Before I got my Eye put out -
Over-expose, v. trans. To expose too much; spec. in Photogr. to expose (a sensitized plate) to the light for too long a time.
Ultimately--or at the limit--in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes.
Could you believe me without?
The single and singular daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson disappeared almost as soon as it was developed. As Benjamin knew, the "god-forsaken world" (247) into which the face of the early photographs vanished was the bourgeois interior. Perhaps, then, the daguerreotype's disappearance was coincident with the Dickinsons' move in 1855 from their "temporary" residence on Pleasant Street back into the plushly refurbished family homestead on Main Street. Perhaps, instead of being displayed in the new residence, the daguerreotype was lost under the masses of poem manuscripts that began to accumulate in Dickinson's private chamber around 1858 and that must have nearly filled it by the hour of her death. It had vanished, in any case, by 1862, when the man who would ultimately become one of Dickinson's first editors, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, requested an "image" of her and was informed: "I had no portrait now [emphasis added]. . . . It often alarms Father - He says Death might occur, and he has Molds of all the rest - but has no mold of me, but I noticed the Quick wore of these things in a few days" (L 268).
In the context of Dickinson's writing life, the lost (or only hidden) daguerreotype--"Could you believe me without?"--itself functions as a mysterious punctum, a nucleus of absence, a blindspot on the retina that paradoxically makes possible a different kind of sight. By withholding/canceling the 1847 daguerreotype from Higginson's gaze and offering instead a discourse of ekphrasis, Dickinson the thirty-two year old writer at last escapes the subject-position of "target, " acting, instead, as the "operator" or controller of the scene (of writing). In the economy of gazes, Higginson, her future editor, functions only as a "spectator," transfixed--blinded--not by a "chemical revelation" of his subject upon a sensitized plate, but by a "negative of a type of language that was finally going to appear and develop before [his] eyes" (Derrida 263).
home | introduction | dickinson focus texts | texts on photography | image gallery | critical perspectives | timeline | questions | bibliography | acknowledgements