The Invisible Hand of the Lyric: Emily Dickinson’s Hypermediated Manuscripts and the Debate over Genre

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Dominique Zino


The guiding force at work is no longer that of the intentional patriarchic editor behind the scenes that Howe condemned three decades ago. Rather, in a moment in which print and electronic versions coexist, an "invisible hand" guiding Dickinson textual scholarship is that of the enduring influence of the lyric genre itself. As the next generation of readers encounter Dickinson primarily in virtual environments, viewing scanned typed texts from various editions alongside manuscript versions­, efforts to read Dickinson in traditional generic terms will be unsettled. Thirty years after Howe's important intervention, this essay describes how critics have come to consider media environments as a constitutive element of genre-making rather than an afterthought.  After recounting a recent debate over the relationship between genre and medium among Dickinson scholars, I revisit Thomas Wentworth Higginson's preface to the first edition of Dickinson's Poems (1890) to demonstrate that knowledge structures in a digital age—what new media scholars call "folksonomies"—require us to conceptualize media and genre side by side. As readers encounter Dickinson's work exposed, transcribed, and described down to the smallest material detail in electronic environments, a next generation of Dickinson textual scholars will need to keep one eye on contextualizing and historicizing Dickinson's materials and another on understanding how generic classifications are established and how they endure.


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Author Biography

Dominique Zino, LaGuardia Community College (CUNY)

Assistant Professor of English


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