"Creeley never forgets the singular modernist American poets who are no longer here to speak for themselves: Stein, Hart Crane, H.D., Pound, Williams, Olson, Niedecker, Zukofsky, and dearly and recently Robert Duncan did and do believe with passion that poetry is that most really charged with meaning.
Listen to the sound of poems. […]
When you hit a poem it is charged with meaning. Meaning is striking.”
“Rhyme and meaning are one…” [MED 129]
“Sound was already part of perfect meaning.” [MED 55]
Reading to write and writing to mean so much, Howe’s allegories of poetic production demonstrate an emotive metabolic thought-body can not help but become involved in our work as scholars and critics. This thought-body looks for meaning through a profound exploration of textual production as origins are both obscured and inhere in editorial geneologies. Evolutionary Love (Peirce) at first sight? Through what Pierre Klossowski calls “felt necessity” in his own loving work for Frederick Nietzsche’s embodied philosophy—*The Vicious Circle*—the poet-scholar re-enacts beloved authors becoming them as they become us.
Every name in history is I (Nietzsche).
One or several texts?
Number there in love was slain.
"Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have written in an essay called “May, 1914. One or Several Wolves?”: “The proper name (nom propre) does not designate an individual: it is on the contrary when the individual opens up to the multiplicities pervading him or her, at the outcome of the most severe operation of depersonalization, that he or she acquires his or her true proper name. The proper name is the instantaneous apprehension of a multiplicity. The proper name is the subject of a pure infinitive comprehended as such in a field of intensity." [Sing 42]
To Howe’s work I owe a sense that poetry itself is a lived theater in or of historical traces, resonances, erasures. That the page is a stage where “I” speaks history’s singularities and intensities; that “every name in history is I” because I is pervaded by others; and that this enunciation through the noise of history official and rumored, occulted and eclipsed is not representative but FELT. To feel intensely the work of another at one’s self, to pronounce the energetic phase states of historicity as such, is a way of becoming historically eccentric—the decentered enthusiastical circles to which Nietzsche, Emerson and Stevens refer and undergo in their compositions. This sense of Howe’s pages as theatrical seems one of the least examined aspects of her work despite Howe’s numerous allusions to the theater, the pervasiveness of Shakespeare who founds Howe’s reading of Dickinson along with the Brontes, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Robert Browning, and the fact that Howe’s mother, Mary Manning, was passionately involved in the theater. In the theater we go down to rise, we become the thing we aren’t, we put on faces of power and disempowerment. And in doing so assume intensities individuated among multiplicity’s related whole. Mirror-mazes’ morphogenesis meaning production. These moments, as Howe herself insists, are moments of sea-change, contradiction, and powerful transference. Fortuitous chances arising from compulsions of effort and risk they broach a pragmatical mystical truth: that the self is always an other, the subject an object, that in a field of relations all meanings have a point of transformation where each pass through their opposite, and momentarily neutralize opposition itself. A point of indiscernibility. A sensory-motor movement of the soul becoming actual present upon the page in historical appearance. Poetry is the great reinforcement of life. In bifurcations we go down, enacting, reenacting. Time is not wasted in these temples.
*A chrestomathy piercing Night’s frame*
Beverly Dahlen: “Dickinson’s absolute refusal to accept the debased God of a now liberal and prosperous America has its correlate in her radical subjectivity, her reinvention of the introspective soul living “upon the heights of intensity.” She laid bare the scandal of the transmutation and disappearance of God. If she was not a Puritan, she nevertheless forwarded the Puritan project in this sense: she submitted to the authority of her own soul. If her faith was justified, she never heard of it. Though she rejected the doctrine, she lived out the consequences of the doctrine; she was capable of bearing anxiety. Her withdrawal from the world, which no doubt can be interpreted in many ways, may also be seen as Puritanism in extremis, the final act of critical rebellion against a world governed by misplaced authority. Purer than the Puritans, Dickinson would finally have nothing to do with it.”[?]
Susan Howe: “Poetry is affirmation in negation, ammunition in the yellow eye of an allegorical pilgrim will shoot straight into the quiet of Night’s frame.” [MED 138]
Emily Dickinson: “If you truly consent, I recite, now.” [LED 412]
Henry James: “The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will.“[AoC 290]
Wallace Stevens: “O exaltation, O fling without a sleeve
And motion outward, reddened and resolved
From sight, in the silence that follows her last word—“ [CPP 375]
Farewell to an idea . . . The cancellings,
The negations are never final. The father sits
In space, wherever he sits, of bleak regard,
As one that is strong in the bushes of his eyes.
