Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Dickinson Electronic Archives

I’ve just started reading the Dickinson Electronic Archives in a systematic way for my class next week. I’m holding back from reading more, though, at this moment because I am astounded by how personal and intimate reading the materials seems to me. I’m stepping back almost because I feel it to be an invasion of Emily and Susan’s privacy. That’s not rational, of course. They are both long dead and I think that privacy ends when one is in the ground. Still, I feel uncomfortable reading about them so intimately. Perhaps it is because I am doing it on my personal computer and I have the spectral notion of someone reading my life electronically. There are things I don’t want them to know. Emails I’d like to have erased. Letters that seemed right and honest at the time, that I’d like to redact. Like this letter from Susan sent “Pony Express” to Emily. Susan writes,
I am not suited
dear Emily with the second
verse - It is remarkable as the
chain lightening that blinds us
hot nights in the Southern sky
but it does not go with the
ghostly shimmer of the first verse

I wonder how I would feel if my email correspondences were put up on the web. I have hundreds of back and forth emails with my dear writing friend. Some written too late at night. Some that suggest another direction for a poem when I was missing her point. Would my moments of myopia come through? What about my tiredness? My temper? What I read in the Dickinson Electronic Archive is not exposing that, but the degree of intimacy is strong, even overwhelming, and I want for now to avert my eyes.
I think that it is that I am feeling too sensitive. I’ve somehow lost the scholarly veneer that I am supposed to have to read, to study, to think critically. I’m filled with this overwhelming sorrow about May Swenson and anger. I cannot seem to let it go. Last night, I sat down with all of Adrienne Rich’s prose and wanted to see what Adrienne had to tell me about Swenson. I found nothing, so far, but when I picked up my hardcover of What Is Found There and opened to the title page, I found this written in script: For Julie Enszer From Adrienne Rich. I wept. Which is too Christian really for me to write, but I did. I cried. I tried to stop it, to hold back those tears, but they just flowed and flowed down my face while I searched for Rich to tell me something about Swenson. There was nothing. So far. But the confirmation that the veneer has been lost somewhere.
So here I am, vexed by Swenson, emotional compromised by Emily and Susan and their intimacy, and wanting just to read Sarton. Her correspondences with Juliette Huxley, with whom Rachel Carson was also an avid correspondence, and from reading them she, like Sarton, was passionately in love with Huxley. What did Julian’s wife do to deserve such amorous attentions? Reading it in a book seems different, I suppose. More distance. That careful typeset. A place where my words have never been.

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