Bruce Andrews


Suture — & Absence of the Social

(On Susan Howe)



From the 1989 Susan Howe issue of The Difficulties, indented paragraphs made up of phrases, separated by dashes, taken from her published work: "Chanting at the Crystal Sea" (1975), Secret History of the Dividing Line (1979), The Liberties (1980), Pythagorean Silence (1982), Defenestrotion of Prague (1984), My Emily Dickinson (1985), "The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson" (1985), "Women and Their Effect in the Distance" (1986), "Heliopathy" (1986), "Thorow" (1987), "Federalist 10" (1987), Articulation of Sound Forms in Time (1987). Again, with the "Tips for Totalizers" mapping as its vertebrae, with a nod toward the treatments of "suture" in film studies and post-structuralist political theory.


This body of work insistently embodies an engaged (wonderfully engaging) alternative to the maps & scale models of power & subjecthood it poses, exposes, worries over.

Ideology works through the construction of subjects, by positioning, by address (or interpellation) — helping an unjust social order hold itself together. The spectator's (or reader's) subjectivity too often takes shape in a similar (compulsory) itinerary. (But not in the body of work at hand.)

Law scans the grammar of liberty and surrender. — daggers like puppets scissored the sky. — Rules are guards and fences — In the machinery of injustice — the subtle workings of the Body Politic on every citizen, — Other to other we are all functions in a system of War. — I am // Part of their encroachment — restoration of Order — Pseudonym cast across empty — Incomprehensible . . . / fabric of structure // Stretching and patching // Slope the unmastered houses / Ghostly architecture — Extinct ordr set tableaux — no longer boundless — monadical and anti-intellectual — all coherence gone? —

Typically texts stare at us, tutor us, set us in our place, positioned in classical monocular perspective by the binding, blinding lure of convention.

Mortal particulars / whose shatter we are — of jeopardy / blown through gaps in our community — Pure knowledge freed from willing // fixed in fleeting — The Spectre / in my room — / Epitome — /of Self. — Forfeit feeds nativity — Logical determination of position — I is the subject of a proposition in logic. — Outline was a point chosen — and yet a dream world / (immediacy) hold fast to this — shuddering . . . / Self formed in
line — I / inherit myself/ semblance / . . . dispersed — Unity something there — really nowhere — / mutilation — and scatterbrain / patch — them in me I / halted — Bound / symmetry yielding — her voice / a settled place / table spread — the Poet an animal charmed in one spot, eyes fixed to the light — Send out a smoothness o'er the skin: — Free from tangle ... — check the chart! — Seem . . . // Distant monarchs . . . / grid — But
trace to eye . . . refuge sect quest focus trap — Lives to be seen pressing and alien // Fix fleeting communication // Carried away before a pursuer — thraldom — and pride of place // in some contraction of place. — We will leave the stage as prisoners — I bind unto myself today — Who can tell me who I am? — I carried your name / like a huge shield. —

Ideology succeeds as ventriloquism. The subject/reader gets a subjectively subjected (or subjectedly subjective) ego — a structured character. Out of this imaginary relation, finds herself constructed as a unified whole by identifying with a centralizing imagery, a unifying reflection; as if in a mirror, doubling the amnesias & repressions of the text.

HALLUCINATION OF THE MIRROR — arrow itself an illusion — Chasm dogma scoops out — from vague / infinity of / background / that haunts / or hunts Theory of proof / mention of the predicables // Snare world pitted / Presage — We look into distance as a dream / what we are // and we are not Threading mazes — Self ceded to sphere — Clearly headless. — (enchantment captivity / a paradise—prison) — Worlds pass mirror — worlds in shelter — Dreams walk through me — lines to an apparitional dagger. — because there were no reins // when present I was absent. — hidden from our vision / MARK / border / bulwark, an object set up to indicate a boundary or position / hence a sign or token — SECRET HISTORY OF THE DIVIDING LINE — a LEAP // creates the pursuer —

