Better than Beings: Dickinsonian Companionship and the Question of Nature

Jordan Lev Greenwald
Comparative Literature
UC Berkeley

The second chapter of the grantee’s dissertation argued that much of Emily Dickinson’s poetry poses a challenge to a central tenet of American Romanticism: namely, the Transcendentalist ideal of a poetic vision that looks beyond the particulars of the empirical and thus seeks unity between the world and the self. Rather than grasping toward an ever-expanding and all-encompassing poetic vision—one in which nature, God, and humanity blend into systematic harmony—Dickinson’s poems frequently stage the impasses of integration and communion. The grantee argued that Dickinson’s poems model an alternative to post-Kantian attempts—poetic and philosophical alike—to bridge the gap between the subject and the world, between phenomena and noumena. Though Dickinson may betray her Romantic predecessors in doing so, the chapter argued that her poetics of nature along with her theory of companionship (contra communion) might better effectuate a Romantic goal: receptivity to the co-presence of nonhuman entities. In analyzing a series of her poems on both nature and intimacy, the grantee thus explored the promise of Dickinsonian companionship as the grounds for ecological consciousness.