Articles

'The most beautiful and truest'

Collecting the letters of John Wieners

Like many (most?) of us, I fell in love with the poetry of John Wieners the minute I plunged into The Hotel Wentley Poems, its palpable ache and epic scope — I was knocked out by this twenty-four-year-old lyric poet in a rundown hotel making the beyond-audacious declaration that he was “taking away / from God his sound.” I read the poems in rapid succession, then again and again, slower each time. I’d entered my doctoral program — entered the room — intending to focus on nineteenth-century American fiction, but by the time I went home I’d blown through Wentley and Ace of Pentacles and I knew that whatever my dissertation wound up being, it was going to be centered on the work of John Wieners.

After a brief flash of anger — how did I go thirty-four years (at the time) and not hear about John Wieners? Who failed to tell me? Who can I blame? — I got to work, continually shocked at the dearth of critical attention and available material. I read all the books of poetry and journals — the twisted lyricism of 707 Scott Street, Bootstrap Press’s amazing Book of Prophecies and Kidnap Notes Next — but from there, if I wanted more of John Wieners I had to go into the Special Collections at the million libraries where his letters and journals are scattered. His own papers are held in several different collections — most notably at Boston College, the University of Delaware, Syracuse University, and the University of Connecticut — but the real corpus of his writing, the letters he sent out constantly, are dispersed far beyond those libraries, hidden in other writers’ papers and private collections.

I started with the easiest and, in many ways, most central correspondence for my research, that between Wieners and his mentor Charles Olson. Their letters are split between two collections — Wieners’s letters to Olson are in the latter’s papers at Connecticut, and Olson’s own letters are in Wieners’s papers at Boston College — and so gathering them was no problem (my friend and college Robert Dewhurst, who’s currently gathering Wieners poems for a Collected Poems, helped me with reproductions from Boston that I was unable to get) — the only real trouble was Olson’s notoriously cryptic handwriting. It took a crew of readers and code-breakers to help me transcribe those letters, a process less akin to transcription than to argument-based graphomancy. We preserved one postcard of Olson’s handwriting in the chapbook,[1] when he replied to Wieners immediately after reading “Acts of Youth” to say that it was “one of the most beautiful and finest of poems I have ever read.” Well, that’s what we thought it said; I got a letter from Ralph Maud after he got the chapbooks, telling me, based on the facsimile of the postcard, that he was certain Olson had written not “finest” but “truest.” I looked at it again and he was of course correct — it should read “Ages of Youth” (Olson misremembered the title, and Wieners preserved the mistake as the poem’s section title in Ace of Pentacles) “is one of the most beautiful and truest of poems I have ever read.”

There are two moments in the Wieners-Olson letters that really stand out for me. The first concerns that tour de force, “Acts of Youth,” and the circumstances of its creation. Wieners writes on December 5, 1961, anxious about traveling to New York to see a play of his performed (he hadn’t traveled in a year, after a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to Boston ended with his forced institutionalization); a few weeks later he writes Olson again, saying that all went well, and that he’d written a poem (dated at the bottom, December 5, 1961) that he said “had merit in places.” This was “Acts of Youth,” and Olson’s reply was the postcard quoted above.

The second is from a few years before, before San Francisco and Wentley, when twenty-three-year-old Wieners was staying briefly in New York with Frank O’Hara and his longtime friend and roommate Joe LeSueur in 1957. O’Hara and Wieners had met the prior year, when they both worked on the same play at the Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, and became fast friends. LeSueur recounted their visit from the colorful young poet, quoted in Brad Gooch’s excellent O’Hara biography City Poet:

John went to do some sort of research at the Forty-Second Street public library while we went to see The Curse of Frankenstein at Loew’s Sheridan. That evening John, high on Benzedrine, came home and told us about the horrifying, hallucinatory experience he’d had at the library. Later I said to Frank, “Isn’t it funny, we go to a horror movie and don’t feel a thing and John goes to the library and is scared out of his wits.”[2]

O’Hara commemorated that visit from twenty-three-year-old Wieners in “To a Young Poet,” in which he recounts that “while we are seeing The Curse of Frankenstein he / sits in / the 42nd Street Library, reading about Sumerians.”

The day after the epic trip to the library, Wieners wrote to Olson to report back on his research, a spiral out from Sumerian, Egyptian, and Tinguian mythology to astrological formations and out to the streets of New York beyond the library, the patterns of jewels in the windows at Tiffany’s, the calls of random passers-by. It’s a dizzying letter, and in the context of the Wieners-Olson letters the letter can be seen for what it is: a scene of pedagogy, of the eager student back to the teacher, expanding on the work of the classroom. In this case, the classroom was the one that gave birth to “The Special View of History” and “The Curriculum of the Soul,” and so it is natural — thrilling, really — to see the student taking the lessons in such reckless, amphetamine-fueled, brilliant webs of meaning. It is, in my opinion, the greatest term paper ever submitted:

[New York City]
Sept 22 & 23 1957[3]

Dear Charles:

Just back from 8 hrs with near every book S Noah-Kramer[4] ever wrote, at NY PLib. Except he aint no noah. I cant understand why the Sumerians did so little for him, that he can impose on them : find as fault their lack of ‘epistemology’ cause & effect, ‘logic’. Of course, this is mainly From the Tablets of Sumer (Falcon’s Wing Press 1956) & it is a write down. The one done 12 yrs earlier, which I hope I’ll get tomorrow, for the texts (translations alone), better. that’s the only value of his labor, what he makes available. Not one phrase from the man himself. Which is harsh, but 8 solid hours, is too long to be kept waiting. When I should have looked only for their words.

