Yellow: Decoding Emily Dickinson

THU, FEB 24, 2011 (1:14:38)

The Amherst poet Emily Dickinson remains an enigmatic and therefore fascinating figure in American literature and popular culture. While the poetic genius of the “woman in white” is widely recognized, the person behind the poems remains a mystery. Biographers, most recently Lyndall Gordon in Lives Like Loaded Guns, have looked to the data of history–-letters, memoirs, etc.–-to explain Dickinson. Others have looked to her poetry as a code to her personality and hidden inner life. In 1962 Swiss-born Hans Werner Luescher wrote to T.J. Wilson, then Director of Harvard University Press, “In the course of my painstaking analysis of the symbols, similes, and parables contained in Emily Dickinson’s poems, I have come to discover the central fact of the life of the poet.” Lynn Margulis, famously applying her unique scientific perspective to her favorite poet, responds to Luescher’s lifework “decoding Dickinson.” How is Luescher’s work related to Amherst scholar, Ruth Owen Jones’, far more reliable identification of Emily’s Master figure? How did Margulis, the evolutionist, become interested in Dickinson anyway?

+ BIO: Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis is a professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is best known for her theory of symbiogenesis, which challenges a central tenet of neodarwinism. Professor Margulis, who participates in hands-on teaching activities at levels from middle to graduate school, is the author of many articles and books. The most recent include Symbiotic Planet: A new look at evolution (1998) and Acquiring Genomes: A theory of the origins of species (2002), co-written with Dorion Sagan. Over the past two decades, Professor Margulis has co-written a number of books with Sagan, among them, What is Sex? (1997), What is Life? (1995), Mystery Dance: On the evolution of human sexuality (1991), Microcosmos: Four billion years of evolution from our microbial ancestors (1986), and Origins of Sex: Three billion years of genetic recombination (1986). In 2007, as part of the ScienceWriters series, Margulis and Sagan published a collection of essays Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature and Margulis published Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love, a memoir of her life in science. Margulis was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1983 and received the Presidential Medal of Science in 1999 from William J. Clinton. The Library of Congress announced in 1998 that it will permanently archive her papers. Lynn Margulis was also a faculty mentor at Boston University for 22 years.

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