He says no to no and yes to yes. He says yes
To no; and in saying yes he says farewell. [CPP 357]
Like Eyes that looked on Wastes ~
Incredulous of Ought
But Blank ~ and steady Wilderness ~
Diversified by Night ~
Simone Weil: “Lear, a tragedy of gravity. Everything we call base is a phenomenon due to gravity. Moreover the word baseness is an indication of fact.”[GG 1]
Susan Howe: “Keats said Shakespeare was the sea. King Lear is nature.” [MED 115]
Robert Duncan: “Where you are he or I am he, the trouble of an Eros shakes the household in which we work to contain our feeling in our extending our feeling into time and space. The nearness of this shaking – it is our own actual city built as it is high on the ground of a history written in earthquakes – makes for an almost womanish tenderness in orders we are fierce to keep. […]” [BtB vi]
John Taggart: “this is a different kind of domination” [Loop 168]
Emmanuel Levinas: “Under this sense the self is goodness, or under the exigency for an abandon of all having, of all one’s own and all for oneself, to the point of substitution.” [OTB 118]
William James: When I say ‘Soul,’ you need not take me in the ontological sense unless you prefer to; for although ontological language is instinctive in such matters, yet Buddhists or Humians can perfectly well describe the facts in the phenomenal terms which are their favorites. For them the soul is only a succession of fields of consciousness: yet there is found in each field a part, or sub-field, which figures as focal and contains the excitement, and from which, as from a centre, the aim seems to be taken. Talking of this part, we involuntarily apply words of perspective to distinguish it from the rest, words like ‘here,’ this,’ ‘now,’ ‘mine,’ or ‘me’; and we ascribe to the other parts the positions ‘there,’ ‘then,’ ‘that,’ ‘his,’ or ‘thine,’ ‘it,’ ‘not me.’ But a ‘here’ can change to a ‘there,’ and a ‘there’ become a ‘here,’ and what was ‘mine’ and what was ‘not mine’ change their places. [WJ 182]
“Still the walls do not fall,
I do not know why;
there is zrr-hiss,
lightning in a not known,
we are powerless,”[CP 542]
Wallace Stevens: “Farewell to an idea . . . The mother’s face,
The purpose of the poem, fills the room.” [CPP 356]
“Three bears running around rocks as if to show how modern rationalism springs from barbarism and with such noise to call out boldly boldly ventured is half won. Three bears splashing each other and others gathered at the iron railing as though we hadn’t been enjoying liberty its checks and balances. Daddy held on tightly to my hand because animals do communicate in a state resembling dissociation so a prepared people will rid the settlement of ice deities identified with rivers they cause animism.”[FS 3]
There are teachers who educate through elaborate and thorough explication of texts. Howe has demonstrated such abilities in print through longer critical-poetic works like *The Birthmark* and *My Emily Dickinson*. Yet in Howe’s ability to forego pedantic explication lies perhaps her most difficult and valuable sacrifice—not to mention one her most amazing negotiations within academia. Eschewing overly scaffolding expositions Howe proceeds instead through a critical-poetic consciousness of Firstness, or what she otherwise calls “factual telepathy”:
“Olson FEELS that […]” [W19 6]
“In Firstness can only be feeling.”[BD, 322]
“This poetic mood approaches the state in which what is present appears as present. Do you find it so abstract and colorless? What an extraordinary idea to say that immediate consciousness is colorless and abstract!”
“Now that is all.” [GSR, 503]
In the elective emotionality of Firstness—a perceptive thought-form Gilles Deleuze associates with the close-up of faces in cinema, and calls “Affect-Image”—Howe may also work as a poet-filmmaker. I am sorry I was not around for Howe’s 1995 class on Documentary cinema and poetry. At the time she was teaching the seminar I was busy discovering French and Russian cinema on my own through the filmmakers she addresses in her under-read essay on cinema, “Sorting Facts”: Chris Marker, Dziga Vertov, Jean-Luc Godard, Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky.
(When Marker records Alexander Medvedkin in *The Last Bolshiveik*, I recall here he cries when his first editorial splices “make sense”. The class I teach on cinema—between narrative, documentary and experimental filmmaking—with Howe’s work in mind, is called The Documentary Event. Documentary erupts an ambiavlence of text, image, history and memory.)
