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Poetry, attention, and the mysteries of the body
Author: Cary Howie

This book explores, through medieval literature, modern poetry, and theologies both medieval and modern, the ways in which bodies, very much including literary bodies, may become apparent as more than they at first had seemed. Transfiguration, traditionally understood as the revelation of divinity in community, becomes for this book a figure for those splendours, mundane as much as divine, that wait within the read, lived, and loved world. The riddle of the body, which is to say the deep and superficial mystery of its pleasures and complications, invites a kind of patience, as medieval and modern languages reach toward, and break away from, something at their deepest centre and on their barest surface. By bringing together medieval sources with lyric medievalism, this book argues for the porousness of time and flesh. In this way, Augustine, Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante, Boccaccio, and the heroes of Old French narrative, no more or less than their modern lyric counterparts, come to light in new and newly complicated ways. They become, in a word, transfigured.

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Cary Howie

This chapter gets its title from the word spoken by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation, a greeting that at once surprises and recognizes its addressee. So, too, is transfiguration, for this book, a practice that surprises, that calls something new out of the world, even as it bears witness to what, in the world, has never not been there. Through Francis of Assisi no less than poets Donna Masini and Mary Szybist, the world we share with the Middle Ages is one that calls us out, takes us by surprise and restores us to ourselves.

in Transfiguring medievalism
Cary Howie

This chapter reads the account of Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew’s Gospel alongside its medieval interpreters, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, as well as poets Matt Donovan, Marie Howe, Lynda Hull and Laura Kasischke. To be transfigured, in these accounts, is to have one’s boundaries at once contested and reinforced; it is to experience the body as newly bounded and newly luminous, precisely inasmuch as it is bound to the bodies of others.

in Transfiguring medievalism
Cary Howie

This chapter argues, after Samuel Delany and Boccaccio, among others, for a poetics of precarious reconciliation, in which sanctity may take place in suspense and the body’s breaks may be honoured though they are never overcome. Poets such as Mary Karr and Mary Oliver come to take their place alongside philosophers and literary critics, as well as saints real and fake, in their embodiment of how the complications of life and language make crossover artists of us all.

in Transfiguring medievalism
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Cary Howie

This chapter expounds and lingers with the poetics of monasticism, specifically the poetics of monastic discretion or discernment, especially as it appears in the Conferences of John Cassian. In dialogue with Michel Foucault and Thomas Merton, as well as modern poets Marilyn Hacker, Jane Hirshfield and Melissa Range, this chapter suggests that monastic speech and monastic bodies take materiality seriously, as something seriously mysterious and seriously inchoate, even and especially when that materiality proves to be a limitation. To be monastic, in life and in language, is to be always beginning.

in Transfiguring medievalism
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The question
Cary Howie
in Transfiguring medievalism
Cary Howie

This chapter argues for and attempts to embody a critical poetics of waiting—not just for the Middle Ages but with them. Through medieval sources (Béroul, Dante) as well as modern ones (Jean-Louis Chrétien, Martin Seel, Simone Weil), it becomes apparent that to experience the world most fully might be also to wait for it. Practicing a kind of critical and existential attentiveness, we are able to be taken by surprise precisely where we thought surprise was no longer possible, as poet Marie Howe demonstrates in her lyric meditation on embodiment, death, and sandwiches.

in Transfiguring medievalism
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Cary Howie

This chapter offers a phenomenology of the waiting body, which is also the body we are waiting for. Through an attentiveness to the body’s extremities, particularly its hands, the chapter finds a way, with Dante’s pilgrim, out of hell and into a new, if fragile, tactile resilience. Philosophers Martin Heidegger, Karmen MacKendrick and Jean-Luc Nancy add their voices, and hands, to a handful of lyric poets, including Antonia Pozzi, for whom the body is never something to be grasped, though it cannot fail to touch.

in Transfiguring medievalism
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Cary Howie

This chapter explores the mystery of togetherness, as variously embodied in Cassian’s monasticism, a medieval version of the Narcissus myth, and the thinking of philosopher Martin Buber. Even when one plus one fails to add up, these texts suggest, some broken community may nonetheless persist; even when it looks like we’re getting nowhere, something in us may in fact be moved. Love may, in this way, not reduce to a subject or an object; it may be neither of one nor of two.

in Transfiguring medievalism
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Puking prayer
Cary Howie
in Transfiguring medievalism