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

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


This "language within a language" is the hallmark of what Deleuze and Guattari call a "minor literature." "Clair-style" (in this sense significantly revised from Goldman's representation) is that language within a language. Clairvoyance is that "most natural thing in the world," synonymous with the problem of the "person" and its taking place - nothing less than the "procedure of a continuous variation." And insofar as it is an ability or "power," extraordinary yet mundane, it is a kind of literary capital.

The notion of clairvoyance actually precedes the experience or "procedure of a continuous variation" in Weiner's work, so that we may ask if, with 1970's The Magritte Poems, the author doesn't impersonate the artist's "perspective." After all, one way to fabricate pass-words - to deterritorialize "state functions," "state" taken to mean a state of mind - is through oxymorons, such as those applied to categorize Magritte's work: magical realism and surrealism. Weiner's book contains eight poems, each titled after iconic paintings by Magritte, and each end-noted by Weiner with wry comments or puns based on the corresponding poem. Magritte's famous self-portrait, entitled "Clairvoyance," is not addressed in the book. However, Weiner does recognize the expansive order-word that is the peculiarity of Magritte's evocative, koan-like practice of ascribing titles which often hardly even pun on the iconic structure painted as if, as she wrote in a late work entitled Spoke, "the secrets are information" (unpaginated). For instance, "Dangerous Acquaintances" asks, "Would you rather / I turned my ass / to you?" (unpaginated). The end-note, signaled at this midway point in the poem, refers to a single word: "Yes." The rest of the poem reads, "Well, say so, / don't stand there / holding a mirror." In the painting, a nude woman holds a gold-framed, beveled-edge mirror in front of her, which reflects the negative image of her "ass" as if seen from behind her. The body, as indetermination, is here represented by the banal but effective reverse image. But Weiner's "Yes" thickens the plot; she asks for the image, if not the dangerous acquaintance which is visuality itself, to respond - and the response is transformative: the order of assent. The mirror itself deflects (reverses) the representation; rather than reflection or even narcissistic contemplation we are given to flee, ass turned to walk or run away from our own gaze. In "The False Mirror," Weiner does little more than describe the painting that shares its title: "In your blue eye / the sky / has clouds / in it." But the end note, signaled at the end of the poem, reads "today and tomorrow. Precipitation probability: Tuesday 20%, Tuesday night and Wednesday 30%[.]" This evocation of the banal rain for tears metaphor is not itself banal. The limitative expansion of Magritte's quasi-koans are less ridiculed than "deterritorialized." In Magritte's work, particularly those works addressed by Weiner's poems, the painting provides the visual "information." The titles (words) provide "secrets" or "pass-words." It is the nonconformity of the two that inevitably reterritorializes as Magritte's "style" (aside from bodily metamorphoses apparent upon careful study of his works, including "Dangerous Acquaintances"). If this style comes to be seen and known by a generic appellation, it testifies to Dick Higgins' observation that the intermedial inevitably becomes "media with familiarity" (unpaginated). Furthermore, since these are nonclairvoyant works, Weiner's Magritte Poems include "no person." If the power of the bodily (i.e., teardrops) metaphor is reinscribed, or rather comment is made to the fabled link between clairvoyance and prediction / predication (i.e., weather forecasts), the "False Mirror" effect portrayed by Magritte's "Clairvoyance" self-portrait is not lost on Weiner. This falsified self is rendered a line of flight as a "second voice."

In fact, looking to 1970's The Fast, the first of the four journals, one notes that Weiner's clairvoyance is first manifested as "seeing" and "feeling" colors, auras, and pictures; the first such "mental picture" is remarkably in style with Magritte's iconography (25, 2). Of these mental pictures at this early stage, Weiner notes, "They were often weak, but as signals it was the information that counted" (25). Weiner narrates metamorphoses of the body as well as "the person," but the problem of the subject is not constituted here by Cartesian universal doubt (regarding, for example, the status of the body). In The Fast, it is a matter of auto-suggestion, and as yet a fairly normative narration of becoming literate thereby. Here is Weiner's first attempt to place an order, the very first occurrence of clairvoyance;

So we sat drinking tea. It was then I noticed a bright green triangular feather shape coming out of his right eye, a bright green feather shape with red and yellow streaks. It is remarkable to me now that I did not question the bright green feather shape. I simply got up and went shopping at the health food store. I bought Tiger's Milk, eyebright, fennel, fenugreek, rose hip teas, cashew nut butter, blueberry syrup and a little plastic bear full of honey. I had a large shopping bag full. What I didn't buy was a large bottle of thick pink liquid shampoo, which I could have used later to help the pain. I had in my refrigerator four gallons of spring water and goats milk. I had two vivid dreams about pollution that night. (2)


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