Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
What I call Emily Dickinson’s “echology” combines the terms “echo” and “ecology” to understand how Dickinson’s work echoes – and is an echo – of the world and how, consequently, her work resides not just in her handwritten documents and their publication in various editions but in an ecology that’s tied to the earth that hosted her, the air that faced her, and the sea kept her listening. To assess the critical value of Dickinson’s echology, this dissertation begins by apprehending how the story of the echo is a story about sound masking, specifically about how the echo that is an acoustic phenomenon has been masked by the Echo that is the nymph in mythology, which parallels how the echo that is a responsive interaction has been masked by the Echo that is a repeatable broadcast in and beyond mythology. With the masking of the echo by the Echo begun in mythology has come the masking of being by Being in philosophy and the masking of voice by Voice in lyric poetry, and while all these maskings have upheld the role of the speaking subject in western culture, they have also fashioned the world into a reflector of humans.
The enduring popularity of Dickinson’s work is an occasion to go back to the story of the echo and approach it through perception rather than narrative because perception in her echology can, I argue, turn the inevitable path from Echo to Being to Voice into the ethical path from voice to being to echo. In chapter one, the democratic Voice of national citizenship unmasks a democratizing voice of earthen citizenship, and so citizenship itself is reconceptualized. In chapter two, the cognitive Being of sovereign consciousness unmasks the embodied being of shared consciousness, and so consciousness itself is reconceptualized. And in chapter three, the Echo of the world speakable through human nature unmasks the echo of the world speakable at the expense of human nature, and so the world itself is reconceptualized. Contextualized by the theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida and in conversation with nineteenth-century pieces by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, John Tyndall, Edward Hitchcock, and Asa Gray, these un-maskings in Dickinson’s echology esteem the role of the listening subject over the speaking subject in western culture even as they refashion humans as reflectors of the world and not vice versa.
Dickinson’s echology is an opportunity to read her work and listen to the range of human, nonhuman, and nonliving subjects with whom she shared a vast sonic space – one rendered as an acoustic state of radical belonging that yet remains open to everything outside of it, especially the mystery of connection without belonging. While the chapters remain focused on the reconceptualization of citizenship, consciousness, and the world, the conclusion considers how the elements of earth, air, and sea make these reconceptualizations possible and bring our attention to fire as the element in human hands and in the lyric poem as a product not just of this fire but of the balance sought between fire, earth, air, and sea.
Staley, Beth Ann, "Emily Dickinson's Echology: A Listener's Reconceptualization of Citizenship, Consciousness, and the World" (2019). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 4041.