Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Matthew K. Gold

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Digital Humanities | Educational Methods | Language and Literacy Education | Language Interpretation and Translation | Liberal Studies | Modern Literature | Other Arts and Humanities | Other Rhetoric and Composition | Poetry | Reading and Language | Rhetoric


Deformation, Pedagogy, Poetry, Interpretation, Dickinson, Digital Humanities


This thesis examines the pedagogical usefulness of the antithetical reading model of textual deformation for the study of poetic works. No formal pedagogical plan exists for the education of students in poetic studies through textual deformance. This thesis does not go as far as structuring one in its entirety. Rather, it surveys the digital humanities landscape, showing a collective affinity within a number of textual studies approaches that advocate for textual deformance as useful for interrogating texts, and aligns the overlapping symmetries within those working methodologies with pedagogical imperatives like those embedded in Ryan Cordell’s Kaleidoscopic Pedagogy Laboratory—the intent being an uncommon focus on pedagogy within the digital humanities umbrella, and formal linking of disparate yet complementary methodologies across the disciplines.

In their paper “Deformance and Interpretation,” Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann—perhaps as an analgesic for traditionalists—argue that all interpretation is a deformative act. Through their analysis of antithetical reading models, they come to the conclusion that meaning is important not as “explanation but as residue.” The authors begin with an analysis of a deformative reading approach inspired by a prose fragment by Emily Dickinson:

Did you ever read one of her Poems backward, because the plunge from the front overturned you? I sometimes (often have, many times) have—a Something overtakes the Mind—

--Emily Dickinson, Prose Fragment 30

Reading a poem backward engenders an intellectual reorientation, one that can be necessary for certain types of analysis. Furthermore, they explain an implicit aspect of the musing in the Dickinson prose fragment that the “rhetorical power of a work of art will ultimately work against itself, dulling our sense of its own freshness.” Through a number of in-depth case studies, this thesis takes this line of thought forward, claiming that all textual deformation is pedagogical. Through reading a poem last line first, the intelligible becomes the consequence of a generative act on the part of the reader, the student of the poetic work. From this vantage, the question the student is asking is no longer, “what does the poem mean?” but “how do we release or expose the poem’s possibilities of meaning?” That being said, all interpretation comes packaged with an intellectual or theoretical agenda. What deliberate textual deformation does is positions the student as a contributor to that agenda in a pedagogically productive fashion.