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I'M NOT SO MUCH ARGUING THAT WEINER SUFFERS ONLY AS A JEW AND ONLY FROM POST-HOLOCAUST TRAUMA, BUT THAT THE TRAUMA OF EVERYDAY LIFE IN LATE-CENTURY POSTMODERNITY IS SPECIFICALLY INFLECTED WITH HISTORY FOR SPECIFIC SUBJECTS. "The work itself" is dizzying. Pages of words splattered carefully in the order or pattern in which Weiner experienced them make a linear reading (left to right, top to bottom, line by line, word by word) or a holistic gestalt (apprehending the whole page with one open regard) the two most logical ways to proceed. However, reading the work linearly does not indicate a linear narrative, just as a whole-picture gaze does not vitiate the significance of individual words, phrases, or constellations of words that through their adjacency convey some urgency of story: this is not visual poetry in the sense of concrete poetry or "illustrated" poetry in the manner of Reps, a poet who made visual poetry a commercial commonplace in the American 1970s. Sometimes, as in WEEKS or The Zero One, a relatively straightforward juxtapositional device gives the work a purposefully excessive and obsessive quality. WEEKS, as mentioned earlier, cobbles together clauses and phrases of media news coverage. The Zero One disrupts fragmented but somewhat decipherable bits of news about American Indians and other oppressed indigenous Americans, as well as philosophical and aesthetic notes, with series of numbers: The 0I survi of the prairie dog is proof posit that0 both Hegel and Kant were wrong in0I2 their understanding of the "New World" My0I2 peopl thank you for your help All0I of0I2 the nouns write The0I gover began relocation to Campeche Howev I0I23 stay home and save money Leona Pelti was one of some forty young India who0I came to the defense of the Sis0I there has to be a stop to your sentences Six0I hundr of the 3,I00 refugees at Las Delicias My0I2 famous accent. How I would love to get rid No0I2 one0I knows who shot the agents... (The Zero One, np) Discernible herein is the story of Leonard Peltier, a Native American (Oglala Lakota) activist accused of shooting some FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in the 1970s and imprisoned for life despite strong evidence that he was not involved, weak evidence presented by the prosecution, and much worldwide protest. Discernible also are thematically related fragments about refugees and forced relocation, a critique of Western philosophy's complicity with the oppression of indigenous people of the "New World," and self-conscious, somewhat humorous reprimands about her own writing and speech, both of which she acknowledges as highly idiosyncratic. The final two pages of the poem achieve a remarkable effect in which words and numbers, the former even more fragmentary but still recognizable, are arranged in vertical columns that give the impression that the book is a ledger in which a series of entries has been made. This is a literal consequence of the writing practice, which spews out words and numbers with a compulsivity that is simultaneously out of control and regimentary. Thematically, it is also a performance of the "balancing" act involved in seeking justice, herein envisioned in its classical guise: blind Hannah (in the sense of being under a spell, blindered by compulsive graphesis, and blind like Tiresias, the assbackwards hermaphrodite who could foresee the future) weighing the scales of justice and holding a pen/(s)word. Moreover, the interchangeability of letters and numbers resonate with several cultural cognates, notably the Kabala and other metaphysical systems which give letters numerical and spiritual value, the I Ching in which divinatory hexagrams are arrived at through numerical chance procedures, and, more pertinent to her subject matter, the interchangeability of names and numbers, and the "disappearance" (and exaggerated presence) of both, in oppressive systems like prisons or the death camps of World War II: numbers are substituted for names (prison writers usually sign their works with their assigned prisoner identification numbers, not because they are compelled by law to do so, but to underscore their status as prisoners and the effect that enforced anonymity has on their sense of themselves as "authors"); names are forgotten or suppressed when prisoners are killed; and the Third Reich, for example, kept obsessive records about numbers of people transported, imprisoned and killed, though at various points their targets were forced to adopt "generic" names that indicated their ethnic status (all Jewish men were forced to use the name Israel, and women Sarah). And of course, as Jacques Debrot has pointed out, the tattooing of prisoners' numbers on their forearms has become a familiarly shocking index of the degree to which people were "dehumanized" by being reduced to surfaces for writing as part of the concentration camp experience. One is tempted to attribute to Weiner an heroic tactic