As in film, as in film theory, the fixing (& reassuring) of spectators occurs through suturing: stitching, fills in, like a wound's lips surgically sewn. We are authorized to see only what a second, ghosted spectator can see — 'the absent one' — through a shot/reverse shot sequence & continuity editing. First shot: we see the field, the protagonist: we see what an 'absent one' sees. Second, the reverse shot clarifies (& ideologizes): that 'look of nobody' is wiped out by a depiction of someone who occupies that place (who possesses the field in shot I). We see the second character as if from the (neutral) place & point of view of the protagonist. Optical point of view in film (in so-called 'dominant cinema') produces a subject in place of that absence. We 'stand in' for the absent second character — 'nobody's look' becomes somebody's; absence becomes presence as voyeurism works as a form of identification. When the first protagonist is shown again, the gap is sutured, the absence sewn up — & the reader/viewer comes to be' a glancing, eavesdropping subject. The reverse shot: a mirror, identified with the audience, whose members identify (as individuals) with the producer (the writer, the camera).

Apprehension as representation — Point to point — Posit gaze level diminish lamp — cover drawing from The Practice of Perspective — (as mirror // in mirror to be) — kept watch / on the fixed promontory — I looked at our precise vanishing point on the horizon — system measuring from breach to / ... the place tendered — Gaze endures infinite
scars — Range loom and lacing Clear / companion — Force made desire wander / Jumping from one subject // to another / Besieged and besieged — Nearer to know less before afterward schism in sum. — fragment of a name / singing to figment — Self and Anti-self/ chemical wedding — to deceive . . . / Players melt into one another — and her false double — Self around self / mimicking and lengthening // Layer after layer / mirror characters pursue each other — without faces / empty space between two bodies — evanishing of the actors into // one another — e n d l e s s PROTEIN L i n k a g e s — There is a gulf fixed — has holes instead of eyes — hiatus / chiasma — between thwarts — Calling the glass / partners in this marriage — traverse to partner. — act oblique act ... grid . . . / dual double . . . meridian planar point — We closed a chasm — little distant each other and fro — Perception crumbles under character —

In the official versions of 'high modernism', the reader is addressed by the text's own formalized self-sufficiency, its outsidelessness: hermetically sealed, indifferent to the reader s presence in social discourse, but, figuring her to be missing, encourages her voyeurism. Ideology's medusa gaze.

Such texts create an absence by their inability to come fully to grips with language & discourse — an absence of the social, a gap, which the reader is to fill in (or suture), also without going through the circuit (& intrication) of language. The reader has a stand-in — the author: fixing her within the self-enclosures (& seeming personal possessions) of the text. And this formalist absence of the social can fix the reader as complicit & coherent stand-in. This is a containment, sealing the reader within the self-referring moment of the author's sovereignty (a reverse shot — resurrecting the ab-
sence in the position of the writer, reappropriating it inside the frames of the text itself & naturalizing those social frames).

Love / (my dear Imaginary) Maze-believer — Tranquillity of a garrison — Authorial withdrawal // Will as fourth wall — Vision closes over vision / Standpoint melts into open — Recreation of a poor ghost / clinging to half face — epitomes // seconds forgeries engender — empirical proof proving / Summary succession of spectators twisted // away — The final ruins ahead / revealed two figures timidly engraved on one another.
— Shadows only shadows / met my gaze . . . Mediator — possession / hide-and-seek border region — Distance or outness — Invisible to her people. Out in a gap in the shadows. — enchantments eclipses — Distance and eyes get lost — An eyeless king — eyeing intimacies — engaged couples / buried in epochs of armor // exhibit themselves — drawn and drawn together / mirrors thaw — "I kiss the wall's hole" because there were no reins — annihilation of her gaze on nothing — I a boundary manic — aloofe, aloofe, and come no neare —