                                                                                                                                             I remember some of the loveliest poems being told by you before. When Inanna lost it in the garden.

The main purpose of this is to serve as cover for the enclosed, which is the prize. They told me you wouldnt have reproductions in the house, but I want you to see this anyway. So lucky to have it at all. The original is possibly a 1/5th larger. Beside it/ the only other of his I could find:  THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE.  Would you say that is a capella in the upper left corner of PARADISE?

I spent last night again on da capo & it is much better. But still want to wait a few days before sending.  I want you to know how much I feel you laid on me (out for me) last Tuesday & Wednesday. The Rimbaud of mine is not improved turning into paragraphs, form like Illum. but da capo has come full swerve from this that’s it’s more packed/ but no immediate hooks for any reader, I fear.

I have thgt. too along the way, that Orion: O’Ryan is of the secret of secrets. I want you to know this, that whatever I might stumble on shall not be revealed. I agree, you pass it through the work, until someone else makes breaks its surface or // thru their work // then no one [arrow from “thru their work” to:] into the source. else shall be turned on the stars [arrow down to bottom of page, where he’s handwritten: until then no one else shall be turned your stars (i.e. per me)]. Ican find nothing encouraging out about Capricorn, & wonder how I should have adopted him, so strong. Only the horn, and the Blood that breaks thru. Like Dionysius’. No ATTENTION AT ALL TO RITE IN Kramer! Which is what I want. Dates, and objects, and how often and many. Like we have it so clear from the Indians, the little I know. Orion can lead you. (I only read #2); leads you into as much field … “Capricorn is part of the earthly triad; it is the place of the creation of Saturn (with Aquarius); it governs the thighs and knees.” I wd rather be under Aries’ horn,

(OH YES: it is covered wagon:)    Perseus and mother put into chest and thrown into the sea, the children (Zeus, etc) of Uranus imprisoned in the body of their mother, the earth. That is an actual:chronos
                                                                                          reverse
-apochtastasis (?) fact
                                                                                                                      (happening).
Or am I taking it wrong. That being locked
up with them, does not prove they are carried
in us. Except we know they are. I wrote something
long time ago, (12 mos.) about the way I hold my cigarette like She does. over to Page II

And I will send that. Once I can get a corner out there. Also on the Boston train from Gloucester, I wrote like crazy, which I’ll send. Maybe the cigarette one tonight. Just throw it away afterwards.

Did you know this? I dont see how so confidently now but it does bring Pharmakos: Fool together, a little.

“Hebrews knew him as Kesil, the Foolish or Self-Confident, or as Gibbor, the Giant, identified with Nimrod and tied to the heavens for impiety.”

And “Peruvians believe a criminal held in by two condors”

This morning with the dawn I went out and begin walking up
Fifth Avenue from Washington Square, where they yelled at me: “ Oh Ham-let!
                                                                                                                         Oh phelia  ”

but I went on from one window to the next, passed along. Until I came to Tiffany’s #727, and they have a relatively small window for jewels, etc. Only each one had every detail like an undeveloped negative drops OF THE ZODIAC. It filled six windows. It is simply that, I think. A process used on an some original MAP, but I am going back tomorrow, Monday. And try to talk me into one, which I will send to you. It was as laid / more than eye wants / out like Roxbury-Malden in Earth’s orbit, eclipitica, and precise drawings of every constellation, the 1st and 2nd magnitudes carried jewels (well, the first one of any sort of the sky I have ever seen.) That the face on the prow of ARGOS is you! The mouth no, not as much.

The sun does enter the world again under our sign, but Aries it says ‘early mythologies identify the Ram with Zeus, with AMMON, the ram god of Egypt.’

And look, why RA died. But you told us that before. I have my parents, both kinds.  It’s the Grand ones I’m looking for, that it is the time now for them to begin to hide or as Miss Stein:

“When I grow up, you can be the old Grandfather and come live with us!”

 

This is all there is on alan as I first got it. But I find now: the Hebrew means (tho out of use): small-eared dog.
                                       “alan Tinguian  (Philippine Islands)”
“Spirits, half-human, half-bird with toes and fingers reversed. They are sometimes mischievous or hostile, but are usually friendly.(?) They are described as hanging, bat-like from trees and as living in forests. In Tinguian mythology and folk tales they appear as foster-mothers of the leading characters and are pictured frequently as living in houses of gold.”

Also now that I think of it, that our goat must come in with some blood on his hoof or horn from the sacrifice of the king → of Saturn the very day same day → or one before. Again, tho, I mix the movement of the stars, with myths surrounding them. That the bird alan might have something hidden in the salaman-der “sometimes a bird, living in fire”

And Rigel (you again must know) sometimes is The Foot in the Mud also known as The Double Axe. That I just see this: “In astrology, Capricorn {→ I somehow see him (Le Fou) as unable to fall — unless he cuts his own foot off} is a feminine nocturnal sign, movable, cardinal, and melancholy, and in nature, cold, dry and earthy. The mansion of Saturn and the exaltation of Mars” (All those adjectives, I mistrust it.) Plus I don’t like “her” clothes. But there are leads.

