Imagine being a pastor of a church and you attempt to do the right thing, but because it goes against the economic interests of your congregation they kick you out so they can go on … sinning. Times never do change, do they. People hear what they want and will make sure even God gives them the permission they want to not have to change.
“Good intentions prove nothing,” true; “Faith proves nothing,” and I disagree with this because faith proves faith, Faith is its own proof. And not just in something religious, but even of oneself – faith in oneself proves faith in oneself, to be daring, to be rebellious, to listen and have faith.
Never have a found a book so profoundly brilliant and infuriating at the same damn time.
Again these statements she makes are odd: “War is the father of us all” seems far to general and sweeping and, honestly, a little insipid. What does this even mean? I mean, what does it really mean … is she saying that strife and murder conjoin with nurture to produce? what, exactly? I see war as something that happens to us, not as something that gives us half of our DNA.
Odd how Keates wrote about reading King Lear, an old man at the end of his life when Keates is eternally young. Is it the same as when I, nearing 50, read Keats to prime the pump of his youthful well hoping to find youth there, just as he thought about nature and age and wandering through the barren landscape of … what, exactly? Was he mapping the topography of aging? of time?
“To be rebellious and to distrust rebellion is the plight of the tragic artist. Daring is dangerous.” True. I wonder how much ED thought she was being daring? Maybe in the sense that she wrote what was in her heart and mind – because to reveal oneself is an act of daring – but did she think of herself as rebellious? I imagine her as someone who questions – is asking questions a form of daring rebellion? Probably.
Did Shakespeare have a “volcanic loathing for women?” He was equally able to peel back anyone’s skin to find their soul – I’d argue he didn’t much care for anyone, man or woman, which made him able to see them for all their good and evil. You sort of have to hate humanity to find a way to actually love it and know why you love it and express why you love it. If you always love, you never question it.
For in truth art lies hidden with nature, he who can wrest it from her, has it,” Albrecht Durur.
OK, now THIS I can totally get behind in that she’s naming the gun (is the gun) in the way of myth where swords had names, “Beowulf had Naegling, Sigmund owned Gram, Roland – Durandel, Hauteclere belonged to Oliver, and the Lady of the Lake lent Excalibur to Arthur”. But here she is not only gun / sword, but giver and wielder. She’s all three and thus encompasses myth.
“And what is genius but finer love?” – Emerson
“In myth at any time, a woman may suddenly change form. Ariadne became a spider, Alcyone, a bird, Niobe, a stone”, thus like ED who, in poetry, also shape-shifts.
“A poem is an invocation, rebellious return to the blessedness of beginning again, wandering free in pure process of forgetting and finding.”
A frontier, a new beginning, but what comes after the beginning of even a poem? Is a poem always a beginning? What happens after a poem?
Minor quibble: it annoys me when people pass off their own failings as being something they are not in control of. When ED loses her temper and blames it on Gunn (her grandmother) it’s funny, yes, but childish too because all of us are n control of ourselves – nobody else is pulling the strings.
I like the comparison to Daniel Boone in that they are both hunters forging a new frontier.
I feel like I’ve lost some of the thread here. She’s pulling for a lot of sources and quoting them at length, but if she wants us to see what she sees she needs to maybe be a bit more clear? Trying to write the way ED thinks is bold, but I’m sot sure she’s pulling it off well here. Fascinating nevertheless, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m probably not smart enough for this book.
I feel she’s getting a little too lost in the weeds of Shakespeare here.
“Time’s dominion embraces each poem”.
Not that I am for how women were treated during ED’s time, but to say women were “psychologically mutilated” is going too far. All people are forced to work within a system they have no control over so to suggest that a male dominated society only has a negative influence on women suggests that there in no effect on men, which isn’t true either. We’re all in this together; troubling to see these divisions.
Is she making reference to Indo European myth where the world had once been female?
“At the blind point between what is said and meant, who is sounding herself?”
Interesting playing with ‘sovereign’ in regard to Elizabeth Tudor as being so many things to the poets of her time, from pagan to the sublime, not to mention a representative of God.
I think being anxious if a writer has the same permission to enter the ‘sovereign’ woods that Shakespeare hunted in is a common anxiety for any writer.
