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``A vice for voices'': Emily Dickinson's dialogic voice from the borders

Erika Christina Scheurer, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Approaching the concept of voice in the contexts of literary and composition theory and pedagogy, I design a theoretical framework for voice in text informed by the theory of Mikhail Bakhtin and the poetry and letters of Emily Dickinson. I use this framework as a means for bringing into dialogue literary and composition studies, using the concept of voice as a common ground between the fields. Ultimately, the approach to voice in text I advocate in our work as readers, writers, and teachers is centered on dialogue; this voice has qualities of both powerful presence and de-centered multiplicity; it is an engaging voice that speaks from cultural and intellectual borders.^ Using her letters and poems, I establish Dickinson's approaches to speech and writing as revealing an intense interest in the power of dialogic voice. This appreciation of dialogue links directly to her epistemology (which involves the active engagement of the thinker in the creation of knowledge) and to her poetic project (which involves the active engagement of the reader in the creation of the text). Dickinson's texts engage the reader through her dialogic voice, a voice that consciously reaches backward and forward in response and in question, gaining its power from her positions at intellectual and cultural borders.^ Between the chapters I include "InterVoicings," close readings of eight of Dickinson's poems and one letter, in which I illustrate the kind of reading my theoretical framework elicits. By describing the challenges of physically voicing Dickinson's texts ("signing" them with intonation), I uncover the dialogues within them--the ways various voices engage one another--and also their silences, silences in which we may speak.^ Ultimately, I examine the implications of my reading of Dickinson for literary and composition theory and pedagogy. I suggest ways that we as readers, writers and teachers might empower our voices and those of our students by identifying intellectual and cultural borders, and encouraging dialogic--not monologic--forms of discourse and pedagogy. ^

Subject Area

American literature|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Scheurer, Erika Christina, "``A vice for voices'': Emily Dickinson's dialogic voice from the borders" (1993). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9408342.