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Between the mid-1990s and the present, a poetics of digitization emerged around Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts, performed primarily by the members of the Emily Dickinson Editorial Collective. Translating Dickinson’s work across archival sources, scanned images, typographic transcripts, and coding languages has offered Dickinson’s editors an escape from the determinism that accompanied the age of print and an opportunity to highlight the continuum along which the poet composed her body of work. Through multimodal, interactive exhibits, electronic editors of the Dickinson corpus often seek to demonstrate that no one medium is sufficient to represent the range of meaning implied in Dickinson’s body of work. Following the treatment of Dickinson modeled by scholars such as Susan Howe, electronic editors enact a kind of lyric self-reflexivity, gradually shifting from a reflection on poetic form and metre to issues of platform and materiality. At the present moment, one in which print and electronic versions coexist alongside each other, Dickinson textual scholarship is still guided by the “invisible hand” of the lyric genre and the expectations associated with it. And yet, the more readers encounter Dickinson primarily in virtual environments, searching scanned and encoded manuscripts and interpreting them alongside typed transcriptions, the more efforts to read Dickinson in traditional generic terms will continue to be unsettled. This essay describes a lineage of textual scholars who, working with Dickinson’s corpus, have made media environments into a constitutive element of genre-making.


Originally published in Textual Cultures, vol. 10, no. 1, pp.1–36. doi: 10.14434/19292

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