Emily Dickinson’s remark that “Nature is a haunted house ─ but Art ─ is a house that tries to be haunted” encapsulates her poetic philosophy. In juxtaposing “art” and “haunted house,” Dickinson suggests that, in her poetics, the poet must have both active and passive attitudes to create “true” art. Critics have long examined the theme of the “home/house” in Dickinson’s poetry, primarily highlighting the biographical and socio-cultural contexts. However, “house poems” are central to Dickinson’s poetics. Specifically, they constitute meta-poetry in that they incorporate her special technique for capturing poetry. With her proto-modernist sensibility, Dickinson proposes that words are inadequate to fully convey what she wants to present. True poetry, according to Dickinson’s definition, can be identified by its inexplicable nature. As if challenging the antinomy of poetry writing which is to express something indescribable in words, house images represent Dickinson’s paradoxical approach to “writing without writing.” Dickinson considers herself as a “Carpenter” of “Temples,” thereby equating house building with writing. “House” and “carpenter” serve as metaphors for poetry and poet, or a linguistic construction and its builder/writer. Using this comparison, Dickinson communicates her philosophy that poetry is the “Circumference” that outlines the “center” of meaning. A carpenter builds the house, an external structure, but cannot fill its interior space with content on her own. Similarly, the poet’s role involves creating the poem as a form of linguistic architecture, but the essence of poetry emerges from outside of the poet’s control. Thus, the poet entices and welcomes the unknown that cannot be articulated, what she calls “shapeless friend,” as a guest, to make the “house” complete. Only when the poetic composition becomes “haunted,” or inhabited by visitors, does the poet capture poetry alive in the “linguistic house.” What is especially insightful about Dickinson’s poetics is its implication that a poet cannot complete a true poem, but must let the words fill themselves with mystery and wonder. Therefore, poetry composition is the act of preparing an empty container or house, for something that transcends human understanding to emerge and occupy this emptiness. This process resembles the construction of a “temple,” a place for a divine presence, as suggested by the definition of “Art” as a house “haunted” by others. Instead of being a “creator” who monopolizes the language, the poet works as a modest “temple carpenter,” in awe of the mystical process of writing.
In Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, gestures using the fingers/hands and the sense of touch are richly depicted. Examining the effect of these tactile depictions seems important when we consider that the final line from a lyric poem by E. E. Cummings, in which words such as “fingers,” “touch,” and “texture” are utilized as key terms, is attached to an edition of Menagerie as an epigraph: “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” However, critics have tended to focus on visual effects/sensations, mainly because they pay attention to the cinematic techniques Williams employs in the play. In this paper, I will discuss the use of hand/finger gestures and the depiction of tactility in a wider sense, and will consider their relationship to the playwright’s consistent interest in painting. Several studies on art in the 1930s set forth the opinion that “touch,” or the role played by hands in the process of creating art like paintings, had disappeared as a result of the rise of reproductive techniques like photography. They considered how the roles of hands had been replaced by those of eyes. Similarly, in Menagerie, which is explicitly set in the 1930s, the depictions of hands/fingers and tactile effects/sensations are, in many cases, contraposed to those of eyes and visual effects/sensations, and such contrasts seem to characterize the confrontation between painting and photography. First, in Menagerie, the playwright explains his notion of “plastic theatre,” a new theatrical concept, and compares the conventional realistic play to photography. According to him, a photographic likeness, ostensibly depicting things objectively, is unimportant; instead, he considers “atmospheric touches” to be particularly important in the plastic theatre. Memory, which “takes a lot of poetic license,” can change the form of things it touches and transform them to represent the truth. It is noteworthy in this context that recent critics recognize a parallel between German painter Hans Hofmann’s notion of “plasticity” and the plastic theatre. Thus, the word “touch(es),” which the playwright uses to explain his new concept, becomes associated with the artistic term “touch,” merging the acts of writing and painting intimately. Second, Laura, who is compared to a religious painting and who is similar to an artistic work in that she has what Walter Benjamin calls an “aura,” is described with rich reference to the gestures of her hands/fingers, in contrast to other characters, who are notably compared to photography and other reproductive works. Furthermore, the conflict between the two senses of touch and sight illuminates Laura’s relationship with her tiny glass animals: she usually cures herself by touching them, but in her most tragic scene, we notice that they have lost their power to cure her and have become mere objects, sadly reflected in her eyes. Nonetheless, Williams impressively describes the revivification of tactility when Laura takes Jim’s hand and places the broken glass unicorn in his palm. Here, in a sense, she bravely opens herself to a dialogic relationship with others through the tactile sense. It is due to her bravery that Tom decides to tell his sister’s story not as a poem but as a play, a dialogic form that always expects the existence of an audience; the intertextual analysis of related short fictions by the playwright enables us to see the fingers/hands as a sort of “point of origin” where Tom and Laura overlap beyond time and space, clarifying at once the poetic and political strategy of writing/painting in The Glass Menagerie.
Richard Powers’ The Gold Bug Variations, like his other works, has a style unique to the author, who always connects disparate ideas to foreground hidden, global networks beyond our local perception. In this monumental third novel, however, his authorial style of connecting many variegated motifs that are usually perceived as unrelated is highlighted to such an exceptional degree that it self-reflexively seems to become a thematic motif: translation. Although some scholars have analyzed this feature from different perspectives, such as the theme of encoding, narrative ecology, and intertextuality, the novel’s repeated allusion to A Midsummer Night’s Dream has not attracted enough attention for its significance in the thematic motif of translation, which unites apparently unrelated ideas such as Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and genetics. This essay aims to analyze the novel’s allusion to the quoted dialogue between the mechanicals from the perspective of the novel’s uniting motif. Several correspondences between The Gold Bug Variations and A Midsummer Night’s Dream indicate that Jan’s repeated allusion to Quince’s question about the representation of moonlight on stage should not only be considered in the context of the quoted dialogue but also in the context of the whole play. The problem of representation discussed by the mechanicals in the scene quoted in the novel is later picked up by Theseus, whose argument on theatrical representation shares the idea of collaboration with Jan’s theory of translation. To Jan, translation in an ideal sense is a bi-directional act performed by two defective languages in collaboration with each other to achieve meaning in the purest form. This theory of translation applies to Powers’ treatment of the disparate motifs in The Gold Bug Variations. It could be argued that the hierarchical structure Jay A. Labinger discovered in the novel is based on the principle of translation. One representative example of Jan’s theory of translation is her own repeated allusions to Quince’s line about how to represent moonlight on stage. They are not intended simply as alluding to a specific element of the quoted dialogue; as she repetitively alludes to Quince’s question, they become adapted into the context of the novel by various degrees. First, the allusions to Quince’s question reflect the context of the original play; however, as the novel progresses, Jan begins to apply the spatial model of Quince’s question to the metaphorical and often cryptic description of her desire. This “translation” of Quince’s question, “to bring the moonlight into a chamber” into the novel’s context is finally achieved in the scene of Jan and Franklin’s reunion. The theme of translation suggested in the reunion scene hints to a reading of the metafictional twist at the very end of the novel. Examining A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a pivotal intertext will shed some light on how disparate motifs in The Gold Bug Variations are intertwined through the principle of translation to form a sense of coherent unity.
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