Archival Theater: Susan Howe’s Tactile Elegies

Julie Phillips Brown, Virginia Military Institute
Vol. 40, No. 1 (Fall 2021), 307-332

This essay examines two elegies in which Howe (re)collects both herself and her lost beloveds in and through the lacunae of the archive: The Midnight (2003), Howe’s elegy for her mother, the Irish actress and author Mary Manning, and That This (2010), Howe’s elegy for her late husband, the philosopher Peter Hare. In both works, Howe’s acts of (re)collection and collage constitute a liminal theater in which the boundaries between text and image, poet and reader, archival object and the page, and the living and the dead, dissolve. Howe’s is ultimately a poetics of tactual attention, a “telepathy of archives” that recalls and materializes what has been forgotten or marginalized and makes present what has been absent, lost.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]