Maria Damon

Prolegomenon: This Can't Be Our Hannah Weiner, Can It?

When I posted a query about Hannah Weiner on the Buffalo Poetics Listserv,
one respondent sent this message, which she had retrieved from the Web,
obviously from typing in "Hannah Weiner" as a keyword with no further
contextualizing material:

	The Jewish refugee issue was studied by Dr. Ofer in the context of the
	everyday life of refugees waiting to leave Europe. In The Dead End Voyage,
	by Dalia Ofer and Hannah Weiner (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1992) (Hebrew), the
	story is told of one group of more than a thousand refugees - mostly from
	Germany and Austria - that was stranded in Yugoslavia and murdered by the
	Nazis in 1941-42. The life, social organization and leadership, and private
	lives of individuals is presented.

And she followed the snippet with the question, "This can't be our Hannah,
can it?"  It was, clearly, a rhetorical question; still, the possibility
seems to me worthy of entertainment.  Not literally, of course; Hannah
Weiner the poet is not the co-author of this grim bit of Holocaust history.
Consider, though, the "coincidence" of mistaken identity, whereby one name
signifies both a Jewish woman historian and a Jewish woman poet, two
different people who nonetheless share a history as survivors of
anti-Semitism, and who are both involved in recording something of that
life experience.  While one is an autoethnographer recording her own
bizarre and exhausting relationship to language, society and the
otherworlds, the other has conducted research on those whose tragic fate is
precisely what makes them simultaneously noteworthy as research subjects
and unable to tell their own stories.  As such, the resonance between the
two is altogether too obvious to escape comment.  The "generic"ness of this
identifiably Jewish name indicates both the fragmentation and the
continuity in diasporic history, and speaks to how experience and history
are both fragmentary and also embedded the most banal syllables.  The name,
which etymologically translates as something like "Grace Winemaker" or
"Winemerchant," is oddly appropriate for the visionary poet who used LSD
and other hallucinogens to assist her receptivity to transpersonal
experience.  Further, as happens in the linguistic displacement that
accompanies continued diaspora, the pronunciation of "Weiner" in the United
States varies between "Wein" to rhyme with "Stein" or "Wein" to rhyme with
"mean," which latter suggests a homonym with another not uncommon Jewish
last name, Wiener, "from Vienna," a name which points up the history of
Jewish expulsion from one town after another in medieval and early modern
Europe (Jews expelled from Vienna settling in Leipzig would be surnamed
"Wiener;" a generation or two later, when the Jews would be expelled from
Leipzig, they'd travel back to Vienna or elsewhere as "Lipsitz" etc.).  So
the multiply and variably homonymous name is layered with ironies,
resonances, and that sine qua non of "minority" discourse, "a high degree
of deterritorialization" (Deleuze and Guattari, 24). Whether the
deterritorialization is linguistic and mental, as in the American poet
Hannah Weiner's case, or whether it is geopolitical as it is in the case of
the other Hannah's research subjects and members of the surviving Jewish
diaspora, the condition of postmodern trauma, of historical catastrophe of
millennial proportions, can easily be read through the sketchy palimpsests
of Weiner's poetry and the Web entry on Ofer/Weiner's book.   Moreover, the
chilling information that the "everyday life" of these stranded Jews
comprises the focal point of study begs the question, "What could possibly
be considered 'everyday life' under such extraordinary circumstances?"
Similarly, Weiner the poet's transcriptions of her everyday life, with such
disorienting effect on the reader, makes one question the category of the
quotidian itself in the sense of "routine," "ordinary," "unexceptional."
Again, it is worth entertaining the possibility that people living, as it
were, on psychic or material gangplanks could be usefully considered
"avant-gardists" in a way that would de-emphasize the aesthetic, instead
foregrounding the relationship between the necessity of inventing new forms
of consciousness designed to enable survival, and new forms of expression
that ensue.  Like so many other people living on the edge (the youthful
inventors of hip-hop culture, women stitching "crazy" quilts for their
families' comfort) Hannah Weiner's transvaluation of debilitating
experience into funny, strange, and powerful writings reminds us to put the
much-vaunted millennium, organizing trope for this special issue of Poetics
Today, in proper perspective.  It's always already over, but something else
has always already begun.

For example, this prolegomenon was originally the coda, or afterword, of 
the essay.

Next | Maria Damon Index