Dickinson’s Precarious Steps, Surprising Leaps, and Bounds

Maurice S. Lee

in Uncertain Chances

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199797578
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932412 | DOI:
Dickinson’s Precarious Steps, Surprising Leaps, and Bounds

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Dickinson’s approach to the limitations of knowledge can be understood in terms of probabilistic expectation, which has profound epistemological and aesthetic consequences for her poetry. As chance becomes increasing visible in American thought and culture, Dickinson pushes beyond a romantic skepticism most powerfully represented by strands of Emerson’s thought to challenge from a probabilistic perspective the providential argument from design. Dickinson is a philosopher of science whose intellectual and formal experiments trace the dynamics between repetitious and aleatory experience. Painfully and wonderfully aware of the impossibility of perfect prediction, Dickinson’s poems enact and theorize chance through its affective correlative, surprise. Surprise not only describes the effects of Dickinson’s poetry, it also composes a philosophical and religious attitude toward a world that is experienced but never entirely known.

Keywords: Emily Dickinson; surprise; wonder; philosophy of science; Christianity; transcendentalism; Ralph Waldo Emerson; argument from design

Chapter.  16148 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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