She equates ‘loaded gun’ with hunting down Higginson and, thus, hunting down approval, help, appreciation, validation … and everything a writer hopes to find in the eyes of a fellow creative. To hunt with a gun, however, in terms of creativity, is interesting in that she’s a loaded figure full of dangerous potential. And she’s a gun he can never figure out how to shoot.
“Lear’s world of monstrous necessity where union with Nature means living outside comfort with the forces of destruction”. This feels right regrading ED who didn’t see nature as something innocent, but she had a more Herzog practicality to nature in that it can be a force, an indifferent, but also beautiful force.
I like how she says that both Emily’s “felt God and Nature separating fro each other”. Though did ED really see a split, or are they two sides to the same coin?
“God is hidden”, but neoplatonic is also everywhere, the invisible (but certain) center of the circle which we diameter and radius endlessly.
Here we see the numerous (and not exhaustive) variations of what “My Life” might refer to. Maybe the trick is that even ED didn’t know, but she was fine with that because then she could be all or nothing or some when she wanted (at least in her poetry).
Lear [as] dark pastoral, Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower, My life has stood – a loaded gun, all go back to Shakespeare as their wellspring.
I like the letter where Browning says “I am perfectly indifferent whether my name is remembered or not. The reward would be that the ideas which were mine, should live and benefit the race!” I can see how ED might appreciate this too. Shakespeare probably would care, being the practical businessman / showman that he was, so I think that analogy falls apart, but the point is still taken.
The two Emily’s. This is an interesting comparison and contrast. EB writes, “I threw the flower on the ground; at that moment the universe appeared to me a vast machine constructed only to bring forth evil”. How does this square with ED’s philosophy? I doubt she saw this much evil in a flower, but she is skeptical of everything, and like Blake, I doubt she’s seeing a (just and goodly) universe in a grain of sand.
“the inhumane legalism of Calvinism warred with the intellectual beauty of Neoplatonism”.
“If God created Man and Woman to damn them, Emily Bronte sided with the sinners and was recalcitrant”.
Howe compares Dickinson’s upbringing with the Bronte sisters in that neither had much in the way of maternal influence and brother’s who did not live up to expectations, which is too bad since the women were far more reliable but society didn’t care about the women (outside of igniting a scandal).
I see the point Howe is making regarding Jonathan Edwards’ isolation from his congregation with ED’s isolation from the rest of society when she remained skeptical of the revivalist movement. She’s aware of a greater truth, something beautiful and virtuous, but its not something that is easily seen, it has to be squinted at is even harder to explain. Revival is easy, staying revived is a lot harder.
This is what I find most interesting about ED, “the immanent consciousness of Separation”, where “each word is a cipher, through its sensible sign another sign hidden” – “Subject and object were fused at that moment, into the immediate feeling of understanding”. Her words live like electrons that can’t be directly observed, but we infer multiple meanings through the matter (and form) of the poem.
Edwards’ sermon with all its hellfire is fascinating, not least of all because of how un-God like he makes God seem (at least by modern standards; if anyone even thinks of God anymore). God here is vengeful and itching to throw everyone’s soul into the hottest of hells, but is held back only because he has to. These days God apparently wants you to be rich and vote for CEO’s.
I disagree that ED’s decision not to publish – and the shun fame- grew out of a Calvinist theology (even if it’s by the barest of threads). I think she was simply suspicious of fame and of society and mostly she might have worried that being in the world (so to speak) would dilute her poetry. Howe is correct that “Emily Dickinson’s religion was Poetry”, but that means it wasn’t anything else. ED was a social skeptic
I disagree that ED shunned fame because of a Calvinist strain, no matter how threadbare it might be. In saying this it takes away her decision by letting religion be the vehicle, but I don’t think this was her reason to reject fame. I think she saw fame as a road that would dilute her poetry, that being famous was not very original and that she was eternally skeptical of society,
“Grace and Predestination are another contradiction” – I wonder if ED had thought much about this since this is exactly the sort of split / fragmented / contradictory language she loved. If God both offers Grace AND Predestination is real, then how can they co-exist? Perhaps this is a glimmer of insight into her not trusting any of it? ED’s God is above contradiction at the very least.
