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The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 181
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  • Book Info
    The Wedding Dress
    Book Description:

    In times of great uncertainty, the urgency of the artist's task is only surpassed by its difficulty. Ours is such a time, and rising to the challenge, novelist and poet Fanny Howe suggests new and fruitful ways of thinking about both the artist's role and the condition of doubt. In these original meditations on bewilderment, motherhood, imagination, and art-making, Howe takes on conventional systems of belief and argues for another, brave way of proceeding. In the essays "Immanence" and "Work and Love" and those on writers such as Carmelite nun Edith Stein, French mystic Simone Weil, Thomas Hardy, and Ilona Karmel—who were particularly affected by political, philosophical, and existential events in the twentieth century--she directly engages questions of race, gender, religion, faith, language, and political thought and, in doing so, expands the field of the literary essay. A richly evocative memoir, "Seeing Is Believing," situates Howe's own domestic and political life in Boston in the late '60s and early '70s within the broader movement for survival and social justice in the face of that city's racism. Whether discussing Weil, Stein, Meister Eckhart, Saint Teresa, Samuel Beckett, or Lady Wilde, Howe writes with consummate authority and grace, turning bewilderment into a lens and a light for finding our way.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93719-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-4)

    My children and I grew up together in Jamaica Plain—a section of Boston that lies between Jamaica Pond and Franklin Park. The children went to the local public schools, then in the process of desegregation, and I went to school as a low-level instructor of creative writing. My adult life began when I met their father in late 1967, only a few months after my father had died of a heart attack. I had been working for CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) in Roxbury. At first I traveled south with a friend to report on goings-on down there;...

    (pp. 5-23)

    What I have been thinking about, lately, is bewilderment as a way of entering the day as much as the work.

    Bewilderment as a poetics and a politics.

    I have developed this idea from living in the world and also through testing it out in my poems and through the characters in my fiction—women and children, and even the occasional man, who rushed backwards and forwards within an irreconcilable set of imperatives.

    What sent them running was a double bind established in childhood, or a sudden confrontation with evil in the world—that is, in themselves—when they were...

    (pp. 24-38)

    Everything I know about fairies comes from Oscar Wilde’s mother, Francesca Speranza—or Lady Wilde. She wroteLegends of Ancient Ireland,which was published in England in 1902. She gathered her evidence from “oral communications with the peasantry” and from history texts where she begins:

    “From the beautiful Eden-land at the head of the Persian Gulf, where creeds and cultures rose to life, the first migrations emanated,” including flocks of fairies traveling from Iran to Erin.

    Of those fairies—theSidheof Ireland—she writes, “Their voices were heard in the mountain echo, and their forms seen in the purple...

    (pp. 39-60)

    When I was a child I was hyperconscious of the silence surrounding all matter and at first this silence was a dynamic that encouraged me. As time went by, however, the silence became increasingly erratic in the lengths and directions of its waves and not so partial to me.

    Being a child of the twentieth century I suppose that the emotional source of this fixation on silence may have come from my father’s absence during the Second World War and my yearning for his return. On the other hand, my attention to what was missing may have begun earlier, when...

    (pp. 61-72)

    Ilona Karmel, born in Cracow in 1925, was sixteen when she was deported to a German labor camp for the duration of the war.

    Later, seriously and permanently injured by German tanks during the liberation of Buchenwald, she made her way to the U.S. where she studied, taught, and wrote two novels in English. Both could be called prison novels although one was set in a postwar hospital.

    In bothStephaniaandAn Estate of MemoryKarmel walks doubt into a furnace of gestural and physical details and leaves it there.

    The question “What is one person’s responsibility for another?”...

    (pp. 73-81)

    1. Adam and Eve heard the First One’s voice “in the garden walking” with them. This voice—Memra in Hebrew—was Yahweh, the Law, the Logos, and it was moving around beside them like a radio with legs. This same voice of the Logos was later heard speaking to Moses, whose face, afterwards, burned like hot gold until no one dared go near him.

    2. The sound of that voice comes and goes in other human and angelic forms throughout Scripture; then it recedes and disappears. The Gnostics felt it fading into eternity and becoming that eternity. The Logos spread...

    (pp. 82-98)

    Thomas Hardy, who might be called “an incubus of the forlorn” after one of his own characters, and for whom the past is an obscure and heavy presence that folds each person into a path determined by probabilities and failures, suffered from his memories.

    He might have wanted to purge them when he sat down to write. But he wrote, as all novelists do, backwards, in the body of a character entering the story with as much uncertainty as its author, and as if he had never been anywhere before.

    He called his novels “imperfect little dramas of country life...

    (pp. 99-106)

    InFinnegans WakeJames Joyce set his long final narrative in Dublin’s rains and ruins near the Vico Road that winds down to Killiney Bay and across Ireland to Purgatory where human errors fizzle into a hole.

    In the thirteenth century Purgatory was discovered in Ireland; it was a hole in the ground on Station Island, near Donegal. There penitents were liberated from their sins.

    This deep and insidious pit was also dubbed Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.

    Before this time there had been an actual geographic Earthly Paradise located in the East beside a four-branched river.

    And for centuries there had...

    (pp. 107-122)

    What can you do after Easter?

    Every turn of the tire is a still point on the freeway.

    If you stand in one, and notice what is all around you, it is a pileup of the permanent.

    The churn of creation is a constant upward and downward action; simultaneous, eternal.

    If you keep thinking there is only an ahead and a behind, you are missing the side-to-side which gives evidence to the lie that you are moving progressively.

    If everything is moving at the same time, nothing is moving at all.

    Time is more like a failed resurrection than a...

    (pp. 123-142)

    I once made a short video about Simone Weil. I went to the church she had attended—Corpus Christi—when she lived in New York in 1942. My camcorder was an early model Sony, heavy and cheap. Thus far I had only practiced on random shoots that were both amateurish and conventional.

    When I looked, much later, at the imagery my camera had collected, I saw a series of chess squares. Yellow light through square glass infused the space with a honey tone. A black and white checkerboard floor. The same floor appeared in a religious painting over the altar...

    (pp. 143-150)

    No one will ever know what experience—dreamed, imagined, read, lived—Simone Weil went through in order to write the prose poem called “Prologue.” She admired Baudelaire. She loved fables and fairy tales. But does it matter to which category her piece belongs, falling as it did inside her journal?

    Dimly it raises the question: How much of what she asserted came directly from experiences that she never mentions?

    How much came from the daily bread of dream, imagination, reading, and life itself all combined?

    For instance I once knew a man who was a poem.

    He was, like the...

    (pp. 151-154)
    (pp. 155-155)