Emily Dickinson at Play

Gerard Holmes's picture
Call for Papers
September 30, 2018
Maryland, United States
Subject Fields: 
Humanities, Literature, Popular Culture Studies

Copied below is a call for paper proposals for an approved panel, Northeast MLA, Washington, DC, March 21-24, 2019, of which I am the convenor.  Please use the link below to submit proposals by September 30.  I will respond no later than October 15.

Emily Dickinson was playful. A fan of music and circuses, Dickinson also donned personas (for a time she signed her letters "Emilie," elsewhere she was "Daisy") and playfully assigned personas to others. She played piano, played against social expectations of a single woman, and played with niece and nephews. Her neighbor, MacGregor Jenkins, wrote of her running from her father as a party broke up, after playing her piano improvisation “The Devil”: “This was pure mischief and there was much of it in her.” In her poems, play was associated with childhood and maturity: "We play at Paste - / Till qualified, for Pearl -." It was nostalgic: "Let Us play Yesterday -." It allowed her to satisfy social expectations: "I play at Riches - to appease / The Clamoring for Gold -." And it could ironically depict what she called, in another setting, "Death's surprise": "She lay as if at play / Her life had leaped away -." Birds, bees, and the wind play as they move about the natural landscape. Dickinson's letters are full of play and playmates, and gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) teasing of friends and family. This panel welcomes papers discussing Dickinson at play, and play in Dickinson's writing or other creative endeavors. Proposals about punning and other wordplay, white dresses and other cosplay, and the plays of Shakespeare and other dramatic influences on Dickinson's aesthetics: all these themes and more are at play. This panel is open to papers engaging a variety of critical approaches: ludic theory, musicology, fandom studies, ecocriticism, and cultural studies, as well as close readings of Dickinson's, and others', work. The goal, in part, is to further liberate Dickinson from a critical imaginary that traps her in unhappily narrow notions of aesthetic purpose, and neat but constricting critical frames.

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Gerard Holmes

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