The author, if its moves are conventionalized enough, is so discreet & ghostly — a sovereign absent one, authorizing what of the social figuration the reader can experience yet absenting or covering up the bodily, social place (& method) out of which meanings are processed. It naturalizes the figurative & the rhetorical, by speaking impersonally, hiding its 'enunciatory work' with the help of a reader 'sewn' into the text. The absence (of production) is effaced, or filled in; the monadic reader (the basic suture) experiencing epiphanies of presence before a self-enclosed formalist space, by an identification with an absence (or a 'making imaginary') of the social. This helps guarantee a smoothed, antisocial address; it allows the process of construction of the subject — a multiplicity of social intersections — to be forgotten. Instead, the subject/reader takes shape & finds its place as consumer; it allows the author a sovereignty over discourse so that social norms become the subject's dream.

The real plot was invisible — Entangled obedience// muffled discourse from distance — in Laws that man is a puppet — Ransom stammers fact — Copies are read to pieces — Lies domesticate the night.


A companion piece to the previous Howe text, with sources the same. It appears in Manuel Brito's monograph section of "Recent American Poetry and Poetics," in Revisto Canaria de Estudios Ingleses (1989), and in Leslie Scalpino's collection What is the inside, what is outside?: 0/two An Anthology (1991).

Beyond Suture
(On Susan Howe)


Poetry is redemption from pessimism. — All leadings off, meaning utterly unsafe, — athwart and sundered — flickers in the rigging — F r a g m e n t s o f a L i q u i d a t i o n — to be read by guesswork through obliteration


We are a small remnant // of signal escapes wonderful in themselves — Identities and configurations rupture and shift. — she escapes the violence of definition, — Formation of a Separatist — Who knows // what number in number alone / stands heretic // if one is not — Ego vanished and — Am in a simple allegory // Reaching out alone in words oh // peerless poesy — An executant enunciates multiplicity. — We are too finite —


ReddenBorderViewHaloPast ApparitionOpenMostNotion is — tracing points — vertices — stages — Confusion // of lines bisecting shred — I pick my compass to pieces — Well structure could fall / Preys troop free — asquint / askew — sh dispel iris sh —


Transgression links . . . / Dark spell — invisible / inviolable — Outside the window fictions are / crumbling — Lines surrender occult adieu // Negation coils its coldest constellation — My map is rotten and frayed —


The Perfectibilitarians were wrong — the little heir of alphabet / lean as a knife / searches ... in tatters — healingly into a depth — in syllables caesura — must always undo or sever — For we are language Lost / in language — refuses / to be comforted // because they are not. — Her instinctive one-sided discourse abolishes one-sidedness. — The stream bisects the stage. — But in writing Language advances into remembering that there is no answer imagining Desire. — Know the combustible dark
— Stammer. — I have imagined a center // Wilder than this region / The figment of a book // Scarce broken letters — pivot bravura — Irruptives — unfocused future —


— intimacy with Vacancy was Expanse, not Truth. — Witnesses are all humans linking or heralding truth or transgression in a grammatical irruption of grace abounding. — Face answers to face / limit and quiet Limit // Field of vision and field of future — Face to fringe of itself/ foreseen form from far off — The doors of the fortress are open — horizons wandering real world — Not a trace. We are at peace — pathless — Nameless abashing flame. — I might withdraw into distance beyond name. — In
distant discourse I trace a Stranger self. — darkened by outstripped possession / Field stretching out of the world — a rupture into contraries. — Gun stays awake guarding the Distance. —


Physiognomy of Liberty — quintessential clarity of inarriculation — everything possible — in Contradiction's originary ebullience, an end to passive consumerism. — Our masters re-interpreted as monsters — in a land of pages // where the No's have it — The expanse of unconcealment / so different from all maps — only Mutability certain. — between rupture and rapture — Counterjudgement — Clamor in the theatre of alienation. — Hoop // of horizon / negation pursuit and illusion — splitting nature's
shadow / splitting the world