Date of Degree

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor(s)

Matthew K. Gold

Subject Categories

American Literature | Digital Humanities | English Language and Literature

Abstract

“Tangible Things: The Matter of Susan Howe” examines materiality in two books, That This (2010) and Debths (2017), by the contemporary American experimental poet Susan Howe. More specifically, this examination finds a double movement in both collections between foregrounding the materiality of writing and of the text and meditating on the vibrant nature of matter itself. To frame the first part of this double movement, the thesis draws on recent digital humanities scholarship from Matthew Kirschenbaum and Johanna Drucker that highlights the technologically and materially mediated nature of writing processes and the texts they produce. Then, to frame the second part, it explores Jane Bennett’s new materialism, particularly its claim that all human and nonhuman matter coalesce into assemblages thereby displaying and developing an immanent “thing-power.” Within Howe’s work, both parts of this double movement play off of each other. Her books use prose, verse, and visual design to announce their materialities in order to articulate an ontological claim about matter. That This contains details of Howe’s archival research, minimalist page layouts, and clashing word collages. These elements certainly underscore the physicality of her medium; they also accentuate her recollections of her deceased husband and the manner in which the things she had long associated with him channel and conduct those recollections. Meanwhile, Debths includes odes to Howe’s most beloved editions and similarly minimalist page layouts and clashing word collages. These features again emphasize the materiality of her work; simultaneously, they amplify her claim that nonhuman things structure our temporal experiences. Howe’s later work, in this respect, always materializes experience.

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