to "transhumanize" the experience of being written on, to link that phenomenon to a transhistorical (or ahistorical) higher state of consciousness rather than to an historical instance of abjection --metaphysical stigmata rather than physical torture. Particularly compelling for our purposes is the concept of the "sentence" as both independent syntactical unit and a legal judgment involving numerical formulae: i.e. "Leonard Peltier was given a life sentence;" Hannah Weiner's work attacks the integrity of the grammatical "sentence," and so forth. In an interview published in 1986 she explains her dedication to "showing the complete mind," which entails relentless interruption of sentences as conventionally construed: Others of Weiner's texts, though, like Spoke (1984), Clairvoyant Journal (1978) or Sixteen (1983) are more difficult to read, and one can alternately point to the effect of entire pages (see appendix for examples) or single out word-clusters or repeating fragments saturated with meaning. The words "Oh Hannah," "sis," and other forms of address to herself and invocations of recognizable others ("Charles" [Bernstein], "Douglas" [Messerli], "Charlemagne" [Palestine], "Rosemary" and "Bernadette" [Mayer], Barrett Watten, Ron Silliman and others) litter the texts, as well as admonitions or reminders: ...LIVE POOR for the Indians who are not by me forgotten write her a great big goddam line in this and settle mother is pleased problem S A T C H I D A N A N D A (Sixteen, np), startling phrases like "HEAL ME" (Clairvoyant Journal np), and writing in a variety of type formats and sizes that give the impression of moving around on the page. One can continue to piece together a picture of someone immersed in concerns over American Indians and who is also a student of East Indian religion, a member of an elite avant-garde circle, a mentally ill clairvoyant who has nonetheless found a way to participate in a creative community. But it is difficult to see any "progression" in the works --difficult to sustain the concentration it takes to find out if there is "progression" or not. Nonetheless, though one would be hard pressed to identify "progression" in a conventional narratological sense, in her last two books, Silent Teachers/Remembered Sequel (1994) and We Speak Silent (1996) there is a fair bit of humor as well as a coherent project emerging, as if she really had passed through something and was turning it to good account. Weiner believed she was in training to become a "silent teacher," that is, someone who could heal others with psychic energy. And her trainers were themselves healers who spoke to her silently; one was a no longer living American Indian medicine man who took the form of "Paw," the white bear who lived in her forehead and flirted with her, and who "is the funniest person I know" (line/break, 199?). The phenomenon of seeing words gives way to apprehending them silently, without needing to hear or see. These books are less vertiginously wordy than the earlier ones, but equally charming: barrett: for some reason the MLA is having a conference on the word humph i of course have several variations p 10 line 7 p 21 line 4 p 30 line 5 from the bottom i am of course not going but i can send a brief analysis barrett: ahem see the doves fly from the computer paw: maw please everyone is getting slightly ridiculous in his or her own way bob dylan [who elsewhere is renamed boobela]: now for a pronouncement in the barrett watten column let me apply (We Speak Silent, "watten," p. 11) Weiner's clairvoyance does not consist in her being able to see the future, nor in communing with the ancestors. Nor can she win the lottery with her psychic tricks or be used by the CIA to find terrorists or the FBI to find serial killers. Her gift is non-exploitable, monstrous in that it reduces people, herself included, into surfaces for writing --someone else's writing. And what they write is not grand prophecy, nor even in the Yeatsian sense, "metaphors for poetry," though it is poetic; it's the fragmented detritus of everyday conversation, memory, news reports, fantasy scenes involving friends --the banal rendered transcendently important thru elevation to clairvoyant material, the unconscious revealed as an unstoppable torrent of hyper-real badinage. So the nice Jewish girl of my paper title, the nice little girl who knew too much, is actually the nice Jewish-American girl who knows nothing (like the bumbling prison guard Sergeant Schultz of Hogan's Heroes, a 1960s American tv sitcom set in a German World War II prisoner of war camp, in which an international team of Allied prankster-inmates consistently sabotages the German war effort). This nothing, Karyn Ball has suggested, is exactly the "too much" that Weiner knows, the kernel of what makes these texts traumatic. Since the voices/printed words come from elsewhere (hovering in the corner, a surveillance camera that's also a projector playing word-films on our victim-poet), there