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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.
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