Introduction #2 Country Girl #3 Pictures and Early Words #4 Big Words 5

Avant-Garde Journalism: Hannah Weiner's Early and Clairvoyant Journals


Where this leaves the person is immaterial, yet embodied, roving but taking place, simultaneous and contiguous to "the world." We want to take Weiner at her word, so to speak, when she asserts that in the nonclairvoyant writings there is "no person." We have, instead, found impersonations. In the third of the four journals, "Pictures and Early Words," we will find that as soon as the person makes its appearance, visual "information" imposes itself upon our reading so that the tyranny of the persona becomes resolved only in the final amalgamation of visual and aural spheres in the Clairvoyant Journal, where impersonation transcends the subjective motive and takes one entirely beyond appraisal to an embodied, intentional event.

Another way to understand clairvoyance literarily - thus, to understand the person literally - is as a transcendence beyond the occularcentrism of classical and modern philosophy's notion of subjectivity, toward what Maurice Merleau-Ponty called a "fabric of brute meaning" (161). Merleau-Ponty develops the conceptual tools of painting into a phenomenology of "clairvoyance" in his late essay "Eye and Mind" (162). Having already confirmed vision as exemplary of "the primacy of perception," and established a "practical synthesis" of presence in the "vicinity" of the visual and tactile (14), Merleau-Ponty contrasts the rationalist ("operationalist") notion of vision ("the nervous machine") to visuality by way of the most rational of modern French poets, Paul Valéry;

The painter "takes his body with him," says Valéry. Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. [...]

The enigma is that my body [an intertwining of vision and movement] simultaneously sees and is seen. That which looks at all things can also look at itself and recognize, in what it sees, the "other side" of its power of looking ... it is visible and sensitive for itself. It is not a self through transparence, like thought, which only thinks its object by assimilating it, by constituting it, by transforming it into thought. It is a self through confusion, narcissism, through inherence of the one who sees in that which he sees ... the undividedness of the sensing and the sensed [is] humanity. (162-3)

One has only to "confuse" Merleau-Ponty's generic / medial discretion - i.e., introduce the intermedial and eventual - to read Weiner's literary impersonation, not as a personification (or "persona" in the received sense), but as a specific visuality, as Merleau-Ponty puts it, "marked upon the map of the 'I can'" (162). What is clairvoyance, moreover, to the confusion of the visual and aural: "a 'visible' of the second power, a carnal essence or icon of the first" (164). What is language, what are "words," that clairvoyance entails "the 'I can'" with respect to them;

Light, lighting, shadows, reflections, color, all the objects of his [the painter's] quest are not altogether real objects; like ghosts, they have only visual existence. In fact they exist only at the threshold of profane vision; they are not seen by everyone. The painter's gaze asks them what they do to suddenly cause something to be and to be this thing, what they do to compose this worldly talisman and to make us see the visible. (166)[3]


[3] Merleau-Ponty would not have made this leap from painting to writing, of course, but his privileging of painting must be tempered by his peculiar historical circumstances. That said, he comes close in evoking the avant-garde from which the New York avant-garde described by Perrault descends;

The question comes from one who does not know, and it is addressed to a vision, a seeing, which knows everything and which we do not make, for it makes itself in us. Max Ernst (with the surrealists) says rightly, "Just as the role of the poet since [Rimbaud's] famous Lettre du voyant consists in writing under the dictation of what is being thought, of what articulates itself in him, the role of the painter is to grasp and project what is seen in him." [...]

We speak of "inspiration," and the word should be taken literally. There really is inspiration and expiration of Being, action and passion so slightly discernible that it becomes impossible to distinguish between what sees and what is seen, what paints and what is painted. (167)

This also points again to what I mean by Weiner's journals being a silent teaching of literacy: not becoming literate as in discerning "inspiration" from "expiration" in existential terms but abetting confusion in the interest of an accurate simultaneity of the formal and phenomenal realms.


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