Susan Howe and the problematics of concretizing experience
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In the preface to Frame Structures, Susan Howe presents us with the paradoxical idea that the act of constructing experience through the medium of language, of trying to replicate it "accurately," makes the experience less stable. For Howe, an individual's epistemic access to the past (and to any experience) is problematic because it has been filtered through perception and subjectivity. In this diluted state, the experience is further destabilized when concretized in the medium of language and presented to readers as a written text. To illustrate the complications that arise when experience is concretized, Howe looks to the ultimate solidification of events and experience: American history. In the opening section of this thesis I establish that Howe is wary of the mediums through which we try to preserve experience. I reason that she is suspicious of records of experience because she views the process of concretization as faulty. The second section is a study of Howe's beliefs about the roles subjectivity and perception play in regard to history. In this section I also explore how we acquire thematic meaning in the preface and argue that by tracking interconnections of subtle hints and formal contrivances across the text, our understanding of Howe's thematic concerns swells as they accumulate. In the third section I investigate the ways Howe manifests her contention that the patriarchy is and has been a restrictive filter for history. The fourth section highlights Howe's methods of calling attention to the unstable nature of language, discusses Howe's suspicion of the overarching structures governing language, draws parallels between Howe's work and the poetry of the Language Poets, and examines the ways her work subverts convention. I argue here that her manipulations of form serve to dramatize how the instabilities of experience are intensified when concretized, rather than becoming more definitive or solid. The postface offers a brief close reading of works within Howe's The Europe of Trusts to show how her concerns in the preface extend to her poetry.