Edited By Kathie Birat and Brigitte Zaugg
The Lives of a Spirit: Mystical Bewilderment in Fanny Howe’s Fiction: Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd
Bénédicte CHORIER-FRYDUniversity of Poitiers, France
The initial decision of the spiritual is the decision to leave.
(Michel de Certeau, 1992: 177)
Fanny Howe is a widely acclaimed American poet and more confidential novelist and writer of short stories and essays.1 She is also, in her own words, a “Catholic atheist.” How does this paradox find an expression in her writing? Her fiction resonates with the questions that haunt her non-fictional texts, and it manifests a conception of the spiritual which she explores in her essays, in the fragmentary form so characteristic of all her writing. In “The Contemporary Logos,” one of the essays gathered in The Wedding Dress – Meditations on Word and Life, Fanny Howe delineates a “problem” faced by both writers and theologians: “When words are mouthed through Beckett’s characters […] affliction, silence and history have torn them from an origin. The problem for writers is the same for theologians” (78). Her “meditations” combine the positions of a critical writer (she examines the creative practices of other poets and writers), a historian (she sketches the lives of historical figures such as Edith Stein and Simone Weil), and a theologian (in “Contemporary Logos,” for instance, she outlines 20th-century developments of gnostic Christianity). As a theologian, she ends up with more questions than answers and concludes with this statement: “We may not know if there is ← 119 | 120 → a God or not, but we do know that there is a word” (2003: 81). In...
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