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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Hannah Weiner Clairvoyant Journal (1978)

 

‘In August of 1972, Hannah Weiner, an accomplished and highly politicized performance artist and poet, began to receive a remarkable form of “dictation.” Printed words of all sizes bombarded Weiner; she saw these words in the air, on every available surface, on people, on the page before she wrote them, and on her forehead from within. Weiner called her “psychic” ability to see words “clairvoyance.” She developed a mode of poetic writing, “clair-style,” that incorporated words and phrases clairvoyantly seen, eventually composing through these seen elements exclusively. In such groundbreaking works as Clairvoyant Journal (1978), LITTLE BOOKS/INDIANS (1980), Sixteen (1983), Spoke (1984), and silent teachers remembered sequel (1994), Weiner did not so much experiment with existing literary models to document the experience of clairvoyance as she created a number of startlingly raw and enormously complex poetic forms, becoming a heroic figure at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in Manhattan and in the bicoastal school of Language writing.

‘Weiner let no representation of herself circulate that did not take her status as a clairvoyant into account, as, for instance, her introduction to Nijole’s House (1981) demonstrates: “ALL WORDS BELIEVE IT SEEN / I ams a clairvoyant”).2 To read Weiner’s poetry is thus to confront her claim to clairvoyance, which makes the critical reception of her work an incredibly complicated matter: her emphatic experiential claims and the terms on which she makes them at once legitimate her poetry a priori as testimony and overtly perform as a persuasive strategy within what are extremely self-consciously literary works. Either set of terms requires that we read clairvoyance other than as a symptom of schizophrenia, an illness with which Weiner had been diagnosed.

‘I want to suggest, however, that in naming the phenomena by which words were given to her to be seen “clairvoyance,” Weiner alerts us to the peculiar status of her texts without allowing us to medicalize and dismiss them. For her poetry, arriving from elsewhere in ordinary language, can only become deviant if we decide to make it so from the outset. Indeed, Weiner creates not only an enabling, but a strikingly innovative and important position from which to write: she engages the occultations entailed by linguistic abstraction and signals that she is enabled to do so through a banalized version of the occult. However nonvolitional, clairvoyance is a technique for estranging the normalcy that mystifies us. And Weiner’s tactic of reverse discourse, one that appears to trade the blindness of a delegitimized epistemological position for the insight of an idealized and rarefied psychic state, also opens onto paradoxes of reading and writing that her radical, language-centered poetics confronts.

‘As testimony, clairvoyance does not avow the transparency of its medium, but rather makes the coercion of mediation evident. Openly declaring her solicitation of belief through a trope only figuratively removed beyond belief, Weiner exposes belief itself as the strange but mundane sine qua non of reading. Her strategy illuminates writing’s demands on us as it gainsays a credibility it has already hooked in the very act of soliciting credibility. Straining against the transcendental quality of language even as she points to it as a foregone conclusion, Weiner not only disrupts the normative transparency of what is to be read but also erodes the normative rationality of the figure who reads.

‘For Weiner emphasized that she was not the frictionless vehicle for messages from another scene, but rather the recipient of language that formally and thematically implicated its resistance to meaning. This seen language also revealed that the very recognition of language as such subjects us to a meaning that can neither be averred nor denied. An exteriorized, nonintentional form of writing, the seen words not only provided a unique means of encountering language as an indeterminate, opaque materiality that we ourselves enliven with belief, but also as a form of mediation that announced itself as being curiously existentially indefinite, both there and not there. Thus, even as she anchored these phenomena in her cognitive experience, clairvoyance was for Weiner not a traffic with the spirit, but a near miss with the letter. Reflexively signifying on clairvoyance as “quaint phrase” or sedimented term, Weiner turned this familiar figure of heightened vision against itself.

‘In fact, the reversals of Weiner’s discursive practice take place on a number of levels, constantly spoiling assumptions about and built into language, yet conscious that our escape from these assumptions is comprised and compromised by language itself. In taking the unusual dictation of clairvoyance, Weiner inverts the apostrophe of lyric poetry and externalizes poetic agency, locating it in mediation. Seeing words clairvoyantly illustrates the mediating tension in language that plays out in syntactical structures, disciplinary mechanisms that echo institutional relationships. Further, rather than performing as a privileged, gendered proximity to authentic knowledge or as a vitiation of a gendered position of knowledge, as it has done traditionally, clairvoyance instead functions as a reflexive figure about figures of knowledge. Weiner dissects a grammar of epistemology that presupposes and incorporates differences as differentials in power.

