Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department


Committee Member

Dr. Jonathan Beecher

Committee Member

Dr. Dominic Mastroianni

Committee Member

Dr. Cameron Bushnell


This paper stemmed from a desire to place Dickinson's poetry in conversation within the broader discourse of Thing Theory, namely using Bill Brown, Theodor Adorno, and Jane Bennett collectively. These claims derive as well from my own experiences in reading Dickinson's poetry: those times when faced with delightful frustration, enjoyably utter-confusion, followed closely by a frantic desire to understand at all costs. Dickinson's poetry is that which truly 'plunge[s]' us 'for a moment into [a] torrent of sensation' (Santayana 260). Nestled somewhere between my chest and my gut, there is this unnamable feeling that arrests me in a physical way, one that I would assume is similar to Dickinson's response to 'poetry' which would make her feel 'physically as if the top of [her] head were taken off'--perhaps her selfsame 'cleaving' of the brain mentioned in her poetry (L341a). What struck me was that the same feelings I had in response to Dickinson's poetry were almost identical to those I experienced when 'forced to confront an object's thingness.' Such connections led me to believe that Dickinson was writing particular poems in such as a way as to fabricate a similar discovery as Theodor Adorno's recognition of the 'nonidentity' and the 'nagging feeling' that Jane Bennett describes. Had I, in my utter confusion, actually achieved even a small part of that which Dickinson strove for in her poetry? It is hard to deny that, by the purposeful defamiliarization and cleaving in two of the poetic focus, Dickinson repeatedly calls attention to our own failures of perception. She orchestrates a readership liminal space that grants the poem the power to insist that it be noticed in the same way that Brown's 'things' manifest themselves through material interruption. 'Thingness' becomes synonymous with the 'experience' of her lyric materialism, and her poems position themselves against the cultural and academic biases of critical literary theory. With Dickinson's poetic voice as a guide, my endeavor has been to discover a more concrete praxis of how to read without reading; to extrapolate and formulate an affective materialism from the two-dimensional plane of ink and paper.



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