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Title: Emily Dickinson's grotesque : ambivalent interactions with uncertainty
Author: Sedgwick, James Martin
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2001
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Emily Dickinson's work can be understood in terms of dynamic and variable interactions with uncertainty. Sometimes uncertainty is horrifyingly meaningless, whilst on other occasions it is liberating and meaningful; Dickinson's grotesque is predicated upon the interplay of both these perspectives. Dickinson's grotesque dialectic between enabling and disabling interactions with uncertainty resists monolithic critical appropriation. Theories of the grotesque enable us to unify the critical discord between conservative and radical depictions of Dickinson's work. Using the psychoanalytic theories of Melanie Klein and Wilfred Bion, I explain the dialectic between the different interactions with uncertainty and demonstrate how they are shaped contextually. Gothic context engenders fearful responses to uncertainty; female creativity engenders ambivalence; embodying contexts produce liberating uncertainty. Dickinson's gothic elucidates a need for meaning, and a corresponding fear of representational insufficiency. This desire for certainty is extrapolated from a Calvinist sensibility, whereby uncertainty denotes unregenerate being. The apophatic poems move towards meaning by perpetually surpassing their own conceptual limitations. However, this process becomes self-defeating as the act of negation itself turns into the kind of uncertainty it was supposed to overcome. Female creativity is achieved through internalizing overwhelming, masculine power as the basis of poetic autonomy. Dickinson's poetic self partially overcomes the oppressive, binary distinction between male and female positions. I compare Dickinson with Harriet Prescott Spofford, illustrating how both writers narrate their assimilation of alterity as a terrifying encounter with an omnipotent male muse.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: University of Wisconsin--Madison (UoW-M) ; University of Warwick (UoW)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PS American literature