‘Vigilant in denaturalizing her technology of representation, Weiner turns clairvoyance to political use, rendering structural and thus necessarily social inequities historically specific. As the singular witness to clairvoyant phenomena, she is poignantly aware that her testimony can only appear in a recognizable and overdetermined form. For Weiner, this hyper-attentiveness to overdetermination resonates most strongly with the political predicament of Native Americans, whose difficulties in achieving adequate political representation demonstrate the limitations of politics and the need for an ethical relation to difference. Weiner was an ardent proponent of the American Indian Movement, but she found, in a sense parallel to her own situation, that to be a witness for is also to be a witness against: simply to use an officially recognized language is already to be implicated in the structures of power, to exploit alterity as it is rendered recognizable. Weiner puts the paralogical or oblique insight she gains from clairvoyance to work in her nonclairvoyant writings as well, commenting on the deep and seemingly unavoidable violence in any representational framework.’ — Judith Goldman

 

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Further

Hannah Seiner @ electronic poetry center
Audio: Hannah Weiner readings @ PENNSOUND
Disabled Texts and the Threat of Hannah Weiner
Charles Bernstein on Hannah Weiner
Avant-Garde Journalism: Hannah Weiner’s Early and Clairvoyant Journals
Hannah Weiner: In beloved memory
Witness Hannah Weiner
The landscape of Hannah Weiner’s late work
About What: Hannah Weiner
Hannah Weiner @ goodreads
Hannah Weiner and Basic English
Hannah Weiner and Rammellzee
HANNAH WEINER’S OPEN HOUSE
Spectral Conversions: James Merrill and Hannah Weiner
Playtime with Jacques Tati and Hannah Weiner
“You can transcend this stupid bad girl reality”: A study of Hannah Weiner’s “clair-style”
What Hannah Weiner Means to Me
“‘Suddenly Everything Went Blue’: Late Style in Hannah Weiner’s The Book of Revelations”
Read ‘Clairvoyant Journal’ free online here

 

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Extras


Hannah Weiner on Public Access Poetry 12-29-77


Hannah Weiner: A Film by Phill Niblock (1974)


Rock-A-Bye Rock Lobster


Rita Gonzalez Reads Hannah Weiner

 

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Interviewed by Charles Bernstein
from LINEbreak

 

Hannah, what first got you interested in writing poetry? I think your early work also included performance work; when did you actually start writing poems?

I didn’t start writing poems until my middle thirties. It was something that . . . writing was something I wanted to do as a child. And I won a medal for it in junior high school. But I just couldn’t hang in with writing novels or something. And twenty years went by. And one vacation I just decided to write. And a friend said not to care whether you write novels or short stories or essays or poetry, just write. And I wrote on a legal pad for, oh, ten or twelve pages, and then suddenly I saw I was writing poetry. And that shocked me. And then I went to take classes, mostly at the New School. And I found I couldn’t write New York School poetry. In fact, I can’t.

Who were the classes at the New School with?

Oh, Kenneth Koch, and I believe Bill Berkson.

Bill Berkson. So two poets associated with the New York School.

Yes. And there was a course with Louise Bogan at NYU.

Louise Bogan!

Previously to that, yes.

That’s a great thing to think about, you with Louise Bogan. You seem—

Well, she bored me to tears. [Laughs.]

And I was going to quit poetry entirely, but I had a scholarship to the New School and I went into Kenneth’s class and he . . . Although I didn’t write his kind of poetry, he was a very inspiring teacher. He was just full of it.

I do think the Clairvoyant Journal is a performance work as much as it is a poem. It’s a diary, as much as it is an essay. It’s a work that’s hard to characterize. Could you talk a little about what you had in mind when you started to do that work?

The Clairvoyant Journal? Well, I started to see words in August 1972. And I saw them for a year and they were all over the place, coming out of my hair and my toenails, and god-knows- what. And I nally got the message in the Village Voice . . . at a Satchidananda retreat, to see him. And I wrote a note, or two notes, to him, and he put the big words on my forehead.

