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"Bound--a Trouble--": Emily Dickinson and the Archive


This dissertation looks at how archival structures have produced the canonical author Emily Dickinson, who left nearly 5,000 unpublished manuscripts at her death. With very little known about this poet, scholars have had the responsibility of constructing poems, editions, and biographies from an archive of paper fragments and tiny hand made books filled with difficult writing. I trace the early amateur editors' influences on the poems and poet through to the texts we read today, arguing that our most reliable editions began with early editors' organization and publication of the unruly manuscripts within the structures of archive and the book. These publications highlight and promote a narrative of Dickinson as homebound, lovelorn, and isolated--characteristics that still shape many critical analyses of the poet.

The first chapter situates my project within post-colonial, post-structuralist, and modernist avant-garde theories of the archive before moving on to an analysis of the manuscripts that reveals their resistance to organization and publication. Chapter two gives a history of Dickinson's publication and status as an author. I perform a close reading of the poems in print that shows how "understanding" them relies upon ideas about the author's biography and the erasure of difficult details in the manuscripts. Understanding that any reading of the poet's work will be mediated by some archival structure whether digital, codex, or otherwise--the third chapter looks to interdisciplinary and multimedia responses to the work that allow for playful constructions of Dickinson's fragmented archive.

By analyzing what is effaced by the structures we put around this poet and the work she left behind, this dissertation looks to the more flexible potentials of digital technology as a possible space for Dickinson's work. Looking beyond the organizational principles of the folder, box, page, and codex, this project hopes for a method of experiencing the most difficult, unorganized and fragmented features of Dickinson's work.

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