Emily Dickinson’s Poems: Genre Presentation

For my presentation on Emily Dickinson’s Poems, I focused on the genre category of the exam. I primarily used Seo Yeoung Chu’s discussion of cognitive estrangement and highlighted some significant aspects of her argument that would relate to the highlighted lines in Dickinson’s poems. I also posted a few quotes from Poes, “The Tell-tale Heart” and Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper” to help with the comparison between lyric poetry and narrative fiction. As a counter-argument, I also included a quote from Culler’s, “Why Lyric”, to help one disagree with Chu or strengthen her argument (depending on which you prefer).


Cognitive Estrangement in Poetry

Emily Dickinson Poems

Seo Young Chu, Excerpts from Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep?: A Science Fictional Theory of Representation

I hereby submit a theory that might initially sound implausible but will, I hope, have become more convincing by the end of this introduction. Science fiction and lyric poetry are joined inseparably by rich affinities […] the coincidence lies in more than a shared intensity of figurative language. (Chu 13)

“I conceptualize science fiction as a mimetic discourse whose objects of representation are nonimaginary yet cognitively estranging” (Chu 3).

A concept both integral to my argument and far from self-evident, the “cognitively estranging referent” requires some exposition in these opening pages. What exactly does it mean for a referent, an object of representation, to be “cognitively estranging”? To answer this question, we must first ask what Suvin himself means when he calls science fiction the “literature of cognitive estrangement” (4). In Suvin’s exact words, science fiction is “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (7-8). According to Suvin, the presence of estrangement, which “differentiates SF from the ‘realistic’ mainstream,” is determined by settings and characters that are “radically or at least significantly different from empirical times, places, and characters of ‘mimetic’ or ‘naturalist fiction” (Chu 8).

“Lyric poetry is frequently soliloquy-like. Lyric voices speak from beyond ordinary time. Lyric poems are inhabited by situations and tableaux transcending ordinary temporality. Lyric descriptions are charged with depictive intensity. Lyric poetry is musically expressive. Lyric poems evoke heightened and eccentric states of consciousness” (Chu 13-14)


Connect: Narrative Fiction

“As I hope to demonstrate, only a narrative form thoroughly powered by lyricism possesses enough torque–enough twisting force, enough verse (from ‘vertere,’ Latin for ‘to turn’)–to convert an elusive referent into an object available for representation” (Chu 14).

Jonathan Culler, “Why Lyric?”

Culler discusses issues with the way poetry is read by focusing on speaker.

“Narrative structures are translatable, but lyric, in its peculiar structural patterning, figures the givenness, the untranscendability, of a particular language, which seems to its users a condition of experience” (Culler 205).





I FELT a funeral in my brain,        

And mourners, to and fro,

Kept treading, treading, till it seemed

That sense was breaking through.


And when they all were seated,                  5

A service like a drum

Kept beating, beating, till I thought

My mind was going numb.


And then I heard them lift a box,

And creak across my soul           10

With those same boots of lead, again.

Then space began to toll


As all the heavens were a bell,

And Being but an ear,

And I and silence some strange race,         15

Wrecked, solitary, here.


THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,

For, put them side by side, 

The one the other will include

With ease, and you beside.


The brain is deeper than the sea,                 5

For, hold them, blue to blue,         

The one the other will absorb,

As sponges, buckets do.


The brain is just the weight of God,

For, lift them, pound for pound,               10

And they will differ, if they do,

As syllable from sound.


TELL ALL the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —


HOPE is the thing with feathers     

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,


And sweetest in the gale is heard;              5

And sore must be the storm 

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.


I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;                10

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.


Other useful texts/ quotes:


“The Tell-tale Heart”- Poe (first paragraph)

“The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed –not dulled them”

“I heard many things in hell”


“The Yellow Wallpaper”- Gilman

“I remember what a kindly wink the knobs of our big, old bureau used to have, and there was one chair that always seemed like a strong friend” (650/4)

Exam Strategy

Disclaimer: This plan is tentative and is thus, subject to the whims of change over the next few days (not likely though).

Selected Texts

  1. “The Dream of the Rood”
  2. Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
  3. Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-tale Heart
  4. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper
  5. William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  6. Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”
  7. Derek Walcott, Dream on Monkey Mountain
  8. Emily Dickinson, “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain,” “The Brain is Wider than the Sky,” “Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant,” and “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers”
  9. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  10. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
  11. Virginia Woolf, “The Mark on the Wall”

My list is mainly comprised of texts that I am mostly familiar with and therefore feel capable of writing about. The few texts that I may not be familiar with, are ones that I intend to read or present on (like Monkey Mountain). I chose texts that I will be most comfortable writing about. As for the supplemental readings, I chose some of them based on the class presentations and others on how promising they looked at first skim (I still have some reading to do).