So are you saying that the Clairvoyant Journal was partly dictated, in the Jack Spicer sense? That you were recording things, that you were seeing outside you, with your own interventions mixed in?

Well the Clairvoyant Journal has three voices. The capital words, which give instructions, the italics, which make comments, and the ordinary type, which is me just trying to get through the day. And it was a quite wild thing to type.

There is a little bit of a quality I can hear in your contemporary Frank O’Hara. For example, “It’s 6:12 in New York,” and the mentioning of the proper names of friends or people that you know.

Yes, I know . . .

But, also . . .

I cheat in language. [Laughs.]

There’s the lack of a kind of anecdote or anecdotal force that you have in some of O’Hara, or in some of his immediate associates. You have a much fatter tone. This seems to be—if Louise Bogan was here—I imagine she would say that there was a lack of literary quality [in this poem].

Oh, for heaven’s sakes don’t mention her! She bored me to tears.

Because there’s no beginning, middle, or end. It just continues on. And also there’s a lot of very ordinary material. A lot of things that might be considered trivial, where nothing is happening.

Oh yes, it’s a very . . . it’s just a journal. When I became clairvoyant I just started keeping a journal of everything that was happening.

What interested you about the kinds of diaristic materials that would normally be excluded from poetry, that you’ve put in? The things that most people would edit out. Lots of the Clairvoyant Journal consists of things that in a conventional poetic and literary context would be edited out.

It came from conceptual art, when there was an idea in the late 60s and early 70s to document everything. Or to make docu- ments of things. And so that’s what I did. And then I edited out. For example, The Fast, I edited out forty- ve pages from a thou- sand handwritten ones. And there’s another book following that that’s coming out soon.

If the Clairvoyant Journal is based on a diary or a journal, one thing that’s different about it is that it’s not just one single voice, and actually it explodes the narrative by having 3 contrasting voices, and the subject of that narrative is one who is being bombarded by different kinds of information. Are you ever embarrassed by what you write about in the journal, by the openness of it? Not the openness in the sense that you’re revealing kind of scandalous things, but just the openness to the triviality of thought, to the shifting of thought.

Oh, Charles, I don’t have time to be embarrassed! I’m always seeing words! Or hearing voices, or whichever form the clairvoy- ance takes.

Embarrassment could be understood as being kind of a male concern within literature, which women writers have often pointed to. Certainly working within the diaristic tradition, or working with journals or diaries, can be associated with taking a form that’s associated with women. Do you think of your work as being feminist work, in that sense?

No, I really don’t. I don’t really believe it’s either one sex or the other. It’s a daily journal, and it’s gone slightly screwy, and is under control when you read it, with three voices, or when you see it, because of the three different typefaces.

So you don’t feel some association or alliance with some of the feminists of your generation?

Oh, I did at the time. Yes, indeed. But that was earlier in the 70s. This was written in ‘74, and published in ‘78.

Because really you’ve turned a kind of writing or a kind of thought which would be often disparaged as being women’s writing, or female writing, and you’ve made it the center of a very radical literary experiment.

Oh. [Sighs.] Well, I don’t know Charles. I bought a typewriter. And I looked at the words all over the place, and said you have three choices: caps, italics, and regular type, and that settled it, that’s all. The words settled down to three voices.

Do you think of your work in terms of a tradition of the avant garde, of experimentalism?

Yes, I’ve always felt that the best thing . . . I mean, how can you not be avant garde if you’re the only person in the world who sees words?

[Laughs.] But I thought we all see words, in some sense.

No, it isn’t the same at all! If you saw words in color across the living room, twelve or twenty feet long, “OBEY CHARLEMAGNE” or something, or saw them every time you moved, you’d realize that it’s really visual, and at the beginning it was in color. The color has disappeared. And at the moment I don’t see words on my forehead. It’s a little tiring for me now.

Well do you think such a project goes beyond poetry then? Or is it what poetry could be?

I’m really a silent teacher and that’s what I didn’t discover until I wrote Spoke.

What does it mean to be a silent teacher?

What?

What does it mean to be a silent teacher?