[…]

Please pardon the mess — it is such a displeasure to read. But I am in PO across from Penn Sta. On the way out.

Last night the living nightmare, so today trembles.
from Union Square, the rain on the newspaper stand
we sat in it.

There was a stakeout to bag junkys. And, I amble in after typing this. Alan’s red shirt was my banner. I joined the confederates again. No one was busted. // Much love

 


 

1. “the sea under the house:” The Selected Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson, ed. Michael Seth Stewart, 2 vols., Lost & Found Series III, May 2012.

2. Brad Gooch, City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara (New York: Knopf, 1993), 301.

3. Series II, Folder 220, Charles Olson Research Collection, Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries. Reprinted by permission of the Charles Olson Estate.

4. Samuel Noah Kramer (1897–1990), Ukrainian-born American scholar whose work in Sumerian mythology was integral to Olson’s sense of history.

Beginzone: "There's Ridgeway Lane forever" (the message)

Before our January 6 interview with poet John Wieners on Beacon Hill, I called up an old friend, Bill Wellington, the night librarian and all around nice guy of the UMass–Dartmouth Library, to find out if he had a message to relay to poet Wieners …. the connection is that of two young Beantown beatniks.

Bill playing his jazz up and down the coast, backing Billie and Bird, eventually having to give up the horn because of personal and medical reasons. The other, a shy young poet with a circle of dear friends in Beacon Hill, and Bill was one of them, scripting down and out scene-verse that caught the spirit of youth, the flailing passionate heartache of it all, moments of time strung together with words like pearls on string.

After the years have rolled into each other, the magical nights on the Hill become these stories, tales told to an attentive English Lit undergrad by a cool and raspy-voiced jazzman-turned-librarian, who returns to the poems of an old friend as evidence of the magic, the time gone by.

(BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MESSAGE?)

It’s a message of creativity, youth, of the human capacity to care deeply about the quality of another’s life, why some still hold the word, the idea — as sacred. Enjoy.

"Nor … ever some place else": Wieners in Boston

John Wieners at his last public reading in February 2002 (still from a video by Derek Fenner).

To backtrack to the beginning of Robert Creeley’s preface to John Wieners’s “Cultural Affairs in Boston,” which about sums it up:

If poetry might be taken as a distance, some space from the action, relief from the crowd, or if its discretions, what it managed to leave out, avoid, get rid of, were its virtue, then all these poems would be in one way or another suspect. They are far closer to a purported Chinese apothegm I read years ago and continue to muse on: “How is it far if you think it?” I don’t truly know. It doesn’t seem to be far at all. Nor do these poems, any of them, seem ever some place else, or where they move apart from an agent, either feeling or thinking. They’re here, as we are — certainly a hopeful convention in all respects, but where else to meet?

Wieners makes an absence horribly or heartbreakingly present:
 
“The walls are alive with pictures.
Faces haunt the dark.”
(from Wieners’s “A Series, 5.8,” Ace of Pentacles)
 
“Poetry is a trance
of make-believe.”
(“Concentration,” Nerves)
 
“The man I’m kissing
lives right here
despite all odds
 
on my lips”
(“Osterreich,” Nerves)
 
“and the gossamer twilights on Boston Common, and Arlington Street
adrift in the mind”
(After Symond’s “Venice,” Nerves)
 
And from “5.9”:
“Dread night is gone,
you see suspended in a bar against the blackness
the mighty lord, who makes his way
Love in his eyes as a bride might say
To put away all fear.”
 
Is it Duncan’s open field Wieners refers to in “The Meadow Where All Things Grow According to Their Own Design”?
 
“Destiny lies behind our forces
and what lives in the soul
dies not. It inhabits our dreams
as perpetual as light.”
 
Am I stretching the point to suggest that though Wieners often writes in form and sometimes in rather formal language there is an organic aspect of his poetry, that his belief that all forms are organic pervades his poetry?
 
If as Creeley delineates, the poem is there because of the intensity of Wieners’s thought and feeling, so Gerrit Lansing’s elegant restraint gives us poetry that is always there, meditative, in a world un-fragmented, distilled, accepting: “guiltless I milked the cow, / slaughtered chicken, / swam with snakes” (“How We Sizzled in the Pasture,” Working in the Lower Red Field).
 
To both, the world is filled with myriad creatures not only from written traditions but from lived experience. Gerrit ends his poem “For John
Wieners, 1934–2002” (Poems Uncollected, Old and New):
 
“the sound of drums in early afternoon, the poems
echoing our marvelous faults, their fruits.”
 
The marvelous, the human, the humane, the ambiguous “their fruits,” everything is taken in, dealt with.
 
What else do the two share? Gentleness, constant devotion to craft. Massachusetts. Each underrated though those who know their writing feel immensely appreciative and are aware of its worth. I recall Creeley reading at Stone Soup in Boston eons ago & dedicating his reading to Wieners, who listened happily in the audience. Gerrit always precise, at times understated, loving but with clear boundaries. What little I knew of Wieners makes me feel he was endlessly openhearted, despairing, enthusiastic, wild. Gerrit knows his place, meaning he is in himself, self-contained, knowing his place is everywhere.
 
Have visited Gerrit several times & each time he has commented on my aura, which apparently fluctuates or at least varies. He has one of the fullest libraries I know of & seems to have read most everything in it, retaining most of that, I hear.
 
