Paradox baffles and inspires thinkers because it wipes out the greatest of conclusions, puts us intimately in touch with the very nature of inexplicable feeling, both simultaneously implodes and explodes the mind, and of course induces a certain sensation, as Dickinson puts it, “as if the top of my head were taken off.” It seems to me that in art this is the fix we desire, where sensation obliterates logic. Dickinson's poetry is one of the few places I have so far found the paradoxic tendency so profoundly expressed. Therefore, I will take up the notion of paradoxic tension created by Dickinson, her method of dealing with the inner and the outer, expansion and contraction, the creation and destruction of boundary, and the mysterious ways in which these things interact, especially through the symbol of the spider.
In “The Spider holds a Silver Ball,” the spider, as creator, as weaver, contains “In unperceived Hands” (2) a glimmering medium of magic. From this silver ball, creation spins outward. The spider, viewed as poet, weaves outward from the center of inspiration. The hands are both somehow there and not there as they delicately “unwind” this intangeble yet “Silver” mass. The description of the invisible in physical terms characterizes one method by which Dickinson weaves paradox. The idea of the spider “dancing” portrays an outward movement, but Dickinson with a few words suddenly makes this action inward and private: “dancing softly to Himself” (3). The first stanza confirms the portrait of an “unperceived” artist performing her art outwardly and we find a sense of what art means to Dickinson—an outward gesture which originates in some unknown, private and inner pl...
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...rtist accomplishes informing herself of the inexplicable nature of the mind through the “strategy” of “physiognomy” (8-9) or revealing the inner aspects outwardly. Dickinson reveals the intangible through physical means; her language uses hard images such as the spider and the silver ball to outwardly communicate the boundless capacity of inner emotion and feeling. In the process she must create boundary, it is the only way to explain the unexplainable feelings with which the mind occupies itself; however, her next move is to destroy the very boundaries that she creates, showing just where and how these feelings originate, bringing them back. Physiognomy is clearly the Dickinson strategy, and it is that last line of “A Spider sewed at Night” that Dickinson stands up and proclaims, I am the spider and the spider is me and we are both everything and nothing—so there.
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