A silent teacher is one who trains other people to teach others who work subliminally and they give instructions.

Is that something that comes through in your writing? Or hap- pens to readers when they’re reading your writing?

Well the Clairvoyant Journal is, if you read it that way, a book of instructions. I don’t say so. There are a lot of things I haven’t made really clear, and I have to in the next book or two or . . .

Is there a performative aspect to . . .

Or three books, really. I have three books that will take me god knows how long.

 

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Book

Hannah Weiner Clairvoyant Journal
Angel Hair Books

‘With Clairvoyant Journal, Hannah Weiner writes a specific form of diary, using the characteristics of typographic styles (roman, italic and CAPITAL) to present an inner discussion between three separate voices. Clairvoyant Journal also gives an insight into the daily life of a writer living in New York in the 1970s, evoking a poetic, musical, and artistic scene, yoga and a poetical experience.’ — les presses du reel

 

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Excerpt

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. Early tomorrow morning I move into my new apartment. Naturally, I will be heavily preoccupied by that and unable to do the p.s. So you will get a restored dead post, as is usual in those situations. I won’t officially have internet installed in my new place until Monday afternoon, but I’m assuming I’ll be able to get signal from somewhere in the meantime, so, barring the unforeseen, I’ll be here again on Saturday and beyond with new posts and p.s.es and all that stuff. ** Kevin Killian, Kevin! I almost never check the past posts for comments, but I accidentally found yours on the Staircase day, so I’m hitting you back a bit late. Yes, I’m coming to that conference. I forgot all about it until two days ago when one of the organizers reminded me, but yes! I look forward to being reinstalled in New Narrative for at least a bit, and to seeing you and Dodie and everybody. Should be quite a blast! Your and Dodie’s book is almost out? Wow. Yes, I’ll send you my new mailing address today. Exciting! Envy you big time re: the LA Book Fair. And you remind me that I still need to get Richard and Elijah’s book. As soon as I put my laptop on my new table and it gets some juice, I’ll do that. Thank you for entering, dear Kevin. Lots of love from me! ** H, Hi. Paris still has a solid contingent of girlish boys, thank goodness. Boy, I sure do understand busyness even more than usual at the moment, so very good luck with yours. ** David Ehrenstein, And it comes recommended! Exactly, about Rohmer. Hooray that your new book has materialized! Just in the nick of time for the DC’s celebration! ** Steevee, Hi. Yes, bug chasing is still semi-very-popular, at least among the master/slave crowd, and increasingly among escorts, it seems. I guess it’s a way to stand out now that Prep is making raw sex more de rigueur. Having seen the Serra in the theater, yeah, I think a laptop viewing would be tough, although I’m sure you’re well used to imagining how to fill in the difference. Ha ha, the mental image of you reading a book by a member of Slipknot is very charming. Non-ghost written autobios by musicians or celebs or whoever are always such a promising thing with the possibility of a raw, exciting, no bullshit voice, but it’s rare that they’re very readable. The big exception, or the one that always springs to mind, being Pamela Des Barres’ sublime ‘I’m With the Band’. ** Damien Ark, Hi! Ha ha, I somehow missed that. You good? ** Sypha, Hi. No, the boy you liked is only into making you eat your dinner off the floor after he has stomped on it. You can get into that, right? ** Jamie, Ho, Jamie! Good quote picks, man. You’ve got a golden eye. My busyness is at an unpleasant fever pitch at the moment understandably, but I think it will return to mere very busyness this weekend. I normally would use packing as an opportunity to luxuriate in the forgotten, but the rush requires me to basically just shovel things into boxes and tape them shut. Unpacking is going to be a needle in the haystack type of deal. Cool, very exciting about locking down the animation. It’s probably a bit like getting the galleys of your forthcoming novel for a final check. I know that well. My day was no fun, well, not much. Packing, rushing off to a very long meeting where Zac and I had to break down the film into how many shots we think each scene will require, how many extras we’ll need, and stuff like that for the assistant director whose partial job is to figure out the shooting schedule. I anticipate much battling very soon since shooting our film in 12 days is an absurd proposition, and yet that’s the amount of time we’re told we have, and we are not into compromising by cutting things out except in a very minimal way, so it might well get quite ugly or something. Then I rushed home and kept packing and throwing shit out and so on. Today will be exactly the same except with two actor auditions instead of a script-related meeting. Bleah. I would say I hope your day will be much, much better than mine but that’s a given unless the skies fall or something. Bleary love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Well, you’re most welcome, of course. We’re in crisis-solving mode about the one un-cast role. Today we’re auditioning two possible actors and kind of desperately hoping one of them will be perfect and available. Cool, yeah, we decided to make him a piñata collector partly because we’re in love with that idea too. I’ll show you pix once the pinatas are finished and acquired. ‘A kind, long trip’ sounds pretty nice. Or at least to someone (me) who is the veritable running, headless chicken right now. Whenever my hands aren’t full of boxes or things that I’m shoving into boxes today, I will cross all available fingers for your submission. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Great about your Rohmer plans. All of the Moral Tales series films are fantastic. Yes, it was a huge pleasure and relief last night when the news that Wilders lost the election came through. Next up, Le Pen. When/if she loses, Paris is going to party like it’s 19999999999. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Glad you’re feeling and doing better, man. I’ve only read poems of Lee Ann Brown here and there, and not for a long, long time. I don’t really remember them. I used to see her around St. Marks, and she seemed really nice. Yeah, the new Duvert and Guibert books are great news! Hedi is such a fucking hero, that guy. We’re seeing two actors today, one being the guy we think we might be able to mold the character to and one new actor who seems very promising in theory. If one of them doesn’t work, it’s going to be a scramble. Thanks for the move-related luck. I definitely need it. ** S., Hey, man. The growing hole iconography was a thing of beauty. The European escort sites are by far the best, but American escorts are rarely found there. The American escort sites are pretty uselesss unless you want conventionally almost handsome guys with no feel for how to write a catchy profile text. Tomb story: promising. Excellence in the shape of Thursday to you. ** Right. Today I hope to draw your attention to Hannah Weiner, a most unique writer with a most unique process. See what you think. The blog will appear before your eyes without me in tow tomorrow, and I’ll be back here typing from the blog’s new headquarters on Saturday. See you then.