Having been subjected to quadruple bypass heart surgery recently, Gerrit (looking ruddy) still seems undaunted by death. Where has his meditation taken him — certainly to equanimity. Wieners was elsewhere, looking for love.
 
When I moved to Cambridge in 1971, I saw Wieners in Temple Bar Bookstore on Massachusetts Ave. Excited and nervous, I approached him, and he asked, “Do I know you from Georgia O’Keefe’s house?” No. “Are you a Medici?” Heading back to my apartment, where a poem of Wieners hung on my wall, I glowed.
 
Gerrit offers OJ or booze, seems willing to discuss Vedanta with my Vedantic friend, happy to hang out with Simon Pettit to talk about the paranormal (he’s an encyclopedia, according to Simon), calm in disagreeing with a relative of mine about haiku, and indulgent when asked over-general questions about the spiritual life.
 
His house is a treasure, up the hill and across the divided highway from the ocean, in down-home Gloucester. The rooms are large and packed and his intriguing housemate John can sometimes be seen moving books up to the top floor, even more books hiding there, waiting to spill over into the living room. He collects mushrooms, meditates, plays classical piano. One can imagine him living the aesthetic life in New York though he now finds comfort at the seaside: “Old and new dependencies, good harbor, deserted beach of seaweed brown” (“XVIII, The Soluble Forest”).
 
The younger poets in his area adore him and care for him and hang at his house. Amanda Cook, he tells me, waited five hours at the hospital with Gerrit’s nephew until his operation was over. He gives parties, still. Such friends as Ken Irby stay in his guesthouse out back in summer.
 
He combines traditions, high and low culture, sex and spirit, all is one:
 
Thomas Burnet, in The Sacred Theory of the Earth, posited that the earth had formed as a smooth, regular sphere with a thin surface, below which was a vast ocean. The Great Flood, he believed, had occurred when the surface of the earth broke open, for God had willed it so, and fell down into that ocean.
 
Here is the fourth section of Gerrit’s “In Erasmus Darwin’s Generous Light”:
 
Telluris sacra theoria [The Sacred Theory of the Earth]
 
If you consider the sacred theory of the earth,
water below and water above,
the egg cracked and split, the spirit spurting out
flood and ark of sacred origin, waterfall of starry jism
the milk of the stars from her paps
on uplifted ecstatic faces and lovers locked in happy freedom in their crucible …
 
in my garden, Erasmus Darwin said, blooms
bright surprise galore on bright surprise
and from their volant passion splurge cataracts of eyes.
 
In the tulgey wood the light consoles
and in the generous light of Erasmus Darwin’s ripe exuberance
(and he knew the caves below where sun at midnight shone)
the fields, his very strawberry fields, are Eleusinian.
 
Genesis and Alice in Wonderland in the mix. The sublimity and chaos of nature. Charles Darwin’s poet grandfather (whom Gerrit described in his reading at the Boston Athaeneum in June as a poet of sexuality and plant life) and God. Jism and the sacred natural world. Contradictions and acceptance. The Beatles and the Eleusinian fields, the dwelling of the blessed, in the stream of Okeanos, the Ocean. And the caves below where sun at midnight shone? Jesus, born in a cave, brings the world light at the solstice? Coleridge, who was influenced by Burnet? For Gerrit, as for his friend Robert Duncan, these are not simply allusions, they are lived places of the mind.
 
The Ace of Pentacles, in the Tarot, is apparently about making one’s dreams come to pass. The Empress is the womb where the idea gestates. And so goes Wieners’s “The Imperatrice.”
 
The Empress is an extreme card — one minute things are wonderful, the next, horrible. One’s labors may come to fruition, so it seems Wieners is carrying forward The Ace of Pentacles’ hope. Wieners’s The Imperatrice sits on the left page; on the right, a poem I have long remembered, for “My Mother,” “talking to strange men on the subway,”
 
“‘But I love her in the underground
        and her gray coat and hair
sitting there, one man over from me
        talking together between the wire grates of a cage.”
 
The Imperatrice, “who sits supreme above all human ecstasy,” “Lady of the blue / robe. Scent of sperm / a cloud of devotion to her nostrils,”
 
“Or with the objects of eternity
        about her and
           on display
for our eyes worn out with love.”
 
These two tasters of life have in common their absorption in nontraditional as well as traditional spiritual ways of seeing and experiencing the world, their acceptance of seeming opposites, their love of life, as intense as any despair, finally. Hallucinations of truth. Intimations of … Expecting/hoping for a new time to come; in Gerrit’s belief system, that is a non-persona, universal world. As Gerrit knows the world as real and unreal, so too does Wieners, despite his attachment to it:
 
From Wieners’s “Dreams of the Day”:
 
There are other realities
   besides those existing before
        your eyes.
 
   Secrets of the mind
   where phantoms dwell
   and people pass who never
              lived
   on the face of the earth.
 
   Dark veils cover their faces.
 

 
    causes high tides
 
    To roar upon the shore
 
    That is the mind.
 
    Where no one ever is
      But those who never were.
 
Yet Wieners, filled with spirits, longing, agony, IS there; Gerrit all the while in equipoise; both seers and lovers. Both having dived into the occult: From Wieners’s “Le Chariot” (Ace of Pentacles):
 
“To ride in your heart instead of heaven.
This is the card that reads as seven.”
 
