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  • Incloser
  • Susan Howe

Some of this essay has been published in The Politics of Poetic Form; Poetry and Public Policy, edited by Charles Bernstein, Roof Books. [What follows is an excerpt from a book to be published in 1991 by Weaselsleeves Press. —Eds.]

    Turned back from turning back
as if a loved country
     faced away from the traveler
    No pledged premeditated daughter
no cold cold sorrow no barrier



IN-CLOSE, v.t. [fr. %enclos*; Sp. It. incluso; L. inclusus, includo; in and claudo or cludo.]

To surround; to shut in; to confine on all sides; as to inclose a field with a fence; to inclose a fort or an army with troops; to inclose a town with walls.

To separate from common grounds by a fence; as, to inclose lands.

To include; to shut or confine; as to inclose trinkets in a box.

To environ; to encompass.

To cover with a wrapper or envelope; to cover under seal; as to inclose a letter or a bank note.

IN-CLOS ER, n. He or that which encloses; one who separates land from common grounds by a fence.

Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language

Anagram: O, a map’s thresh’d
(WIII 513)

The first and least of these Books [by Shepard] is called, The Sincere Convert: Which the Author would commonly call, His Ragged Child : And once, even after its Fourth Edition, wrote unto Mr. Giles Firmin, thus concerning it: once saw it. It was a Collection of such Notes in a dark Town in, The Sincere Convert: I have not the Book : I once saw it. It was a Collection of such Notes in a dark Town in England, which one procuring of me, published them without my Will, or my Privity. I scarce know what it contains, nor do I like to see it; considering the many Typographia, most absurd; and the Confession of him that published it, that it comes out much altered from what was first written.

Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana

My writing has been haunted and inspired by a series of texts, woven in shrouds and cordage of classic American 19th century works, they are the buried ones, they body them forth.

The selection of particular examples from a large group is always a social act. By choosing to install certain narratives somewhere between history, mystic speech, and poetry, I have enclosed them in an organization although I know there are places no classificatory procedure can reach where connections between words and things we thought existed break off. For me, paradoxes and ironies of fragmentation are particularly compelling.

Every statement is a product of collective desires and divisibilities. Knowledge, no matter how I get it, involves exclusion and repression. National histories hold ruptures and hierarchies. On the scales of global power what gets crossed over? Foreign accents mark dialogues that delete them. Ambulant vagrant bastardy comes looming through assurance and sanctification.

_Thomas Shepard:_

A long story of conversion, and a hundred to one if some lie or other slip not out with it. Why, the secret meaning is, I pray admire me.

(WII 284)

When we move through the positivism of literary canons and master narratives, we consign ourselves to the legitimation of power, chains of inertia, an apparatus of capture.

_Brother Crackbone’s Wife:_

So I gave up and I was afraid to sing because to sing a lie, Lord teach me and I’ll follow thee and heard Lord will break the will of His last work.

(C 140)

A printed book enters social and economic networks of distribution. Does the printing modify an author’s intention, or does a text develop itself? Why do certain works go on saying something else? Pierre Macherey says in A Theory of Literary Production: “the work has its beginnings in a break from the usual ways of speaking and writing—a break which sets it apart from all other forms of ideological expression” (52). Roman Jakobson says in “Dialogue On Time In Language and Literature”: “One of the essential differences between spoken and written language can be seen clearly. The former has a purely...

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