“Let Us Strive Together To Part With Time More Reluctantly”: The Gorgeous Nothings and Temporality

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by lola192

In the preface to Emily Dickenson The Gorgeous Nothings, Susan Howe explains that Dickenson expressed an interest in time and temporality. In a letter to a friend, Dickenson had written, “Let us strive together to part with time more reluctantly, to watch the pinions of the fleeting moment until they are dim in the distance and the new coming moment claims our attention” (7). As Howe says, Dickenson’s envelope writings “are suggestive, not static” (7). Whilst she admits that she hopes that “someday [these gorgeous nothings] will be exhibited in a gallery situation because so often these singular objects balance between poetry and the visual arts”, even being collected in a book, in their suggestiveness, the envelope writings possess a temporal power all their own that appeals to the reader’s concept of time (6). From the need for transcriptions to the postmarked envelope fronts, the text draws us into a past that is very much Dickenson’s present, leading us to switch our temporal framework. I believe that letters and handwritten notes, like Dickenson’s envelope writings, break normative modes of temporality – allow us a longer-lasting relationship with time – as they enable the past to become ‘available’ within the present. This is not simply because, as common sense dictates, letters and notes must have been written prior to them being sent or read. Rather, letters and handwriting serve to confuse or decay temporal relationships. They do so insofar as they bring the past into an active dialogue with the present by preserving the writer’s identity within their script or they promote temporary stagnation within that same present. Simply put, handwritten letters and the like disclose particular identities whilst skewing the perception of time in some way.

Take an iconic scene from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. In reading and reflecting upon Catherine’s marginalia, Lockwood summons Catherine’s ghost. Reaching out to stop what he believes to be the obnoxious knocking of a tree branch against the nearby window, Lockwood’s fingers instead “closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand. The intense horror of the nightmare came over me; I tried to draw back my arm, but, the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in – let me in!’” (Bronte, 25).  Lockwood and Catherine become physically connected within an obscured temporal space of both past and present on account of her handwritten margin notes and his act of reading them. As Katherine Rowe posits in her book Dead Hands: Fictions of Agency, Renaissance to Modern, even the narrative time becomes momentarily stalled at the arrival of the ghostly hand: “Even in their prose incarcerations, these sudden hands have what might be called a lyric temporality and effect: they interrupt, shock, and freeze the scene” (119).

Additionally, like Dickenson’s envelope writings, there is a privacy to Catherine’s handwritten notes that we as readers feel Lockwood is, to a certain extent invading. Like Angie remarks in her post, Dickenson’s notes, “scribbled on scraps of paper and envelopes, [were] never intended for a readership let alone wide publication”. Lockwood’s innocent foray in to Catherine’s private thoughts allows him further access to a temporality that is not his own. 

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