projected imagination of persons with whom she might have shared the works, or imagined the sharing. The vectors of connotation are always social.
Dickinson's poetic acts may be seen as presenting some of the strategies for writing disruptive of hegemonic processes which Irigaray proposes in This Sex Which Is Not One (Cornell UP 1985). Irigaray has argued that toppling, reversing, or other methods of directly attacking power will not solve the problem of dominance, including master texts and master narratives. To undermine those practices whereby everything is reduced to "the same" (for example, familiar practices of how poems look), Irigaray proposes to "subvert the discursive mechanism" in several ways: by the attempt to express an excessive (what she calls female) pleasure; by the creation of a disruptive excess; and by the overrunning of dichotomies, so that in this case such notions as wrong word/right word, or chosen word/discarded word would be criss-crossed and come undone. Certainly Dickinson's double words perform all these functions.
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