Thursday, October 14, 2010

The good news is that my blood pressure's normal.

The bad news is that I have Lyme disease, for a second time. (I first contracted it a year and a half ago.) But I've taken care of it as quickly as I could - within two days of discovering the welt on my arm - and went to the doctor this morning. No, I was never aware of being visited, let alone bitten by a tick. The doctor confirmed (for $141) that indeed it's the classic bull's eye rash and put me on a 21-day regimen of antibiotics that I've already begun to take. I have a mild temperature and flu-like aches & pains - and yet I'm still hoping to go to Amherst, though I don't know. Ah, I certainly don't mean to keep anyone in tedious suspense (self & D included) about that. Bummer though. Probably I should stay home. Or maybe if I make myself some cups of hot lemon tea...

Back with steaming cup of hot lemon tea, must put honey on the list.

There was the most beautiful fog this morning. Now it's sun, and later it's supposed to rain.

5:30. Not going to Amherst. Pouring rain out, I'm feeling physically better but didn't have a good day (between pricey L.D. diagnosis, new camera malfunctioning, Firefox crashing - and so forth).

I'm sorry I couldn't get to hear Lyndall Gordon tonight. Among other things I was interested in how she presents herself and responds to critics who accuse her of inaccuracies (nay - "falsehoods," "sensationalizing," "sentimentalizing," etc.) Shades of a witch hunt. Dusting off my Shirley Jackson.

I had issues (in my own reading) with a paper that a Dickinson scholar, Margaret H. Freeman, posted on the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson page over the weekend. It has since been clarified that the professor's piece is excerpted from a much longer "white" paper, which presumably more fully explicates her argument (I have not seen a link to it, however, unless I'm missing it).

I typed a bit of a rant this afternoon, but though I was typing fast & furious just to get it down I didn't want to post it, didn't wish to have a semblance of the same tone that I had issues with. So I'll just touch on a couple of points.

I don't believe that Gordon, despite her credentials, intended to write a pedantic "academic" biography. And indeed she did not. She wrote a highly engaging one, and unless someone wishes to challenge her documented footnotes - she has an argument to make. One might not agree with her conclusions - but like a legal brief, she makes a case. I would not rely exclusively on Gordon's account to reach an understanding of Dickinson. But Gordon does shine a light on facets of her fascinating subject that have not been considered before.

To mention another small example of issues I had with Freeman's piece, the professor writes:
Dickinson once wrote: "The Biography of the Blossom might perhaps endear it --" (L786). I follow Dickinson in believing biography should be written to enrich our understanding in such a way that we are "endeared" to its subject in appreciating the human joys and sorrow, failures and achievements, that make the life of such a subject (both poet and poem) worth contemplating and reading about.
I looked up Dickinson's letter. It's easily googleable; it's #789, not 786, but no matter. More to the point, in my reading of her text (annotated by Johnson), Dickinson never placed any edict whatever, let alone a narrowly prescribed one, on the function of Biography. Johnson writes that ED enclosed a posy in a piece of correspondence, the meaning of which might have been lost on the recipient - so ED uses the word "biography" metaphorically - that is, she tells the little story surrounding this particular bloom, so that its meaning would be instantly and powerfully illuminated to the recipient - whose mother had sent it to E.D.

I do believe that Gordon's biography (among others I have read in recent months, no one of which I rely on exclusively) enriched my understanding. I do not read any biography - let alone one of Dickinson - with any expectation or desire to be cozily "endeared" to a subject. A subject may in fact be quixotic, contradictory, infuriating, inconsistent, confusing, forever enigmatic. It is up to the biographer to reveal aspects such as these.

Whatever the controversies surrounding it, I found Gordon's biography worth reading and contemplating. If there is indeed a substantial pattern of significant errors of fact that cause Gordon's conclusions as a whole to be invalid, then I believe it is the duty of an "academic" scholar to systematically and dispassionately critique it. The ability to do so is clearly beyond the purview of the lay reader.

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