If Gerrit knows it in a more spiritual sense, Wieners is familiar with the emotional ride of what we can’t know intellectually yet which can dominate the senses and feelings. To continue with Creeley: “The poetry of John Wieners has an exceptional human beauty — as if there were ever any other. There is in it such commonness of phrase and term, such a substantial fact of a daily life transformed by the articulateness of his feelings and the intensity of the inexorable world that is forever out there waiting for any one of us.”

There you have it from the mouth of Black Mountain that Wieners is not only a lyric poet and a sonneteer, a troubadour and the tenor in the opera, he is a poet of daily life, including the bizarre daily life under all our covers.
 
As is Gerrit — connected to the earth, the ocean, New York, he flies upward and outward and inside to realms just as intimate and interconnected as anything more mundane. As Gerrit says of Thoreau (“Henry Thoreau and Cosmic Concord”), [he] “made of his daily and local experiences a rich mythological fabric … He feels along his nerves the reflections of all things in all things …” How could I neglect to mention Wieners’s book Nerves in this context, though admittedly it is often horrific in its imagery — yet full of beauty still.
 
In 1965, Wieners wrote a subjective, insightful preface to Gerrit’s The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward (a Motto Book, New York, 1966). In it, he gives us hints as to what they share by letting us know what he reacts to & feels: “The title is ‘wrong’: alchemically it is right; but the essence of purpose is not downward. It is upwards towards heaven.” Self-deprecating, he makes me laugh when he claims: “For me to write with intelligence is a difficult thing. For Gerrit to write without it is even more difficult.”

While Gerrit’s work reveals an enormous vocabulary, sense of history and the paranormal throughout it, clearly Wieners — even in his talking of the alchemical — unravels his knowledge of the arcane throughout his own writing. “The discontinuity of image, the ‘confused’ mind you will think you will find there. You will not. The obtuse is clarity.” Wieners might as well be talking about himself. His critics be damned, he is coherent emotionally, in the way of Baudelaire and with sometimes equally strong conceits, metaphors that are in a visceral way images, they live so fully on the page.
“Rhythm is that elegance of thought the Greeks called paradise in their apple orchards.” And this is Wieners’s line as well as Gerrit’s phrasing — elegance, even for Wieners amidst all the devastation. “No, the wild tulip shall outlast the prison wall / no matter what grows within” (“Private Estate,” Asylum Poems).
 
“Now I have to learn to carry them [Gerrit’s poems] with me over the streets of the city; and dismay the madness of a nation with their magic.” Those who imagine Wieners’s poetry “limited” to the personal would do well to look again; he was all too well aware of the injustices and distortions of our “society” that Gerrit’s words would wipe away and transform, magically.
 
And sound, Wieners and sound, my God. Even in his sweet autograph to me in 1998 in my old Ace of Pentacles, he was concerned with lining up similar sounds:
 
                “Just To A Fan
                 John Wieners Fondly
                [@ John Wieners 1964 was printed here]
Offered to Ruth Epson
                  Exeter Street”
 
Sometimes Gerrit writes a gorgeous lyrical line: “The night is warm he walks the mountain road” (“Melanthus in the Mountains,” Working in the Lower Red Field). When mellifluous sounds are apt, he is the sorcerer who can create that spell.
 
Gerrit played tennis with John Ashbery weekly at Harvard. Once I saw Wieners, dressed as a woman, lying along the Charles River, cops questioning him. Tonight there will be a meteor shower, visible if the clouds dissipate. This, then, is what the two gentlemen have in common — a glimpse of the inexorable, the glorious and the beautiful, the terrible and the grand, the numinous. Or the knowledge of what Gerrit describes in his Thoreau essay, “the universe as a net of glittering jewels.” (A February Sheaf).
 
The differences:
 
Words and thoughts that come to mind when hearing Wieners: acute, raw, dissipated, aching, howling, feverish, clamoring, nocturnal, blindfolded with his eyes open, his colors red, purple, and black, like a glimpse of a peacock in the dead of night. Did he have to strain to see? An open question. Erotic yet with a tone more of longing then of titillation. Felt the pull of fate and destiny.
 
Gerrit’s language gives a sense of repose, spice, effervescence, concord, brightness, effulgence, sometimes seems crystalline, is balanced and proportionate. The erotic in him is high-toned in that it is one with all of life, alchemical: “We flow together like molten gold and molten gold” (“Alba” Working in the Lower Red Field); “This sex is more than sex, under the will of the God of sex” (“A Poem of Love in Eleven Lines,” Inscriptions). He adds grace notes, sings hymns, plays the flute. Sometimes the sax: “Whose joint? Pass me one, please” puns on the title “The Joint is Jumping” (Working in the Lower Red Field).
 
Admittedly, Gerrit lives in a world of magic, contentment, intellectual history, spirituality, and even publishing that Wieners when distraught may not have had access to. Like Blake, he knows that “The word of Sin was always Restriction” (“La p(l)age poetique”) and lives an unrestricted life to the degree one can in “the Vulgar Advent,” as he calls it in “Statement: How Set Was Conceived.” He locates his essay: “Gloucester, Massachusetts, at the Equinox of Fall,” noting that “To discover our spacetime address we must fix our position in time as well as in space” (“The Burden of Set #1”).

