1. While reading Radical Love I was living close to the ocean and swimming every day. One afternoon I was feeling sad so I swam out farther than usual, surpassing all of my customary stopping-points, until I was so far out that I suddenly doubted if I’d be able to make it back. I recognized in what I was feeling the preliminary symptoms of panic; racing heart, flushed cheeks, repetitive thoughts about the panic I was feeling which only succeeded in increasing the panic. I floated on my back, trying to breath steadily. The stretch of beach I’d walked on only minutes earlier was now impossible to approach, a landscape which in its brazen totality had become not only remote but imaginary.
2. I realized that the ocean was terrifying because it was the opposite of lonely; it was abundant. By traveling so far from the shore I’d become an indistinguishable element of that abundance. The terror of my slow, lucid ego-death coupled with the necessity of moving my legs to keep myself alive was a stronger feeling than any kind of loneliness I’d ever experienced.
3. I arrived at Fanny Howe through an interview she did with Kim Jensen of Bomb Magazine.
4 . In the interview she describes her poetics as a reaching towards the ungraspable, the fragmentary, the bewildering. Her preoccupation is with the bentness of time. The freakish all-possible of moments, the vastness of living in simultaneity. How can two people be in two places at the same time? Or: How do we express actions occurring simultaneously?
5. There is a rare precision to her words. They scrape softly and insistently at a very particular feeling. In feeling it for the first time I realized it was a feeling I had always felt. A familiar estrangement. Like seeing a stranger in a dream for the second time.
6. The feeling is intimate with the abject. Between subject and object, the barely separate, like a limb cast-off or a corpse. It follows that many of the subjectivities in her novels are displaced and marginal; madwomen, children, monks. Kristeva writes that the abject inherently exists apart from the symbolic order of language, as a trauma irreconciliable with subjecthood. Fanny Howe makes a language for which abjection is immanent (a new subjectivity?)
7. A Sensual Metaphysics. There’s a body-depth to her narratives, a sense of being weighted, but not weighed down.
8. “She went to the caravan on her sister’s black bike through the dark and felt this way the happiness of being a hard sea animal that machines its way gracefully through the ecstatic interiors of the outside world.”
9. “She began to harden with the first baby. A firm heel slid across the palm of her hand, under her navel, now like a moonsnail with a cat’s eye at its apex. Her wastes, and the baby’s, moved in opposite directions from the nutrients. Her breasts tightened to tips of pain. She entered her psyche daily on rising…”
10. How do you write from inside madness? Most accounts of people going insane seem to come from after or outside psychosis, stressing the role of narrative as a stabilizing and ultimately redemptive exercise. In these texts there is more of a return to madness through narrative. No one is saved and everyone is ecstatic.
11. How I feel about Fanny Howe, in general:
12. When she was in her twenties she ghost-wrote a book called West Coast Nurse, which was supposed to be a pulp romance novel. However, according to the reviews, it was an “unsual brooding book,” “psychologically sophisticated,” and very different from other novels in the genre.
13. Heidegger describes anxiety as what happens when “dasein” or Being, turns away from itself. Anxiety, unlike fear, is fundamentally directed at “being-in-the-world” itself rather than at any definitive entities “within-the-world.” This particular feeling is what first gives us access to “the world as world,” the world existing purely as itself.
14. “Growing old is growing wild. Going mad is growing old too fast.”
15. I recommend the essay, On Bewilderment.
It’s a thorough and beautiful text on Howe’s process.
16. Radical Love is a collection of five of Howes’ novels.
17. “Every act is holy because every act is holy.”
18. Meister Eckhart was a 13th century theologian-mystic-philosopher who wrote in one of his sermons:
“Back in the womb from which I came, I had no god and merely was myself. I did not will or desire anything, for I was pure being, a knower of myself by divine truth. Then I wanted myself and nothing else. And what I wanted, I was and what I was, I wanted, and thus, I existed untramelled by god or anything else.”
“God,” according to Eckhart, is the totality of all that exists, while “god” as a human construct is a singular omnipotent being. What we should do is pray to God to release us from our belief in god because really we are all God and God is nothing if not everything.
19. Fanny Howe writes that “Memory is God.” i.e. the internet, as a rhizomatic, constantly updated and morphing database of collective human material, is God?
20. However, there is something startlingly un-virtual about Howe’s writing. “icicles from eaves, and down the steep cliff the rolling river, touched by brutish blocks of ice and timber, reminded her of the word RELENTLESS.” This is more explicit example than I would like to give, but what I mean is that reading this text was a lesson in immanence, in how words can bind with erotic, sensual experience, in how a piece of text can home somewhere or deepen into touchable space.
21. What is “female” gendered or sexed writing? What is the difference between speaking about one’s experiences as a woman and speaking as a self understood as Woman, and embedded in the lifeworld of Woman? If all language is coded by the Patriarchy, how does a woman write as a woman?
22. Radical Love brought to mind Dana Schutz. I just found out about this artist, and she’s wonderful. She makes metanarrative pieces on “decomposing” or abject subjectivities. Check her out.
23. Also, Robert Creeley, who writes an extremely positive review on the back of the book:
“…no one more actively employs the strategies and possibilities of language than she does. I think this work has no competing instance I’m aware of. It is unique.”
24. While on a plane back to New York an older woman sitting next to me pointed at my Fanny Howe book and motioned with her hands that it was very large. This led to an hour long conversation about spirituality, suffering and love. She had this rare positivity about her, this effulgence. We were namesakes. I almost started crying a few times during our conversation. She told me to never forget that I was young and strong, and that life was an unbearable, beautiful thing.
25. “After all, the point of art is to show people that life is worth living by showing that it isn’t.”