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Drawing on the previous blog post on spatialized relations of being beside, and anticipating slightly what I will discuss in my presentation tomorrow, I’m interested in how language is materialized in the readings for this week, particularly in Susan Howe’s book. While Howe draws an explicit etymological link between text and texture, text as fabric, Hayward and Bora both write about communication that happens through a combination of the optic and tactile senses (both using variants of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘haptic’ space). Howe is drawn to what occurs on the edges of things—the marginal notes, the fragments, the doodles, the scraps of material—which turn the text at hand into a textile object. In her archival work, thoughts have their own kind of agency. Telepathy (from the Greek tele and pathos, or distant meaning) implies the involuntary crossing of a thought within spatial relations of otherness; it is the transfer of meaning without touch, without sensory involvement, and as such the seemingly necessary inverse of the kind of communication that happens within Bora or Sedgwick’s epistemology of texture.

Howe, in the opening pages of Spontaneous Particulars, writes: “A cool of books / will sometimes lead the mind to libraries / of a hot afternoon, if books can be found / cool to the sense to lead the mind away” (11). The temperature or coolness, implying a smooth texture and comfortable space, belonging to the books is itself the subject of this sentence. And repeatedly, the reader-figure that Howe describes loses her sense of agency, is led away from the obvious train of thought or path of research and into the margins, into the unexpected. I’m curious about how this coolness, later called a “a wind or ghost of a wind” (13) relates to the close of the book when Howe invokes a kind of aura of poetry in the space of the research library. She calls it “the granting of grace in an ordinary room, in a secular time” (63). The unexpected gift of grace seems to alight in the figure of the dove that runs through this book, originating from Henry James’s cousin, Minny Temple, who died young and became the inspiration for Milly Theale in his novel, The Wings of the Dove. Howe is invested in exploring how James altered his cousin’s letters, took up her life for his fiction, so that now it seems as if we only have access to Minny through Milly.

The “spectral grapheme h” takes on its own spatiality because it enacts this separation. It is a letter seen but not pronounced, suspended beyond breath, and thus serves a similar function as Derrida’s a in différance. That is, it gestures to the optic and tactile nature of written language. Howe writes that “in research libraries and special collections words and objects come into their own and have their place again” (59). She draws no clear distinction between words and things, between a random scrap of paper or an unexpected bobbin. Moreover, the space of libraries, their coolness, instantiates the essential tactile and material aspects of written language through a logic of grace—giving and receiving unexpected gifts. As such, names are not simply signifiers, but places that “shelter us under the wings of first creation” (60). For Howe, the letter h in Theale is a space that we can reach through to access, to touch Minny Temple, not because we can ever arrive at concrete knowledge of her as a person, but because in the space of the library, when handling archival materials, the act of reaching is not different from that of touching.

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