Howe makes an interesting observation in how ED retained strains of Puritanism in that she describes “Puritan theology at its best would tirelessly search God’s secrecy, explore Nature’s hidden meaning,” and though ED wasn’t going as far as to say it was a Christian God running everything, she does see Something in Everything; no acre of creation is devoid of intention of some sort.
I like the breakdown of the trope of the captivity narrative, especially how the perseverance does not change the “victim” but brings them back closer to God which, ironically, is no longer found in nature, but in Christian civilization which is at war with nature, as well as the people who live in nature. In other words, it’s all cliche propaganda and people will always be susceptible to this shit.
I’ve heard the term Indian Bow before in regard to something other than an actual bow (of a bow and arrow). Does Increase Mather mean a rainbow? Or am I remembering this passage from when I grew up in Plymouth? Weird – but it is very familiar.
It’s interesting that ED was living at a time not only when America was split politically (civil war), but also geographically in that still large swaths of the landscape were unexplored and virgin and people like Cotton Mather were saying that wilderness is a sword (presumably attacking the good Christian). America was still new and unknown and struggling to find an identity – just like ED’s poetry.
I assume Howe is suggesting that ED is reacting to “the idea that our visible world is a whim and might be dissolved at any time” and that people of her day were willing to show “obedience to a stern and sovereign Absence” which “forged a fanatical energy necessary for survival”. The “obedience to a higher purpose” is plain and simple; ED disagrees, though she does still seem to believe in some sort of spirit.
“Perception of an object means loosing and losing it” as in Plato, but also at the quantum level of observation effecting the outcomes, the dual nature of reality at the fundamental level and the impossible divide between the thing and the form of the thing.
How much her dashes are like a woman trying to speak around a man who is trying to interrupt her. How often have we heard a woman speak only to have to pause, then go again, then pause again while she is interrupted? It’s like she’s having to fit her poetry around the voice of men, yet be continuing to write, even when she hesitates (Latin = to stick, stammer), she still perseveres and does not stop.
“Is this world of the imagination the same for men and women?” is a good question. Is it? What exactly IS our imagination? What are the waters of that sea made of? Are they the same temperature? Our our islands at different latitudes (or longitudes)? How much of what we are makes up what we want to be? Or is there a common imagination? That which makes us want to be part of everything else human?
“She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on intellectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy” (which I read as agony, but anagogy means spiritual elevation / passion = might be related, eg. Christ’s passion).
In other words, she invented a “new grammar”.
Howe goes into some detail as to what ED may have seen in George Eliot (herself of two names) and how Eliot may have been something of a kindred spirit. If anything, ED has excellent taste to chose Eliot over Harriet Beecher Stowe (or perhaps even Emerson, at least in person).
Interesting line, “To balance on a precipice of falling into foolishness was often the danger of opening your mouth to speak if you were and intellectually ambitious person with a female education,”. This in contrast to Emerson who visits next door while ED chooses to remain home.
Not that it takes a scholar to figure it out, but I do like that she’s also getting right to the dual-nature of ED’s words, how everything is multiple meanings and that ED didn’t seem too particularity interested in finding answers, for her it was the journey and poetry the only true answer.
I like the lines, “My voice formed from my life belongs to no one else. What I put into words is no longer in my possession.” and there is a sort of paradox working here in that the voice is owned, but anything the voice does is not; the moment the voice is used it becomes the property of the universe.
And now she’s onto Joyce, specifically Ulysses and Molly’s section ending with the affirmative, “yes”. Which itself is odd because it is written by a man, yet he was more recognized as an innovator than G. Stein was at the time even though she was pushing even harder than he was.
I wonder if it’s still worth making the distinction between Joyce saying “I hate intellectual women,” with the fact he didn’t say he didn’t need them? Sometimes I feel that the best writers sort of have a difficult relationship with people (in reality) and use writing to connect instead (though maybe that’s just me).
I love that Howe starts RIGHT OFF with comparing ED with G. Stein. Howe understands how both poets were attracted to subversion, which is why I love them both, too.
The preface is interesting in how it shows how derided ED was for so long, even up into 1980. Howe also uses the WCW quote about ED as her jumping off point to deal with how ED is seen, though she is quite fair to WCW in saying what he meant was that poets aren’t men or women, they are poets first “salted with fire”.
She talks about Thoreau wanting to get in a boat and see where the river takes him. I did that too.