Filreis on Dickinson From: afilreis (Al Filreis)
Subject: Re: Finite Infinity
Date: Sat, 20 Jan 1996 13:06:17 -0500 (EST)

Evan wrote:

There are solitudes - space of openness; unsurrounded. Sea - adrift - elemental . Death - this is terminal (finite) solitude. She refers to all of these "solitudes" as society. What does she mean by society?

That's, Evan, what makes me so interested in this poem - and in Dickinson. She challenges us with impossible comparisons. We ask, indignantly or puzzled: "If *that* solitudinous stuff is SOCIETY, that you must REALLY have a strong sense of self-containment! Yourself itself! Wow!" ED is amazing in saying: we too easily, traditionally, think of natural solitude as solitude, but in fact it's a form of convening. The ultimate non-convening is inviolate but constructed ("artificial" in the positive sense - as in "art" or "artifice") - my mind, my self, my inwardness.

Thus (in another poem) she is a more powerful volcano than Vesuvius. And thus her poems are postcards from the volcano!

You can perhaps tell that I am a particular fan of Whitmanian extensiveness, of "society," of a thinginess in poetry, even of description (so long as it asks questions about whether description suffices)...but I hope it's also obvious that I grudgingly but with great admiration accept the Dickinsonian as THE modern mode!

Takers on this point?


Kent wrote: Just a few thoughts on a finite infinity. I do not see as clearly the religious undertones. For me I see a depressed isolated individual. Many depressed people relate a similar state: withdrawn infinite isolation, a defined finite world that is unescapable/infinite. Perhaps this is too literal, or too clinical, or too contemporary; she just seems profoundly depressed in this poem. Kent

I would love to hear a rejoinder on the point, but I don't think, Kent, that depression is here. I see extraordinary (to the point of non-social, or a "new" concept of "social") self-admission and self-containment and thus self-reliance. This is Emerson taken so seriously that it's almost "unAmerican"! She challenges the very notion of the social. It's powerful stuff, I think.--Al