Apophasis, Différance and the Poetry of Emily Dickinson

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Gary Grund

Document Type



Faculty of Arts and Sciences




After nearly one hundred years of publication and copious literary criticism, Emily Dickinson remains one of the most enigmatic figures in American literature and her poetry among the most inscrutable. In deceptively simple ballad stanza, Dickinson can be by turns, mysterious or playful or deadly serious or misleading or insightful or obscure, but, above all, puzzling. Her poems consistently and continually resist easy paraphrase or simple interpretation, very often towards the end of challenging accepted "truth" by revealing inherent contradictions. She has some clear affinities to both the methodologies of apophatic discourse and to différance, which Derrida himself has said are virtually indistinguishable. By analyzing Dickinson's style and content and by offering readings of a number of her poems, I ask the reader to understand her poetry in a postmodern theoretical context that makes deconstruction a viable reading strategy.