I have coupled the primary texts with the supplementary readings that I hope to use for each. I have not given any explanations for how I will be using each because I am still working that out, but I am pretty set on the pairing.


  • “The Dream of the Rood”- Steven Kruger, from Dreaming in the Middle Ages
  • Emily Dickinson, “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain,” “The Brain is Wider than the Sky,” “Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant,” and “Hope Is the Thing with Feathers” -Seo-Young Chu, Excerpts from Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep?: A Science Fictional Theory of Representation (considering whether I need to tackle all of the poems or just focus on a few; or does this depend on what my argument will be?)
  • Virginia Woolf, “The Mark on the Wall”- Karen Smyth, “Virginia Woolf’s Elegiac Enterprise”
  • Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener” -Unreadable Minds and the Captive Reader H. Porter Abbott

Historical Context

  • William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream -Larry Swain, “Exploring the Depth and Beauty of Anglo-Saxon Literature” (interview with James Wiener)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper -Jürgen Wolter, “‘The Yellow Wallpaper’: The Ambivalence of Changing Discourses”


  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man -W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk and/or William Lyne, “The Signifying Modernist: Ralph Ellison and the Limits of Double Consciousness”
  • Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-tale Heart -Jan Alber, et al, “Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology: Beyond Mimetic Models”
  • Harriet Jacobs,Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl -Homi K. Bhabha, Introduction to The Location of Culture
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant -Sebastian Groes, ed., Selected Essays from Memory in the 21st Century: New Critical Perspectives from the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences

Flexibility and Modularity

  • Along with the historical context, The Yellow Wallpaper, has room for being used in theory with Michel Foucault, “Panopticism” from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. I would consider discussing this idea with “Bartleby” or “The Mark on the Wall”.
  • I could work Derek Walcott’s, Dream on Monkey Mountain, into the genre of play-writing. There is also a possibility to discuss it in terms of dream theory, using Sebastian Groes, ed., Selected Essays from Memory. I have not finished reading this play yet, so these are only assumptions based on what I have already read.

I am sure that there are more texts that have flexibility of use, and I will be giving more thought about this aspect as I continue to prepare for the exam.

Bhabha & Company

For my group’s presentation, I had the task of identifying the thinker or texts that help the writer build his argument. This was an incredibly exhausting task, granted that, Homi Bhabha’s introduction to Location of Culture, was crawling with a large number of sources. My presentation primarily consisted of a lengthy attempt at revealing the instances where Bhabha used other works or thinkers, then I discussed how these works may or may not have helped to further the piece.

However, for this blog, I have opted for a different approach to make the critical context less exhaustive. While Bhabha mentions many references, he mainly focuses on two novels for constructing his argument. The first text he heavily focuses on is Toni Morrison’s, Beloved. He later begins working with Nadine Gordimer’s, My Son’s Story. He specifically discusses the placement of two female characters in these texts.

Bhabha posits that he has, “ended this argument with the woman framed—Gordimer’s Aila—and the woman renamed—Morrison’s Beloved—because in both their houses great world events erupted—slavery and apartheid—and their happening was turned, through that peculiar obscurity of art, into a second coming” (18). This indicates that the ways women function in a domestic space is highly contingent on the state of the government. The idea that these institutions of oppression are turned into a “second coming” was a bit confusing, but I assume it is referring to reconstruction of these worlds in a work of literature (this is something you may find useful or can completely ignore). This quote may be used to discuss womanhood in the political climate of the historical context for certain texts that lack division between the home and state. Regarding this, one may also discuss the stereotypes surrounding the domestic role of women and the role of men in politics. This could help with forming an argument based on male hegemony. A good text for discussing this is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper”. While this text does not address post-colonialism or the plight of the black woman, it can provide insight on the role of patriarchy inside and outside of the home.

To further this discussion, you may incorporate Bhabha’s use of the term, “unhomeliness”, which he credits to Henry James’, The Portrait of a Lady. In reference to this term, Bhabha explains that, “The recesses of the domestic space become sites for history’s most intricate invasions. In that displacement, the borders between home and world become confused; and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting” (9). The description of this as an “invasion”, is possibly the most helpful point in Bhabha’s statement. The affairs of the home should be addressed within that realm; however, political policies and public issues somehow find themselves within domestic walls. This is a good platform for discussing how this “invasion” is done and the ways that women are affected by it.