(And as with Louis Zukofsky, for Gerrit numbers have connections to the macrocosmic world: “is the number 18 / the tablets are empty / everybody’s crossed over / and no one has ever gone over” (“XVIII”) plays with the Hebrew chai, good fortune.)
 
Yet in the same essay, quoting Stevens, he reminds us that “poetry increases the feeling for reality” and in “La p(l)age poetique” that “Making the soul is always particular” and in these ways is in unity again with Wieners.
 
Yet neither is didactic. Both have the feel of flickers of the absolute, of visions obscured and sometimes revealed. Both are link-boys, who could be dangerous. Many couldn’t hold a candle to them.

The old brick city by the Atlantic

John Wieners's Boston haunts

John Wieners at the Beacon Hill Burger King, 1997 (photo by Jim Dunn).

For almost thirty years, John Wieners lived meagerly and humbly in the same apartment in Beacon Hill; 44 Joy Street, Suite 10 as he called it. Joy Street, originally called Belknap Lane, named after the Colonial Apothecary, Dr. John Joy, with its history of livery stables, was his home. Wieners became somewhat more reclusive in his later years, but he was still a fixture on the streets of Beacon Hill, seen often trudging tragic-comically through the streets with his bag draped around his shoulder, and a cigarette in his hand, carrying himself with a certain muted elegance. The sad fact of these last eight years is that chance sightings and encounters with the man in his world, in this world, can never happen again. Beacon Hill, a neighborhood that has changed drastically since his death, seems not to notice or to care that a great poet was ever among them or even more poignantly that he has left.

Like a ghost, Wieners can be glimpsed in the emptiness of specific places left behind. There are many places to me where I can conjure up a spark of his spirit just by walking his Beacon Hill streets.

One of the first places Wieners and I met for lunch was at the John W. McCormack Federal building cafeteria at One Ashburton Place across from the State Capitol at the top of Bowdoin Street. The cafeteria was on one of the higher floors of the building and was easy to access by elevator. In the ten years I knew Wieners, we only visited it a few times, but the memory of that lunch is very clear. I asked him if he missed Black Mountain College and North Carolina. He casually remarked, “One does not fully appreciate the landscape of a place until they have long left it.” That line has stayed with me particularly through the years. He also maintained that he once worked at the McCormack Cafeteria bussing the tables. Whether it was true or metaphoric never mattered to me. He wistfully remarked “They don’t bus these tables anymore.” There were other cafeterias where we would lunch; a state administration building in Government Center, and the Massachusetts General Hospital cafeteria to name a few.

After lunch we stood on the landing behind the McCormack building where Federal Employees stood blankly around us enjoying cigarettes in the afternoon sun. I made a comment that amused him and he casually remarked, “My cheekbones get high from you.” I told him that was such a great line I would like to use it in a poem. He dismissively changed his tone, replying “Oh, I wish I never said that.”

Once a week we would meet together to share the same routine. First, we would visit the lobby of Massachusetts General Hospital. Wieners’s cousin Walter had set up a disbursement plan for a stipend of cash to be delivered by a male nurse, Brian, who was close friends with Walter. Wieners and I would wait patiently each week in the busy lobby of MGH amidst the flow of humanity, for Brian to arrive with an envelope. Often we’d have lunch in the hospital cafeteria. A few times we would walk up the steps of the original MGH building to visit the Ether Dome.

The Charles Plaza located at the bottom of Joy Street was Wieners’s lifeline to his weekly goods; cigarettes, percogesic pills, and his meager supply of weekly groceries. At that time, the Plaza had a Burger King, a CVS drugstore, a Brigham’s, and a Stop & Shop supermarket. We would walk across Blossom Street to Charles Plaza to have lunch at the Burger King. Wieners would always order the same thing — a plain hamburger, french fries and a coke. On the hamburger he would put nothing except multiple packets of salt. We’d sit down to a fine Burger King meal amidst the lunchtime crowd of Beacon Hill. Once, a publisher and admirer of Wieners planned on meeting him for lunch. The publisher showed up on Joy Street with a single rose as a gift and offered to take Wieners anywhere in the city for lunch. He suggested Harvard Gardens. Harvard Gardens, which figured prominently in Wieners’s poem “Chophouse Memories,” where he sat reading poetry in the humid summer evening of Beacon Hill, as Frank O’Hara and Jack Spicer wept in the “incipient rain and electric-charged air.” It has been a Beacon Hill institution for over forty years. Wieners had gone there many times throughout the years, but he never went there in the time I knew him. Wieners thought about the publisher’s offer for a moment and deferred making a decision until we crossed over Cambridge Street. Wieners suggested since we were so close to Charles Plaza we should just go to Burger King. The publisher was deflated. He insistently reiterated his intention to buy lunch anywhere Wieners desired in the city. I knew where we were going from the moment we stepped out onto the street. The three of us sat in the Burger King. The publisher was baffled and mortified that his date with Wieners’s was less than he dreamed it would be. I sat there next to Wieners, the awkward third wheel of the date. Wieners presided over the impaired proceedings, answering questions courteously, completely content to be exactly where he was.

