“The Networked Recluse”

A digital format lends itself perfectly to the dynamism of Dickinson’s compositional practice and to a rich evocation of the people, places, objects and events that shaped her world.

Digital tools revolutionized Dickinson studies by making the manuscripts of her writing broadly available to scholars and readers, who finally have access to the works unmediated by editors.

These same tools liberate Dickinson from a print culture and technology she found inhospitable, which perpetuated myths about her as reclusive, isolated, and even mad.

Cover of Exhibition Catalog / Morgan Library

In 2016, the Morgan Library mounted an exhibit of Dickinson’s life and work called “The Networked Recluse.” This resonant phrase highlights her extensive social and cultural connections and the importance of digital technology for a renovated conception of her imaginative world.  In the exhibit’s catalogue, scholar Marta Werner undertakes to “unbind” Dickinson from 19th and 20th century print conventions and “unedit” her texts. She encourages us to rethink the poems as dynamic “pagescapes,” “acts of freedom,” “constellations” and “cartographies” of worlds as yet unexplored. Online presentation offers a multimodal means of displaying these restless performances, while the logic of design, of image and screen, frees users from the presumed stability or impermeability of author, text and object.