Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Opening: ",my Verse is alive': An Exhibition Presenting the Curious Journey of Emily Dickinson's Poetry," 15 September



On 15 September, the Emily Dickinson Museum opened its BookMarks exhibition, on the book-historical aspects of Dickinson's poetry. Karen Dandurand (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) delivered a talk on the publication of the few poems that appeared in print during Dickinson's lifetime, "Re-envisioning Dickinson's 19th Century Audience."

The Dickinson Museum programming is known for its accessible yet learned lectures by leading scholars. What marked a departure this time was the launching of a full-fledged exhibition, which was a bold move in more ways than one, e.g. given that the Museum has no permanent display space.

The solution arrived at by the directors and exhibit designer Michael Hanke is strikingly efficient and elegant and suggests just what the Museum could do if and when it acquires the resources and formal exhibition facilities that it deserves.

More to come in these pages concerning the exhibition.

1 comment:

Christopher Luna said...

It's been some time since the opening of this event took place, so my thoughts are not as fresh on it. But perhaps it is better, as I have had quite some time to consider many of the questions of authorship raised by Dandurand's talk at the opening, and questions of authorship beyond.

I was initially moved by the idea that writers some centuries ago may not have been as monetarily and, I don't know, pridefully?-- attached to their works-- that the idea of being paid for something that they put to words out of the common store of human knowledge seemed unseemly and embarrassing, at least to some.

Thinking about what Emily wrote about her own poems, and the manner in which she was and was not read, I find myself intrigued by the notion that ownership of a written work can inspire so many different emotions. From a sense of frustrating isolation, to a self-imposed sense of isolation, to a sense of isolation celebrated and deliciously enjoyed. I wonder how much Emily considered her poems to be personal crystallizations of common human truths, and if she did why she should guard them so jealously, and with such seeming delight.

It's had me thinking about how authorship will change as methods of publishing change... and would it be right to even call them methods of printing? Open access online journals seem to display the opposite philosophy of Dickenson-- that the knowledge contained within them should be free. But does this freedom itself come from an assertion of ownership? Perhaps for many, it is a response to academic journals that do not pay contributors for their work, but charge the academic community increasingly exorbitant amounts of money for access to them. Perhaps the open access journal movement is one more of an assertion of ownership than of its lack: "This knowledge is mine, and I'll be damned if you can charge other people for it."

And what about blogs and internet community pages? Here, transparency seems to be the key-- the social networking sites and blogs are usually freely accessible to everyone, but there's some stubborn assertion of individuality and ownership at work here, too. This is me, my site, and every little detail of my life or what I think is interesting in the world has been arranged here as I see fit. They want to share themselves with the world in many cases, but they want to share so badly because it is themselves that they are sharing.

Is this a new direction for authorship? A high sense of ownership, a high sense of personal crafting and individuality, freely available to all as an assertion of ownership? Undoubtedly it's more complicated than that, but it seems that authorship will go in curious directions... and bearing witness to the directions that Emily took it is inspiring as a remind of the depth with which some authors have considered and examined it.