We’d also visit the CVS pharmacy for three specific items that were more important to him than sustenance. He would pick up, religiously every week, a pack of Kool cigarettes, a box of Percogesic pills, and a Primatene Mist inhaler. The Percogesic pills were over-the-counter pain relievers. For some reason Wieners had to have a refill of that specific brand every week. The Primatene Mist inhaler helped him breathe but it probably gave him a kick as well. He would stand outside the drugstore with a cigarette in one hand and the Primatene Mist inhaler in the other. After each drag on his cigarette, he’d immediately take two puffs on the inhaler, which would always make me laugh. “They kind of cancel each other out, don’t they?” I asked him. “No, not all.” was his curt response. If the store was out of Percogesic pills or Primatene Mist, we would walk down Cambridge Street to the “Phillips” as John called it. It was another CVS pharmacy on Charles Circle across from the Old Charles Street Prison. Before it was a CVS it was a local independent drugstore and Wieners continued to refer to it by its former name. The Phillips CVS, in particular, played a vital role in Wieners being properly identified after his death. Wieners had no identification on him when he suffered his debilitating stroke in the Blossom Street parking lot located right behind the hospital. What he did have in his pocket was a receipt for his weekly purchases. Through the dogged pursuit of a social worker at the hospital, she was able to trace Wieners CVS savings card number on the receipt back to his apartment, and ultimately to his cousin Walter, whose name was on Wieners’s apartment lease. Luckily, his family and friends were notified just in time to say goodbye before he passed away. But, not before he laid unidentified for five days in the intensive care unit in a coma, assumed indigent and homeless by the hospital staff.

Just around the corner from the Phillips CVS, is the Phillips playground. Along with the Myrtle Street Playground, this was Wieners’s favorite place to stop off and enjoy a cigarette. Phillips playground is a two level playground on the north slope of the Hill surrounded by a metal fence, somewhat hidden between buildings. Wieners would sit on the bench with his head cocked, smoke slowly escaping his lips as Beacon Hill nannies ushered children to the lower level structure. We’d sit in silence for thirty minutes or more sometimes until I’d have to make the move and break the spell. Close to the Myrtle Street playground, Rollins Place was another secret location John liked to duck into for a smoke and some afternoon meditation. Rollins Place is one of the most interesting courtyards in Beacon Hill. It is a hidden cul-de-sac with a garden and paved courtyard consisting of six single-family townhouses with a unique faux Greek Style white mansion at the end of the alley. Wieners loved to linger in the cool shadows of the courtyard on a summer day.

Wieners favorite window in the back room of his apartment overlooked the rooftop of the African Meeting House, located on a dead end off Joy Street called Smith Court. This street had been the epicenter of Black culture in the 1800s. Wieners knew well the secret alley behind the Meeting House that lead up the hill and out onto Russell Street. The alley was rumored to have been part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Nearby, Wieners participated in Steve Jonas’s poetry magic evenings in the sixties with poets Joe Dunn, Carol Weston, Rafael Gruttola, and others.

Down the hill on Joy Street towards Cambridge Street is 78 Joy Street, the home for many years of poet and Wieners supporter Jack Powers. Wieners would rely heavily on Jack’s good graces throughout his life on Beacon Hill. Jack would always feed Wieners or give him smoke money while persuading Wieners to read at some Powers sponsored reading in return. Jack was a conduit for reunions with old friends such as Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Ed Sanders, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Herbert Huncke; when they were in town. Powers also worked tirelessly to book paid readings for Wieners, often paying him out of his own pocket. Powers was a lifeline for Wieners on the Hill. It was through Jack that I first got to know Wieners.

A particular venue for many Wieners readings in the nineties was the Old West Church on Cambridge Street. The historic church dates back to the Revolutionary War and is where the phrase “no taxation without representation” was first coined. Sadly, many of Wieners’s readings there were sparsely attended but he would always read diligently whether there were ten people or 100 people present, some readings much more compelling than others.

Another notable church in Wieners lore is the Charles Street Meeting House on 73 Charles Street. The church was known in pre–Civil War times as a stronghold of the anti-slavery movement where Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Tubman gave fiery speeches. In 1953, during Hurricane Hazel, Wieners happened upon a reading by Charles Olson at the Meeting House where he was so taken with Olson’s reading he soon followed Olson to Black Mountain College. The modern day Meeting House is a disappointment to those who go there to see the church where this historic reading took place. The church was sold in 1979 and was renovated into a flower shop on the first floor and office space on the upper floor. It stands next to the firehouse made famous in the TV series, Spencer for Hire. Wieners and I visited the Meetinghouse only once, standing at the elevator bank momentarily then we were gone.

Driving through Boston I’d often catch a glimpse of Wieners in front of the Boston Public Library. As I got to know Wieners, I realized why I’d always see him outside the library. The Glad Day bookstore was a long-standing gay bookstore right across the street from the BPL. Whenever Wieners would get paid by check for a reading or for residuals from a publisher, he’s go to the Glad Day to get his checks cashed. The owner of the Glad Day, John Mitzel, was an old friend of Wieners who would always front Wieners money without any expectation of restitution.