7 Comments

  1. Hannah Weiner’s journals are fascinating.

  2. Dennis! I’m in a real rush, so I’m just stopping in to wish you well with the move. Hope it’s as smooth and hassle-free as it can be.
    I’m going to show today’s post to Hannah as I think she’ll dig it a lot.
    Maison love,
    Jamie

  3. Taylor thinks his voice is raw and bad-ass, but really it’s just macho and annoying. And it’s a terrible vehicle for trying to explain string theory and quantum physics.

    Have you heard Spectres? As I posted on FB yesterday, I really like their new album CONDITION, which reminds me of ’80s Swans and Sonic Youth with touches of metal, noise, industrial and shoegaze.

  4. Hi!

    Today’s book seems truly overwhelming and very exciting! Thank you for this post!

    I’d really appreciate that! I mean the pictures about the piñatas!!
    And thank you for keeping your fingers crossed! I submitted some more stuff to various literary journals today so I’m kind of proud of myself!
    How did the auditions go? Did you find the absolutely perfect actor for the role?
    And I think by the time you write the next p.s., this will be a valid question: how’s the new place?
    I hope everything goes perfectly well with the moving tomorrow!!

  5. Wishing you all the very best for the move! I’ll catch up with today’s post on my coming days off 😀

  6. Dennis, I’m getting on here late, so I’ll have to catch up this weekend. Same with LCTG.

    I get on last night, I immediately get a notification that the computer needs to restart to install some updates. I’m thinking everything’s already downloaded and all and that it’ll be a basic restart to finish everything off. Nope, took fucking forever. After an hour of “preparing Windows for updates” or whatever the fuck, I had to go to bed.

    So I’ll be catching up tonight and should be finished tomorrow. I’ll tell you on Saturday my thoughts on LCTG.

    Btw, we had some of that snow here too the other day. First, we were supposed to get 6-10″ but the forecasts started to dwindle. I think we ended up with 2″ here. A hell of a lot of sleet and freezing rain, though. Enough to close schools and delay the federal government Tuesday. Otherwise, basically nothing. 🙁

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