Monday, September 19, 2011

Emily Dickinson's faith to fling election loose across the incandescent shadows of futurity

Jonathan Edwards’ apocalyptic sermons voice human terror of obliteration in our lonely and inexplicable cosmos.  He exhorts us to turn from the world, to live ascetically, while actively striving to obtain the emotional peace that is grace.  Calvinist doctrine, as interpreted by this Neoplatonist inheritor of a lost cause in America, found no path to eternal life through material success.  It forbade retreat and monastic isolation, at the same time emphasizing “Justification by faith alone” – another contradiction.  Each person’s active participation was called for in the battle against sin.  To be in the world but avoid serving Mamon, I must renounce attachment to friends and worldly accomplishment.  Recognition by the world is not recognition by God, and is therefore a delusion.  Worry and regret over lack of recognition are empty and a snare.
To T.W. Higginson June 7, 1862
     I smile when you suggest that I delay “to publish” – that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin –
     If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her – if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase – and the approbation of my Dog, would forsake me – then – My Barefoot-Rank is better – 
Emily Dickinson’s religion was Poetry.  As she went on through veils of connection to the secret alchemy of Deity, she was less and less interested in temporal blessing.  The decision not to publish her poems in her lifetime, to close up an extraordinary amount of work, is astonishing.  Far from being the misguided modesty of an oppressed female ego, it is a consummate Calvinist gesture of self-assertion by a poet with faith to fling election loose across the incandescent shadows of futurity.

Perry Miller said that Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of behavioral psychology, as evidenced by his careful documentation of the process of Conversion, anticipates American empiricism and William James.  I say that Emily Dickinson took both his legend and his learning, tore them free from his own humorlessness and the dead weight of doctrinaire Calvinism, then applied the freshness of his perception to the dead weight of American poetry as she knew it. – Susan Howe

No comments:

Post a Comment