Entry begun Monday, May 25, 10:05 pm
There is something beautiful, yet terrible, about the discipline of writing a blog. For someone used to writing scholarly books that sometimes take ten years to research and write, two more years to get published, and often another two years to get reviewed, the immediacy of this media is exhilarating. You can publish it as soon as you write it. You can write it for an immediate audience, not one a decade and a half hence. Because of this immediacy you can also aim for instantaneous expression of your thoughts and feelings, hoping that some of the glow of lived life might cling to what you post of what you saw, thought, and felt. The problem, of course, is that if your subject is itself all-consuming and multi-faceted, and if you are living your life for something more than only the blog while you are trying to write it, you are invariably falling behind. Tonight is exactly four weeks since our Moby-Dick Arts Fest ended on the evening of Monday, April 27, with our Covington reception and our Bellevue gam, and it was only this weekend that I was able to post that entry and now move on to an account of relevant events that have happened in the four weeks since—before moving on to what is in my immediate, and more distant, future.
In spite of the inherent contradiction of trying to give an instantaneous account of something that may have occurred days, a week, or even a month before, I love the challenge of trying to do so. There is a certain edge to it like maybe a tight-rope walker feels. And our consciousness can extend its reach and hopefully preserve its balance in imaginative time longer than our more easily exhaustible bodies are able to do in real time. I think of two Emily Dickinson poems in this regard. The first is a late poem, number 1585 in the Johnson edition, dated c. 1883, one of many which her bird song sings for us:
The Bird her punctual music brings
And lays it in its place —
Its place is in the Human Heart
And in the Heavenly Grace —
What respite from her thrilling toil
Did Beauty ever take —
But Work might be electric Rest
To those that Magic make —
What a phrase: “Work might be electric Rest.” Work can be as refreshing as rest when done for Beauty in the Human Heart. Toil can be thrilling and electric when the magic makes music that does lay punctually in its place.
Thanks to Thomas Johnson’s own decades of thrilling toil as a scholar, we have had since 1955 the 1775 Dickinson poems that we read at our NKU marathon this February in one collected edition. But as Emily herself wrote these poems (sometimes more than 300 a year in the early 1860s), they were more like a modern-day blog, posted one after another on the wings of inspiration, often in actual envelopes or notes to her friends, but often written to herself, preserved, tucked away, and sewn together, in hopes someone later might care. The most blog-like of her writings, perhaps, are those instantaneous phrases she jotted down as they came to her on whatever was handy—a torn envelope, the back of a receipt, the back of a chocolate wrapper—while they were fresh. These are the Georgeous Nothings that the thrilling toil of Marta Werner had turned into the book of that name just in time for my class in Dickinson and the Arts during the 2014 Spring Semester to savor on one of those graced days in the classroom when “Work might be electric Rest / To those that Magic make—.”
The other poem I am thinking of today in relation to my own current urge to blog is no. 605 in the Johnson edition, one of Dickinson’s several poems about spiders, one of 366 poems she is thought to have written in 1862:
The Spider holds a Silver Ball
In unperceived Hands –
And dancing softly to himself
His Yarn of Pearl — unwinds –
He plies from Nought to Nought –
In unsubstantial Trade –
Supplants our Tapestries with His –
In half the period –
An Hour to rear supreme
His Continents of Light –
Then dangle from the Housewife’s Broom –
His Boundaries — forgot –
The spider is working mainly for himself, out of himself, with no one watching, but he needs something to attach to, so he plants that Yarn of Pearl first here and then there, dancing to traverse the space in between, and from side to side, until the new web is woven, resembling earlier webs in innate design, but adapting to the contingencies of each new time and place, his own equivalent of the “mat-making” process in which “chance, free will, and fate” work “interweavingly together” in Melville’s Moby-Dick. In Dickinson’s poem, the spider’s “Continents of Light” are easily destroyed by “the Housewife’s Broom,” but he is presumably off to his next work space by then.
A blog entry may not be read at all, but if it is read, the reactions, like the posting itself, can be almost instantaneous–as were the many responses I received yesterday after posting my last Moby-Dick Arts Fest entry. Of course we do, like the spider, require some external structure on which to weave our web. If WordPress goes out of business, this blog would be as helpless as the spider web dangling from the housewife’s broom. This happened to Sarah Dewald shortly after our 2014 Spring Semester class in Dickinson and the Arts. She had created quite a magnificent blog on the Juxta platform for her final project, but juxta had gone out of business while Emma Rose and I were working on the Dickinson catalog—without informing its users. This destroyed in one instantaneous, unperceived moment the glorious web of words and images Sarah had woven during the last month of our class. Fortunately, Emma Rose had harvested some of the blog post title pages before the site went down and was able to include them in a two-page spread for Sarah in our Dickinson catalog.
After the site went down, I was able to secure from Sarah a digital file of her Modern Daguerreotype photo diptych that I could print and frame for the Dickinson exhibition that Emma Rose and I mounted in early February and took down on May 11. That framed diptych is now in my office at the university. When I teach my first graduate class in Dickinson and the Arts in the fall, I will be table to lift it off the wall, carry it down the corridor and across the hall, and hang it in the classroom for a new group of students who will be creating research papers and creative projects of their own in response to the poems in the Johnson edition.