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Title: Elegaic materialism : the poetry and art of Susan Howe
Author: Barbour, Susan Jean
ISNI:       0000 0004 5915 6448
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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The American poet Susan Howe (1937-present) began her career as a visual artist, but owing to a dearth of information about her early collages it has been difficult to say anything substantive about how they might have shaped her poetic practice. In 2010, she placed her collages on archive. Along with a number of personal interviews with Howe, this heretofore unavailable material has enabled me to consider Howe's subsequent work in a new light and to establish significant links between her early visual aesthetics and the poetics of bibliography, historiography, and elegy for which she is now known. Howe's collages, like her poetry, focus on details that are at risk of vanishing from cultural memory and printed record. For this reason, I argue that her work evinces an 'elegaic materialism', or a way of reading, viewing, and thinking about texts that is attuned to loss. If “history is the record of the winners,” as Howe says, then one way of rescuing marginalized perspectives is by regarding manuscripts as drawings, thereby rescuing the concrete particulars deemed irrelevant by editors and historians. As Howe's late work turned increasingly toward elegy, her early aesthetic contributed to a nuanced poetics of personal loss and to a series of astonishing new formal tropes. The Introduction to this thesis discusses Howe's materialism in the context of current literary theory and textual scholarship. Chapter 1 concerns itself with Howe's art historical context. Chapter 2 analyses a selection of her word-drawings. Chapter 3 considers Howe's transition to poetry. Chapter 4 addresses her turn to archival documents in her middle period. Chapter 5 looks at the influence on Howe of documentary film, especially in connection with the task of representing a lost loved one, and Chapter 6 discusses her two most recent elegies, The Midnight and THAT THIS. A Coda completes the circle by once more considering Howe in the context of the visual arts at the moment she was selected to exhibit at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
Supervisor: Bush, Ron Sponsor: Clarendon Fund ; Rothermere American Institute
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: American literature in English ; History of the book ; Visual art and representation ; History of art and visual culture ; Metaphysics ; Susan Howe ; minimalism ; minimal art ; materialism ; poetics ; nominalism