An Oblique Place

“War feels to me an oblique place” – Emily Dickinson

“only if you’re losing” – Joshua Rocks

1. Maurice S. Lee’s “Writing through the War: Melville and Dickinson after the Renaissance” in the Oct. 2000 PMLA contains a solid discussion of “oblique” on page 1126:

Oblique here can mean not only obscure or devious. Grammatically speaking, the oblique case puts tense and person in an indirect mode, thus nicely implying Dickinson’s distant, secondhand access to the war. Oblique is also the astronomical term for a planet whose axis does not form a right angle to its given plane, suggesting that, for Dickinson, war sets the world askew. Perhaps she even has in mind what botanists call an oblique leaf – a leaf of unequal, unmatched structure that lacks organic symmetry. Be that as it may, oblique also describes a slanted or angled line. And for a poet who makes circumference her business and often uses geometric tropes when discussing the status of knowledge, to describe war as an oblique place is to emphasize the divergence between one line of vision and a definitive view.

2. I’m still not sure what to make of this statement. If I had to explain it to someone, I’d probably start from Josh’s joke, some kind of “we’re all losers in war” idea. The leaf with two unequal sides and the lack of a definitive view, I think, directly imply a world fallen from its proper place, one where no one really knows what is going on. Your thoughts are welcome.

2 Comments

  1. “The leaf with two unequal sides and the lack of a definitive view, I think, directly imply a world fallen from its proper place, one where no one really knows what is going on.”

    This is basically my thinking. That by oblique she means… something sort of unnatural, uneasy. There is that feeling, too- observing war and trouble in the world, there’s a faint uneasiness even when it’s very distant and has nothing to do with you. At least I get that feeling. It’s similar to the feeling you get if you’re around two people who are unhappy with each other, even when they aren’t openly fighting you sense it coming at any minute and the disharmony is very present.

    Or maybe it has to do with the fragility of the world, life, whatever that’s obvious through the presence of fighting. Things are destined to change, order is destined to end.

    Okay, what in the world am I rambling on about?!

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