Posts Tagged ‘Emily Dickinson’

The Swing is the Thing

In 20th c. Literature, Questions for the Panel on January 30, 2009 at 2:12 pm

st-dupont-fountain-pen-usb-keyDean Williams, Kyoto

This man, who was graced with light,
who was chosen by the dread God,
who approached the dark clouds of Terror—

anon. Hebrew poem (The Death of Moses)

What is the son of Adam, that you should trouble over him?
Yet you made him only a little less than a god,
You have crowned his head with glory and honour,
You have made him govern the works of your hands,
You have put everything under his feet…

Psalm (8, Penguin Classics Ed., p 11)

A Thicket-like Beginning

Readers of my earlier post on Kafka will remember my hypothesis that the works of Kafka and Dickinson owe something of their peculiar power to the spiritual pendulum swing their lives described. As they alternately struggled with, defied, and rushed toward God, they forged their odd, oddly compelling little stories and poems:

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind–/ As if my Brain had split–/
I tried to match it—Seam by Seam–/But could not make them fit.
But also
Distance—is not the Realm of Fox/ Nor by Relay of Bird/
Abated—Distance is/Until thyself, Beloved.


More than once I have been tempted to call their writings afterthoughts to a life in truth dedicated to immanence, but that would be going too far. It seems clear that both took the craft of writing extremely seriously.  In the very short list of thoughts I believe I can guarantee fired off in their respective crania, one is, “I want to get better at this writing business.” They would not have worked year in and year out if it had not been important to them.  (We have more than 1700 poems by Dickinson!)

But I would distinguish their fundamental stance, what they thought they were doing when they put pen to paper, not only from all the poetasters, journeymen writers, hacks, pamphleteers and amateur scribblers like yours truly, but also from other major writers. Continue Reading


A Claim of Sorts on Kafka

In 20th c. Literature on January 10, 2009 at 3:58 pm

imagesDean Williams, Kyoto

I must say a lot of the modern/postmodern commentary on Kafka leaves me cold. The reason: to use an Arendtian term, we have “instrumentalized” this thinker/writer. We have made him a useful construct for our psycho/historico-social complex. We see him through the prism of post-communism, or our enduring fears of Big Brother–he was the canary in the coal mine warning of the encroaching bureacratism, corporatism, cold disembodied legalism to come–he has even entered our language, Kafkan/Kafkaesque. Now, this is certainly part of the Kafkan universe, and what makes him so achingly funny, so cruel, so important. And yet, it’s also profoundly untrue and misleading.

Kafka was not a pamphleteer, a polemicist, a theorizer, a philosopher. I think he wasn’t even a writer in the traditional sense, although he was of course marvelously sensitive to language.

Matthew mentioned Augustine, and I agree that Kakfa can more profitably be put into that select group of seers religious and/or spiritual seekers (other examples being Dickinson and Kierkegaard) who used language in a more or less public way (i.e., they wrote down what they thought and published the texts, or at least fitfully sought publication) in order to explore…what?

And here’s the key point for me: we stand on the other side of a great divide; Continue reading