Monday, October 12, 2020

On Susan Howe's Emily Dickinson, or Toward a Class Plan for 625D

Start with a thought problem: situation and strategy (see Kenneth Burke):


--you are an ambitious writer;

--there is another, older, writer who is a) a writer you revere; b) a writer you want to emulate in some ways; c) a writer who is in your way (presents obstacles, as well as permissions, to you);

--you feel that this writer is underappreciated, and/or misunderstood;

--you want to understand the provenance of that writer’s work; what is his or her lineage? What were the historical and cultural circumstances in which they worked? What did they read? Whom did they know (or not know)?

--you want to understand the ways in which this writer is different from you (gender, race, historical period), as well as similar to you;

--you do not want to write in an accepted genre, like biography or criticism or belles-lettres, or making an edition of their work, but in a way that enacts your relationship to that writer, and hers to the world she lived in;

--you need to find a focus for your intense attention.


--you choose the work by this author that most fascinates you, whether poem or essay or paragraph (even);

--you look for the poem in manuscript, in various editions, in however many presentations you can find;

--you read the poem, paragraph, essay, sentence by sentence and then word by word, looking to hear echoes, traces, images that may have fed into the work from other texts or circumstances;

--you start making a diagram of connections, mis-connections, threads from this work to the writer’s larger concerns, to the context in which the writer wrote, to the influences that writer engaged;

--the diagram begins to turn into a map that shows these relationships spatially (see Brendan Lorber);

--you draw an island that communicates with other islands, continents;

--beyond the purview of this book, you begin to map one of your own texts in the con-text of another writer. What have you learned from this exercise?

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