Fanny Howe’s Ordinary Mysticism | Commonweal Magazine

Fanny Howe (Lynn Christoffers)

In Howe’s mystic vision, we’re always shuttling between darkness and dawn. It’s within that liminal space, that place of uncertainty and confusion, that God can be found: “A burnt offering is the only one / That love has pity for. // Not rare or well done. // But burned, burned, burned.”

In The Wedding Dress, a 2003 book that is part poetic manifesto, part spiritual biography, Howe declares that her guiding ethos, the word she’d write Emerson-style on the lintels of her door-post, is “bewilderment.” By this she means many things. As a poetic value, bewilderment suggests an acceptance of linguistic instability, a cultivation of the dreamlike and fragmented over the orderly. As a spiritual tenet, it signals an embrace of the via negativa. As a political philosophy, it indicates “devot[ion] to the little and the weak,” a refusal to accept the social and economic world as it is. More generally, bewilderment for Howe means a poetics and a theology of openness, of incompletion and continual revision.

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For decades it’s been a sure bet that every two years or so a new book from Fanny Howe would appear, and that this new book would bewilder and unsettle. But now, Howe told me, she’s through: “I really don’t have anything more to write. Done. Gone.” Her friends have told her that the mood will pass, but she doesn’t think so. Love and I, she asserts, will be her last book: “I feel like I’m working on ending things. Putting things away.” She’s putting away her pen (she writes longhand and her arthritis is painful), and she’s no longer returning to the writers—Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Michel de Certeau, Giorgio Agamben—she loves. Instead, she has decided that, from now on, she’ll just read “whatever comes by chance”: a reading suggestion from a friend, a poet sending her a manuscript in the mail. In the end, to live a life of radical openness is to put things away. True bewilderment, like true theology, ends in silence.

Source: Fanny Howe’s Ordinary Mysticism | Commonweal Magazine

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