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Beginnings: Introductions, Explanations, Forewords In order to dramatize more fully the functioning of "intergenerational haunting" and its somatic and aesthetic dimensions, and to relate it to American popular culture and vernacular traditions, I also refer to the explanation given by Geoffrey Wolfe, director of the Broadway production Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, about the power of tapdance. He claims that encoded in the bodies of generations of Americans of African descent, lost languages and experiences make their appearance in the present through tap. And there is a certain family resemblance, via the mechanics of dissociation, between tapping and typing: rhythms that express the most profound emotional and psychological states are effected by the extremities --fingers and toes respectively--, while the upper body and face remain relatively impassive or masklike (in the case of tap, the masks are often of the stylized, crying-clown variety). We can, moreover, link this tap-typing to the tapping that assures seance participants that they have succeeded in communicating with the "other side," and with the spasmodic gestures that move the ouija board toward letters forming messages from the dead, from spirits, from angels who bring grist for poetry. Hannah Weiner's work --her written records of clairvoyant experience -- is symptomatic of these kinds of creatively transformative traumatic utterances --and it has the same eerie sort of disembodied mechanical effect as tap, in which fragments of inadmissable history orbit in performative play. Weiner's field of play is not the Broadway stage, the dancefloor nor the round seance table but her own forehead, and any other surface where invisible words can be read, and written, by her. Again, the concept of dissociation as a psychological and a spiritual state is useful here. Dissociation of body parts from other body parts (feet moving while face is impassive, or the powerful metaphor of the valley of dry bones as one of genocidal trauma healed through spiritual command), of body from mind (that Hannah Weiner can "see" words on her forehead from the inside implies that she "herself" is sufficiently detached from her body, can withdraw far enough inside of it, to be able to read it from the inside out; I, for example, cannot see my own forehead without a mirror, because I am too full of myself), or of content from affect (a horrific narrative described in flat language or tone, or the tickertape effect of Weiner's writing on the page) all hover around some central trope of displacement, disorientation, dispossession, disenfranchisement -- and at the same time, of empowerment on a different register, as if one were being emptied out in order to be the vessel of historical signification. The most important feature of Weiner's writing, for her and for her readership, is her clairvoyance, which is explained in brief prefaces by Weiner and others to many of the books written after 1970, which is the date she identifies as the beginning of her becoming "extremely psychic." Here, for example, is the note opening Clairvoyant Journal (Lenox MA: Angel Hair Books, 1978). I quote these notes somewhat exhaustively because part of my agenda is to familiarize those who might be new to her radically defamiliarized and defamiliarizing language; but also because they are beginnings, and as such they function as frames that contextualize and to some extent legitimize the work: I SEE words on my forehead IN THE AIR on other people on the typewriter on the page These appear in the text in CAPITALS or italics The cover shows a warmly smiling Weiner with the words "I SEE WORDS" painted or magic markered across her forehead. And here, several years later, is the even more decentered prefatory explanation in Spoke (1984) -- which is a title resonant with Theresa Cha's Dictée (she who is spoken) as a reference to clairaudience or other forms of automatic-writing/ writing-as-dictation-as-subjection/abjection: Introduction All these on my forehead words are seen EXCEPT BIG LARGE WHICH ARE GLADLY SEEN ON THE you are discovered PAGE nineteen eighty one and class Radcliffe spoke In Nijole's House (1981), a publisher's straightforward explanation in the third person All the words in this book were seen by Hannah Weiner first on her forehead -- she sees them from within -- in very small script, in several word lines, as indicated by the line breaks. These words appear in the text in upper and lower case. The words printed in the text as capitals were seen on her forehead as larger script VERY BIG WORDS or were seen on the page in big print interrupting the line that she was then writing down. Some words appeared in color, some in light, some in pencil line. This process is similar to that used in writing Clairvoyant Journal and Little Books/Indians, though there are some WILD variations is followed by Weiner's own pithy, in some ways much clearer, note: ALL WORDS BELIEVE IT SEEN I ams a clairvoyant The preface to Sixteen (Windsor VT: Awede, 1983 is likewise fragmented and disorienting: AS SEEN I WORDS [in red print on a semi-transparent cellophane page through which the rest of the intro can be (never completely) apprehended, as if the whole genre of "explanatory gloss" were under erasure] introduction as class i see words between lines on sign Alex Hladky is dead, burial, movement leader as white as could be as seen I words, sojourn PERIO the following ALL SEEN AS WORDS BEFORE i write mother IT DOWN IN THE BOOK AS CLASS the I Ching THROW said 16 the number Enthusiasm S U I C Iin a carD E following the change 17 on Alex Hladky's death late fall 1982 I was promised to him just a little bit everyone all otherwise the piece as usual was following orders en titled BY MYSELF IN SEEN WORDS the number THE SAME sixteen sentences seen this summer 82 AS ABOVE period As far as I can make out from reading between the lines (literally) in this text (and part of traumatic consciousness is the literalizing of metaphor, as in the system of Dante's Hell), Weiner was writing a piece based on sixteen sentences clairvoyantly seen but somehow based on Hexagram 16 of the I Ching when this process --a form of dictated but also aleatory writing--was interrupted by the --highly controlled (in that a suicide represents a subject's decision to take control of the great unknowable) -- traumatizing death of Alex Hladky, a movement leader who is white (but not a leader of the white movement, i.e. aryan brotherhood or other)??? The writing itself mirrors the process of interruption, of shock, of the chaotic nature of creation and death, of their non-sequential (paratactical) relationality, in the swirl of Jewish postmodernity. Hence my dwelling on the prefatory notes as phenomena of pseudo-AND-legitimat/ing-explanation. In Gerard Genette's exhaustive taxonomy of "paratexts" (extra-textual material such as titles, subtitles, prefaces, jacket and catalogue copy), these "authorial prefaces" serve to direct the reader's attention to the importance of the text, to show him/her how to read it, and, in this case, to offer authenticating evidence of Weiner's state of mind. That is, even in paratextual writing she is decentered and non-linear; thus she must be the "real thing." But the real what? Clairvoyant, trauma victim, mentally ill person? And if she is any and/or all of these, can she also be a real "writer," that is, someone with an intentional aesthetic strategy? An interview she gave the journal Lucy and Jimmy's House of K indicates that she is indeed a "real writer" in this sense, and that her fragmented text and indeed her clairvoyant/ hallucinatory experience have been understood by her as literary events (although it is not clear how much this interview was "doctored" by the anonymous interviewer to create the semblance of linear intentionality in her spoken prose): as she articulates it in this interview, her goal in using multiple voices and typefaces is to capture the "complete mind" at work in all its non-linear, self-interrupting complexity; it is simultaneously how she experiences her mental process and how she purposively and aesthetically represents that process. In the recent spate of literary-theoretical writing on trauma, this intending-and- not-intending, knowing-and-not-knowing,revealing-and-not- revealing perplex is central to the notion of theliterary-as-traumatic (Caruth and Hartman). Weiner's decentered prefaces legitimate her as a not-knower; the interview, published in an obscure, out of print 'zine, legitimates her as a knower, if not of (her own) trauma, at least of literary intentionality. Others are enrolled to legitimate her as a literary creature as well, in what Genette calls "allographic" prefaces (prefaces written by persons other than the author of the main text), which can say things not permitted or appropriate to the author. Accordingly, in later volumes such as WEEKS (1990), wholly coherent and analytic prefaces by known poets with academic positions (notably Charles Bernstein) legitimate Weiner while deeply respecting, and working to preserve, her strangeness. Prefaces such as these guide readers through increasingly dizzying texts like advisory warnings and analyses rolled into one --as Genette would say, they tell the reader how to read these particular texts. In WEEKS, a collaboration with photographer Barbara Rosenthal, typographical designer Miekal And superimposes Weiner's simultaneously numbing and relentlessly manic stream of media cliches ("The senate acted in a very radical way It was rainy out and the street was slick at the time of the accident That burger you had for lunch may give you more than indigestion You get two games for one buck but you gotta be in it to win it") over a ghostly gray series of "Weeks 1, Weeks 2,...Weeks 50" forming a monotonous and, as Bernstein points out, ominous subtext; while Rosenthal's blurry photos from the tv screen make Jackie Onassis, the Ayatollah Khomeini and the "Rev. Al Sharpton" look eerily alike. Actually, despite the extreme "messiness" of the book's look, this volume is perhaps the most ideologically accessible of Weiner's oeuvre. Thus as instruction, Bernstein's commentary is in some ways redundant, though it theorizes astutely on the scary, "quiet desperation" evinced by this presentation of insidious, "ambient ideology." The covers, front and back, of Clairvoyant Journal also work to both preserve Weiner's strangeness and to make her work accessible to an aesthetically trained or, alternately, baffled readership: on the front, as mentioned above, a warmly smiling Weiner is shown with "I SEE WORDS" painted on her forehead in a way that renders playful what must be a considerably painful and frightening experience of being different. Her friend Jackson Mac Low, known for his poetry based on chance operations, writes on the back cover: Hannah Weiner is the only clairvoyant I know, or that I've ever known, as far as I know. She is also the only person on record -- or so she believes as a result of her extensive investigations into both medical and parapsychic literature --to have experienced the particular phenomenon this journal represents, that of being "spoken to" by several persons, most of them seemingly external to herself, by means of printed words in various colors and sizes that appear both on other persons and objects and on her own forehead (in such a way that she can perceive them from within). Hers, however, might have been but a "remarkable case," were it not for the fact that she is an artist. Her achievement --and it is a considerable one --lies in her having developed a specific literary form through which to convey her remarkable experience. Like Bernstein in WEEKS, Mac Low offers a kind of custodial mediation, explaining the significance of Weiner's contribution to contemporary letters. The two men act as cultural mediators in ways often reserved either for women (in the case of, for example, American Indian interfaces with Anglo-American culture, which has pretty much stripped Indian men of opportunities for meaningful livelihood such as traditional warriorship etc), or, alternately and more a propos here, for sons of immigrant women (see Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, for example; Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg;" or any number of David Antin's talk-poems ) who must explain to the mainstream the unreadable and hence pathologized language of their mothers or older female relatives. Understanding the mainstream's assumption that these women are pathologically marked, and also understanding the need resist that assumption (and understanding to some degree, or at least empathizing with, the undecipherable signs these women produce), their tactic here is to bestow on these productions or performances an aesthetic value, and/or to use them as parables of "the human condition," the workings of language and communication in a larger sense, or other meta-problematics that downplay (but do not erase entirely) gender and ethnicity as crucial factors in both society's misreadings or their own more sympathetic mediations. Without denying the reality and painfulness of Weiner's mental illness, they --as Bernstein's obituary for Weiner in the St. Mark's Church Poetry Project Newsletter evinces --work against a glib reduction of her literary output to a mere record of symptoms. According to such a reading, her efforts to write, her calling as a poet, succeeded in spite of the vast demands her mental illness made on her resources; she becomes a hero --a survivor. Some women experimental poets, contemporaries of Weiner's, are suspicious of the kind of male custody of female madness they see in their male counterparts' support of Weiner. They see it as playing into the romance of madness and specifically a stereotyped oracular female madness that denies the purposive intelligence of creative women such as themselves. Part of what I hope to show in this paper is the significant role that social power dynamics and historical experience play in the experience, representation and reception of Weiner's work, and this gender debate is germane to that argument. It is notable that the one book of Weiner's that has been published by a female-owned press dedicated to publishing the work of women has the most "packaging;" four blurbs on the back cover by heavy hitters in the language poetry community (Barrett Watten, Jessica Grim, Peter Inman and Ron Silliman) as well as an authorially written bio and the several lines of introduction we've come to expect: "CLAIR STYLE ALL WORDS SEEN OR HEARD/ YER BETTER SAY YOU SEE ASTRAL" (Silent Teachers/Remembered Sequel, 9). Just as Weiner in her own prefaces demonstrates the authenticity of her strange experiences with language (because her use of language in these prefaces is strange), others attest to her literary skill, her wit, her "chronicling of minority reality" and "extraordinary ear for language" and her achievement of making "language writing here [become] the kind of realism we always wanted."
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