can be no authorial ownership of the material that emanates from Weiner and appears under her name in micro-press publications and limited editions; rather, as earth-advocates say, she's the "steward" of the words, word-protector --though she protects not by hoarding but by spending, by participating in the current of verbal energy eddying about her. For when it comes to language, preservation is related to proliferative rather than restrictive or prohibited use: as in the case of many indigenous American languages, or, for that matter, Yiddish, when a population of users is killed off, or forbidden to use its language, that language's chance of survival is endangered. If, as Walter Benjamin entreats us, our job is to see that no scrap of history goes unsalvaged (Benjamin, 25?), Weiner is the historian specializing in the words of everyday life; no phoneme or letter is too insignificant to record as poetic. Her avant-gardism could be construed as the foresight (sight in to the avenir, voir avant la lettre) to preserve (garde) words for a future in which they are endangered. For words are not only phonemes and letters but bear inscribed in them, and function as, traces of history. And it could be argued that the poetic and the traumatic are deeply correspondent in the Baudelairean sense. Here I want to refer not only to Baudelaire's poem but to Benjamin's essay on Baudelaire, which posits the traumatic effect of simply living in industrial modernity; without characterizing it in these terms, Benjamin was writing not only of Baudelaire's hysterical-automaton style but of his own position on the brink of the postmodern. I want also to pull in here (invoke) the rhythm of Fredric Jameson's elegant essay on Baudelaire as modernist and postmodernist which is also, of course, about Jameson himself and his perpetually elegiac yearnings. The urge toward preservation that Weiner enacts is captured also in her image, in the recent work "Paw," of a magical, bear-like creature who has followed her from Mexico to NYC, who houses itself in a small velvet-lined drawer inside her forehead. This rich image of a shelf inside one's forehead that functions as host for a "silent teacher" or otherworldly visitation sets off multiple associations. It is reminiscent of a coffin: the "third eye" (or sixth chakra as Weiner might put it--center of psychic activity) functioning as a repository for the dead is also a literalization of the metaphors used for memory: "they live --take up residence --in our hearts and minds." It reminds us of tfillin, the small case containing scripture that orthodox Jewish men bind on their foreheads. And it refers the ark that houses the Torah in synagogues, only this Word of God is embodied in a cutely anthropomorphized mammal/fantasy companion. This strange blend of necro-mechanization (body turned into gravesite) and whimsy (Bernstein describes the passage as "kind of a cross between Beatrix Potter and Magical Realism"), again a literalization of metaphor (keeping [God's] word in mind) resonates with the strange depersonalization that trauma survivors or hysterics experience with regard to their bodies (fantasies of limbs detaching, of the body as inert casing for a consciousness, or as a living casing for an inert interior, of the body without organs); and also with the uses the Third Reich made of Jewish body parts. Weiner's inability or unwillingness to screen out any stimulus or to exclude anything from her writing has the effect on readers (my students at least) of a kind of numbing reading process; since Weiner refuses to create a hierarchy of meaning (foreground/background etc), the demands on the reader's attention are enormous, and the experience is often articulated (to me by students) as frustration, boredom, or alienation ("I couldn't relate"). Claude Lanzmann's nine-hour film, Shoah, has much the same effect on some viewers: one friend's husband mistook her weeping for emotion when they saw the film together; on the contrary, she insisted, it was boredom at the monotony of the action and speech. The complexity and/or disingenuousness of such a response captures, I think, some of the bafflement-as-displaced-horror (or, alternately, relief that such representation is possible) that accompanies texts generated by a relentlessly scrupulous -- one might say compulsive --documentarian impulse. While common sense might dictate that the subject matter of the two oeuvres differs so dramatically as to make the comparison sacrilegious, we could at least concede the possibility of their relatedness historically, culturally, aesthetically. We could posit, at the least, tentatively, that the "outsider" sensibility that Weiner tracks so minutely has context and worldly kinship. We could at least concede that both texts enact what Felman and Laub call a "performance" rather than a "representation" of traumatic fallout whose matrix is postmodern Jewish experience (xx).
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