Thursday, 30 April 2015 20:00

4. Emily Dickinson’s Epistolary Poetics and Philosophical Practice

Written by

The practice of letter-writing has a long history in philosophy. A key-text of the Hellenistic tradition is Epicure's famous Letter to Menoeceus. It is not hard to imagine why letters have always been of importance for philosophical practice. Philosophical practice is, above all, a dialogue. And what else are letters been but silent dialogues between friends in absence, as the humanists claim?

Two types of letters are especially significant for philosophical practice: letters of advice and letters of consolation. The letters of Emily Dickinson belong to the second category. The poetess from Amherst was a keen writer of letters. What strikes the reader is that poetry and correspondence seem to cross each other. It is as if Emily Dickinson have had invented a new form, the intimate epistolary poem, where the prose of the letter moves gradually to verse and vice versa.

These letters of consolation were written in cases of loss, disease or absence, in an era marked among others by the American Civil War and a very high child mortality. As already suggested, these letters are far more than expressions of condolence. What strikes the reader is that these letters do not have the hesitant empathy most letters of consolation can usually not avoid, but rather reveal a confident Stoic.

The corpus of Dickinson's poetry has, one could say, a cosmic dimension. Its lyricism always carries a big picture about the wonder of existence. Consequently, a part of it is about the initial existential wonderment, that comes from time to time in life and is strongly connected with birth, loss or death as constituting moments of existence. It is like an attunement with existential dispositions of being.

If wonderment is an essential disposition and the main aim of philosophical practice, as many philosophical practitioners – especially Finn Hansen – claim, the epistolary poetics of Emily Dickinson should be read as lucid manifestations of wonderment in the sense of philosophical practice.





Read 2569 times
Manos Perrakis

I am a philosophical practitioner from Athens, Greece, based in Berlin, where I received my Ph.D. from Humboldt University. My areas of interest are History of Philosophy, Contemporary Philosophy, Aesthetics (Philosophy of Music), Philosophical Anthropology and Practical Philosophy.

As a philosophical practitioner, I offer education and consulting services for individuals and organizations. I have conducted philosophical cafés for the wide public and workshops for counseling professionals. My current focus lies on the development of education and consulting formats inspired by philosophy and literature.

My book publications include a monograph on Nietzsche’s philosophy of music in German, a novel in Greek, and an anthology of Early German Romanticism.

For more information, please visit Contact: