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On Susan Howe, Doubles, Telepathy

By Harriet Staff

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The psychics among you might like this piece at The Actuary by Beth Towle–on Susan Howe, “finding doubles,” and telepathy’s interactions with poetry:

Communication, then, is reading traces. And reading traces is to make copies. And to make copies is to attempt to speak for ourselves. Perhaps then the mode of working through archival or restorative poetry takes us down an accidental path to communication in which it is the desire for communication, the failure and the poignancy in that failure, that then reveals the reader to him or herself. By extension, this is also the process of the writer working in the library, slaving over the written words or transmissions of the dead. When I work through texts or books in hopes of finding something that might inform or inspire my poetry, what I desire most is to find myself in the text. I transmit myself onto the research subject, even if I try hard to resist doing so. (One reason I think the autobiographical turn in criticism seems natural and necessary: it’s silly to think that we can ever remove ourselves from the picture. We are simply too big, too in the way of our own passivity).

The doubling happens in the desire to communicate with the dead and to then attempt to communicate the dead to the living. Many poets would call that being a medium. But I don’t think that that’s the case, at least not for the poet burrowing herself inside the archives. In that case, we become the psychical researcher, the ghost hunter. We make reports and we try to convince people that it’s the medium that’s real. After all, a citational or collage or “cut work” poem doesn’t exist in the unmediated voice of the dead. It’s participating solely in the media: the papers, the recordings, the maps, et cetera. I am not trying to prove to people that there is a life beyond that the dead can communicate. Rather, I try to prove that the medium itself communicates something far more important, and that the medium and the researcher will forever be locked in battle at who can make the most meaning out of the ghostly utterances. This poet likes to think she is the winner, but considering that she often gets in the way of her own mediation, she assumes no one will ever merge quite victorious.

Because they are rooms to be in or books to open or microfilm to spool, archives have the ability to become fetishes for the poet-researcher. Susan Howe explores this in The Midnight, where material is the thing that both connects people (her memory of her mother defined through books, for example) but also keeps them apart (the bed hangings, the tracing paper). “Ownership and ownership it / is a maxim of logic the Double / of the object is that I desire it” (Howe 12). Again, here we get both the doubling that makes research so problematic but also the desire, the longing to have objects take us somewhere. For Howe, there seems to be something always of grief or want in dealing with materials. . . .

Read the rest here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, May 13th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.