The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 21, 2006

Dickinson, Pozzi, Rosso
Connections in Harrison Lecture

Immortality and representation are not exactly subjects I tend to ponder while the rest of the world is prancing around in 80 degree weather, tube-topped and mini-skirted. However, yesterday afternoon when Oberlin’s springtime mania was reaching a fevered pitch, I found myself amongst a group of attentive students and professors waiting for a lecture on “Timeless Faces and Faceless Clocks.”

The lecture, given by Associate Professor of English DeSales Harrison, was a comparative analysis of the works of poets Emily Dickinson, Catherine Pozzi and sculptor Medardo Rosso. His argument was incredibly nuanced — it was no surprise that the majority of the people in the room seemed to be literary scholars.

Harrison began the lecture by reading three of Dickinson’s poems, specifically ones displaying her use of snow imagery. In one poem, Harrison took Dickinson’s “Disc of Snow” to be a clock. He supplemented this interpretation with an overhead projection of an image of a clock without numbers.

“If we attempt to imagine a clock without numbers, we fail.” Harrison argued. Turning the clock into a “Disc of Snow” was “not about death and judgment, but about the act of writing itself.” According to Harrison, Dickinson uses the “trope of whiteness” to stand for “dignity, poetic speech itself.” Writing is a necessarily failed attempt at timelessness.

Harrison suggests Dickinson in poem 788 has an “antithetical” intent and “wants the poem to be everything a monument is not.” The poem, he said, “expresses a desire not only to be unseeable, but unreadable.”

Snow imagery in the poem, taken to be poetry or art in general, is sold for payment. However, according to Harrison, “the mind, Dickinson insists, cannot be sold as a commodity.” Eventually it is returned to God, who is the “Merchant” in the poem, as (a very clever pun) “Royal Air.”

“Writing as defiance against time is always significant of our mortality,” Harrison argued, suggesting this message is at the root of Dickinson’s poem.

Catherine Pozzi also meditates on the inability to adequately represent human thought or form.

In her poems titled “Ave” and “Scopol-amine,” Harrison claims she suggests, “the shape of the human form is preserved, but only as an empty husk.” Poetry, despite its lofty feats, nevertheless is unable to do justice to the human form. However, Harrison argues, that is not the point of poetry — one does not “hope to preserve the self,” but rather draws attention to that which cannot be represented.

In the final segment of his lecture, Harrison focused on the work of sculptor Medardo Rosso. Instead of using a more traditional and sound material for his sculptors, such as bronze, Rosso uses wax on plaster in his busts titled “Jewish Child” and “Hidden Child.” Harrison suggests these materials “give luminosity of the expense of permanence. The frailty of the medium...asserts [the art work’s] transience,” what it must necessarily “transplant or destroy.”

Harrison concluded his analysis by stating the three artists had a similar perspective on the way art fails to capture the specificity and temporality of the human form, while at the same time insisting “images” are able to “release the human image wavering in visibility...on the threshold of time.”


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