Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.3 (Susan Howe)


Pierce-Arrow
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Howe Susan,
Pierce-Arrow


Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

One of the exciting things about studying with Susan Howe (I was about to write 'someone like Susan Howe,' but there is no one like Susan Howe) is that her sense of the living presence of dead authors vis-à-vis their writing, but more importantly their manuscripts, is so strong it pervades not only the classroom but the minds of everyone in it.

Very few people take a class with her on, say, Emily Dickinson, without walking away with a powerful, if fleeting, sense of commitment to and love for Dickinson and her manuscripts. One feels compelled to love Dickinson with a love that feels like religious devotion. For most people, this fades within time after the class ends, but it has a kind of mesmerizing effect because for Susan the intensity of that love never does seem to fade.

This book was written during the time that I took classes with her at SUNY Buffalo. I can remember Susan talking about Charles S. Peirce in class and showing us transparencies and slides of his notebooks, which she had been working on the summer before I got here and how we could all feel the burning intensity of her love, not only for the man and his ideas, but for his genius, his passion, his outsiderness, the odd pronunciation of his name ("purse") even the beauty of the columns of numbers and figures that filled the pages of his notebook.

It was a total love.

And then the book came out, with its strange title, Pierce-Arrow. If you live in Buffalo, you know that the famous Pierce-Arrow automobile was manufactured here, and that the old factory complex has been turned into a massive multi-use space for businesses, artists, theater groups and so forth. And then there's that strange flipping of the 'i' and 'e' from Peirce to Pierce and how it accomplishes that thing that she's so good it, which is to tie the historical (Peirce) with the personal-historical (Pierce-Arrow, Buffalo, where Howe taught and also where she lived as a child) and it begins to feel like a big old literary seance of some kind, which is sort of what I was trying to get at talking about her her class.

from Pierce-Arrow

Constraint is a secondness
swimming out of Europe
Between an interpretant and
its object in playspace the
heart's free interim Macbeth's
crude sacrilege deeper even
Spent those last years not
writing his paper on misery
I remember all the time now
remember the brood the fret

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