The Paris Review

A Private Literature

Seeing manuscripts after Susan Howe.

Robert Walser, Microscript 215, October–November 1928. Courtesy Robert Walser-Zentrum, © Keystone / Robert Walser-Stiftung Bern.

“Emerging from an Abyss, and re-entering it that is Life, is it not, Dear?”—a sentence written by Emily Dickinson, most likely in the year before her death, in a letter to her sister-in-law. The sentence also appears in Susan Howe’s Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, her ode to archives, rare-book rooms, and research libraries. It appears in a sort of wave: first it is transcribed within Howe’s text, then follows in facsimile; we read the line, then we see it as it was written by Dickinson in her late, confident, sprawling and looping penciled hand. Howe has plucked this from the abyss and put it before us. We do not simply read Howe’s book; we see something of what she has seen. It is as if Howe has sought to take the experience of working in a rare-book room or a research library and enfold that experience into the space of her slim book.

*

Libraries and museums collect the objects of the past so that they can be brought forward into our present, so that they can be called forth as witness to some future. Perhaps also so that the past can be made more legible. Howe begins with an image of a single page from William Carlos Williams’s book-length essay-poem (which remained unfinished at his death). We look upon and read this lone typescript page, heavily marked up with its deletions and emendations made in

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review3 min read
Susannah Hunnewell, 1966–2019
Photograph by Stephen Andrew Hiltner. The Paris Review mourns the loss of publisher Susannah Hunnewell, friend, colleague, and luminous presence at the magazine for three decades, who passed away on June 15 at her home in New York. She was 52. Susann
The Paris Review8 min read
On Summer Crushing
Whitney Houston in 1991 Friends and heartthrobs of the past, future, and present: where I am now, the temperature has begun its slow climb, and summer is preparing its eviction notice for all the gentle breezes and drives with windows down and the in
The Paris Review4 min read
Staff Picks: Jai Paul, Journalists, and Just Policies
Olga Tokarczuk. Photo: © K. Dubiel. How to describe Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead? Unlike her Man Booker International Prize–winning novel Flights, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead—first published in Poland in