There is an imperative I share with Howe to make scholarship and criticism a more active process, if not a matter of emergency, intuition and direct cultural impact. The variety of ways Howe activates such an epistemological process would have to include the following:
* Through the providing of definitions which explode contextual understandings of words in their historical, documentary, and mythological significances. Likewise, through a play on the colloquial and philological definitions of words, and through the grouping of similarly appearing and sounding words (a tactic Howe shares with Duncan and H.D.’s explosive “Muthoses”): “Mosses Moses Moby muffled maybe” [BM 4];
* Through the aural, visual, and rhythmic senses of words as they preserve meanings beyond communication and intentionality;
* Through reading “against the grain,” dissociatively or literally: “When Williams writes: ‘never a woman, never a poet. . . . Never a poet saw sun here,’ I think that he says one thing and means another. […]” [MED 7] Likewise through contradictions and dialectical unsavageability: “Contradiction is the book of this place.” [MED 45]
* Through the use of the page as a “theater,” “canvas,” or “screen” where use of space and plays of (il-)legiblility dramatize textual encounter/conflict;
* Through the concatenation of textual units, words and phrasing at the level of the sentence/line: ”Nearer to know less before afterward schism in sum” [MED 23];
* Through lineation breaking into/between “prose” and “poetry”;
* Through puns, “double meaning,” and ironic word-play (Witz): “In winter the Simulacrum is closed for the season”[Sing 41];
* Through factual litanies;
* Through matter-of-fact (auto-)biographical statement and anecdote: “My father had never been to Europe. She [Howe’s mother] is a wit and he is a scholar. They met at a dinner party when her earring dropped into his soup” [TEoT 9]; “Toward the end of his [David von Schlegel’s] life he had to stop sailing because of severe arthritis in his knees, but he could still row. I liked to watch how he feathered the oars to glide back. Little whirlpools formed where the oar blades tipped under: their entry clean as their exit. These are only some facts. […]” [BD 296]
* Through diagrams (like the “Mirror Maze” in the concluding section/act of *My Emily Dickinson*);
* Through transcriptions of manuscript pages (as those Howe makes of Shelley’s notebooks in *The Birthmark*, and of Dickinson’s poems throughout her work);
* Through titling;
* Through the tactical (and often unattributed) (mis-)quoting of sources: compare “For me there was no silence before armies” and other statements from Howe’s “There Are Not Leaves Enough To Crown to Cover to Crown” with Stevens’ “Martial Cadenza” and “United Dames of America”. One can see here Howe in a typical(ly) (conflicted) dialogue with her masters, and intertexts;
* Through philosophical and scientific terminology and propositions;
* Through experimental typography, lay-out (holographic-palimpsestual overlapping), diacritical marks, genealogical-textual descriptions, inclusion of photographs and photo-reproduction;
* Through grammatical excision, “run-on” and “fragment”;
* Through aphorism;
* Through play with the features of book-making (her Burning Deck edition of *A Bibliography of the King’s Book Or, Eikon Basilike* and collaboration with Coracle Press, *Kidnapped*). In *Kidnapped*, and *The Midnight*, I hark back to Howe’s wonderful inclusion of a photo-reproduction of the fly-leaf protecting illustrated pages, and separting them from the non-illustrated pages apposite them (like veils, or stage curtains). *The Midnight* also provokes me to make comparison between the spiraling horizontal factual forms of W.G. Sebald’s work, and Howe’s own recent autobiographical-mnemonic compositions. Where some have criticized Howe’s recent work in autobiography/memoir as a retreat from her earlier work (see Leslie Scalapino's comment in *Syntactical Impermanence*) I see this development as a logical (if not inevitable) trajectory, insofar as it extends a virtual bifurcation already present in the work. Only now that work is turned more inwardly, convoluting personal memory (or history) over (public) historical/diachronic exteriorities.
* Through local perception and subtle sensation. See Howe’s “Furious Calm” where she reads Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Course of a Particular” against its typical critical reception as a poem of autumn. Based on her experience of living in Connecticut, and enduring New England Winters for much of her life, Howe reads the acoustical values and imagery of Stevens’ poem as endemic to the Connecticut mid-Februaries of Stevens and Charles Ives);
* Through audio experiment (her recent collaboration with David Grubbs, *Thiefth*), and in her “doing the voices” of her poems: in whispers, shouts, speech, song, silence. Virtuosic modalities.
This list is obviously inadequate, and is not meant by any means to be an exhaustive taxonomy of Howe’s techniques as a poet. Yet I would add among these correlated qualities and tactics Howe’s singular ability to juxtapose two or more texts, allowing them to resonate, conflict, contradict, talk, or substitute with each other. This paratactical design I also observe in Louis Zukofsky’s *Bottom* and his masters thesis on Henry Adams where Zukofsky’s obliquely condensed expositions often precede or follow directly on a little-introduced and exposited citation, and Chris Marker’s film-“essay” Sans Soleil, where, as Raymond Bellour has written of the film, image and text “slide” under and over each other in (doubly) helixical verticalities, “hyperlinking” long before CD-Rom or the Internet were in use. Howe’s is a “sliding” scholarship, but also the scholarship of a hermeneutist uniquely capable of producing maximal meaning by radical arrangements and minimal exposition of texts.