Skip navigation

The expectation of encountering occlusion or fragmentation is inherent in some ways to the experience of looking at early drafts of written materials; there is the disarming glimpse of process, a dimension of text often elusive or invisible. Access to the illegible as a visual representation of process is especially interesting in conjunction with Howe’s gestures of returning polished text to different forms illegibility again, or reconstruing text to distill not altogether different meanings of the original, or final version; this recalls the line in ‘Hello, The Roses about thoughts having their own thoughts.

I am also interested in the way space is extended between Howe’s words and punctuation. This space evokes a pause better, in a manner, than ellipses can, but somehow a wide space that would aesthetically convey what is meant sonically by an ellipsis could cause the anxiety of being incorrect, or otherwise draw attention to itself as a non-normative depiction of the absence of speech within a sentence. It seems counterintuitive to signify absence or omission by filling space with a symbol for absence, or that that should be the primarily acceptable method for signifying absence. In the case of Lucretius, as well, the illegibility of lines was noted in the text, but the lines were, themselves, in their illegible form, not visible; something may be lost in the use of a legible symbol or phrase to communicate the presence of illegibility. Even redacted text is marked with black.

Put more succinctly by Howe: ‘What if words’—in this case, the spaces and punctuation around them—‘possess a “spirit” potential to their nature as words’: permeable, plasticine, subjective; the generative receptacles Bianchi refers to, rather than fixed signifiers.

I felt very deeply struck by the passage on p. 44: ‘I remember the summer before my sister Jerusha’s death, and I was thinking in this manner, that I was never likely to do better and where should I go etc.’ Even here, something is lost in the way it’s typed versus the way Howe has arranged it, bracketing the illegible. I did not initially process the text as manipulated to the extent that it was, although it was clear that something had been condensed, erased. The lines jarred pleasingly in that their disjunction seemed very natural. It led me to consider how the route of memory provided in this model can organize narrative elements; the death provides a point of inquiry into the past and the self, but not necessarily an interrogation of death or grief, or even of the dead sister as a pivotal subject. The death serves as a demarcation in time, contextualizing events unrelated to it, but it is as if those unrelated events would not have been placed in narrative at all if this emotional rupture had not occurred. I found the implied associations between the death and ‘I was thinking in this manner’ far stronger than the explicit connectedness expressed in the version of this passage in the endnotes. Even ‘So I left myself’ would have tipped this into overly neat territory. Thinking about the self, as the second line in the passage makes clear, already implies a kind of dislocation or separation. –Alex

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *