Now in paperback: Spontaneous Particulars by Susan Howe

Good news that a paperback edition is coming in May 2020 of Susan Howe’s wonderful short book, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives. Originally published in hardback by Christine Burgin Gallery in association with New Directions, this glorious tribute to the importance of being in the archive will hopefully now reach new readers.

Spontaneous Particulars is a difficult book to categorise. It is a collage-like collection of images and loosely associated fragments in the form of reflections on specific archival scraps, moments of autobiographical revelation, and elements of textual criticism. Conventional publishers have found such a format too challenging and so it was great to see that the Christine Burgin/New Directions collaboration commit to publishing an unconventional work of beauty and magic.

Susan Howe describes Spontaneous Particulars as a ‘swan song’ (p.9). Originally conceived as an illustrated slide-show lecture, the beautiful coloured images and text brought together in the slim volume form a tribute to the pleasures of working with literary manuscripts and ephemera, pleasures she fears may be diminished as new technologies transform how we engage with such artifacts. ‘We need to see and touch objects and documents’, she writes, ‘now we often merely view the same material on a computer screen—digitally, virtually, etc’ (p. 9).

Howe opens with the indisputable proposition that ‘the nature of archival research is in flux’. Although she does not elaborate explicitly on the implications of such flux, this idea nevertheless frames her creative homage to the ‘material details’ (p.21) or ‘historical-existential traces’ (p.24) that for her make an archive an archive. They are also the qualities of the archival experience that inspire her work as a poet and as a remarkable literary critic.

More on Susan Howe here.