Filreis on Dickinson
From: afilreis (Al Filreis)
Subject: Re: Finite Infinity
Date: Sat, 20 Jan 1996 13:06:17 -0500 (EST)
There are solitudes - space of openness; unsurrounded. Sea - adrift -
elemental . Death - this is terminal (finite) solitude. She refers to
all of these "solitudes" as society. What does she mean by society?
That's, Evan, what makes me so interested in this poem - and in
Dickinson. She challenges us with impossible comparisons. We ask,
indignantly or puzzled: "If *that* solitudinous stuff is SOCIETY, that
you must REALLY have a strong sense of self-containment! Yourself itself!
Wow!" ED is amazing in saying: we too easily, traditionally, think of
natural solitude as solitude, but in fact it's a form of convening. The
ultimate non-convening is inviolate but constructed ("artificial" in the
positive sense - as in "art" or "artifice") - my mind, my self, my
Thus (in another poem) she is a more powerful volcano than Vesuvius. And
thus her poems are postcards from the volcano!
You can perhaps tell that I am a particular fan of Whitmanian
extensiveness, of "society," of a thinginess in poetry, even of
description (so long as it asks questions about whether description
suffices)...but I hope it's also obvious that I grudgingly but with great
admiration accept the Dickinsonian as THE modern mode!
Takers on this point?
Just a few thoughts on a finite infinity. I do not see as clearly the
religious undertones. For me I see a depressed isolated individual.
Many depressed people relate a similar
state: withdrawn infinite isolation, a defined finite world that is
Perhaps this is too literal, or too clinical, or too contemporary; she
just seems profoundly depressed in this poem.
I would love to hear a rejoinder on the point, but I don't think, Kent,
that depression is here. I see extraordinary (to the point of non-social,
or a "new" concept of "social") self-admission and self-containment and
thus self-reliance. This is Emerson taken so seriously that it's almost
"unAmerican"! She challenges the very notion of the social. It's powerful
stuff, I think.--Al