Advanced schools of literary research today concur in their disapproval of unscaffolded interpretations of texts that “overhear” the presumed self-communing voices of authors in their solitude. Choosing from among the many antihermeneutic arguments, this essay responds in the main to the “historical poetics” of Virginia Jackson’s Dickinson’s Misery, with its reconsideration of the lyric poem and its place in the canon and reading practices of modern criticism. Neither direct interpretation of a text that lacks focus on its modes of circulation and transmission nor indeed any sort of interpretation at all has been a constant in the history of criticism. Interpretation has coincided only with periods in which literature as “secular scripture” was considered at once culturally important and difficult to understand—and not even always then, as modernist texts aimed to constitute their own interpretations. If poetry is understood as statement embedded in language, and if it is still both important and difficult, perhaps we can reserve a place for interpretations that are not wholly dependent on the mediatic circumstances of which Jackson and others have taught us to be more fully aware.

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