Once, while driving Wieners back from the Glad Day bookstore en route to the supermarket, we averted a near tragedy on Bowdoin Street; right next to the State Capitol and the McCormack Building. As we drove down the Hill, I signaled to proceed to the right to grab an open parking spot. As I cruised over to the spot, I heard a crash and saw a biker come hurtling over the hood of my VW. Wieners put his hand over his mouth and let out an “Ooooh.” I maintained my cool and got out to see if the biker was all right. The biker was laid out in front of the car, sprawled on the street. I asked him if he was hurt and if he needed an ambulance. He cursed and told me to turn around and put my hands on the car. I first thought he was a bike messenger but then noticed his blue shorts and shirt and realized that I had hit a Boston Police Officer on bike patrol. Wieners and I sat in the car as three cop cars came and went. Each cop glared at us with angry disgust. After waiting nearly an hour I asked the officer if they could at least let Wieners go. They reluctantly released him when they realized he would not be a reliable witness. He draped his bag around his shoulder, took his rubber band from his ponytail, put it around his wrist, and went ambling down the hill to the Stop & Shop. After two hours of being held and questioned, I was finally, miraculously let go without even a ticket. I caught up to Wieners at the Stop & Shop, pushing his cart down the aisle as if nothing happened.

The one time we actually went inside the Boston Public Library together was to see the original version of A Star Is Born. We sat in the darkened basement of the BPL watching James Mason and Judy Garland. Wieners was rapt and attentive during the entire movie. I was less so. I dozed off several times during the movie, once even jarring myself awake from my own snoring. As we walked out, I felt like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. I half apologized for going catatonic during a movie that obviously meant a lot to him. “That’s alright” he said, “Jimmy Mason makes you groggy.”

There are a few places I never visited with Wieners although I tried to persuade him to go with me. The first place was the Boston Athenaeum. I was a member in the late 1990s and I thought he would enjoy going back there since he had told me stories of going there years prior. I often tried to cajole and persuade him into going to the Athenaeum with me. He would initially agree and then subtly his enthusiasm would dissipate until he was resolute in his decision not to go. In fact, I rarely ever saw Wieners on the Robert Lowell/General Hooker/Boston Brahmin/Boston Common south slope side of Beacon Hill unless we were driving through the neighborhood.

I also tried to get him to visit the Common Fountain with me, since his “Ode to a Common Fountain” was among my favorite poems of his. But I couldn’t even get him to stroll the Common with me, let alone get him to stand before the great fountain of his youthful dreams. The other place that he was interested in visiting with me was Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church off Summer Street near Downtown Crossing. I worked near the church and we had made grand plans to attend the Sunday Service but we were not able to make it happen, for whatever reason. Sadly, the only time Wieners and I were in church together was at Saint Gregory’s in Dorchester at his funeral, which was more poignant and touching than I could have imagined.

I am often referred to as Wieners informal caregiver in the later years of his life. The truth is I gave him no more care than any friend would have. If anything, he showed as much or even greater care for me than I for him. Robert Creeley echoed this feeling: “We are not taking care of John any more than he is taking care of us, if you hear me. We need him very much. We need what his poems can say.” Towards the end of his life, his world and the neighborhood he lived in became a place where it was increasingly harder for Wieners to have an independent life on his own terms, given the challenges of mental illness and poverty he had to manage every day. Beacon Hill is no longer a place where a poet such as Wieners can live independently. Every time I walk the streets of his neighborhood, I am reminded of him, and of his generosity, his grace, his indomitable spirit, and his love for his hometown of Boston. Although we no longer have Wieners, we have his poems. His voice echoes and his spirit remains alive to me in the streets that ribbon behind the state capitol on the bohemian side of Beacon Hill, where so much has changed.

Noone bears witness

Rachel Zolf (photo by Brian Adams).

I am here today[1] to make a claim for the “Noone” who “bears witness for the / witness.”[2] Negation is never as it seams in Paul Celan. Yes and no are unsplit neighbors housed in abrasive proximity in the noem. That alien traumatic kernel of Das Ding in the Nebenmensch adjoins and hystericizes me, yet also wakes me to the both/and that exceeds and opens thought. As the pure products of America go crazy, Noone arrives to witness and adjust, Noone can drive the car.[3]

Giorgio Agamben, via Primo Levi, posits the “living dead” Muselmann figure (or figuren) of the Nazi camps as the “complete witness” to the disaster, the witness who can’t speak and bear witness, the subject who literally undergoes catastrophe. Thus, “the witness, the ethical subject, is the subject who bears witness to desubjectification.”[4] The “author,” whose etymological origins include vendor, one who advises or persuades, and witness, is also always coauthor. “The survivor and the Muselmann, like the … creator and his material are inseparable; their unity-difference alone constitutes testimony” (150). The survivor’s testimony is adjoined to the one who cannot speak, the “Noone” — or, via another translation of Celan’s Niemand, “Nobody” — suspended in a third realm between life and death.[5] The unsaying is always present as a remnant in the saying, as “the human being is what remains after the destruction of the human being” (Agamben, Remnants, 134).

For Agamben, “poets — witnesses — f[ind] language as what remains, as what actually survives the possibility, or impossibility, of speaking” (161). Speaking for myself, I do not trust the poet as direct transparent witness; I do not trust the “modest witness” as ethnographic fieldworker. I do not trust the speech of “I was here,” so I am entitled to speak. Always-authored testimony has its roots in the master’s testes.

But I do sort of trust Noone, the polyvocal, multifocal, desubjectified or maybe just “bad” subject[6] who bears witness for the witness who bears witness to the Muselmann’s catastrophe. I do think there is a way that poetry can partially reclaim the gaze of the witness from an intersubjective non-triangulating “third” or more remove,[7] without succumbing to colonization. Perhaps not incidentally, the presently absent Muselmann is German for Muslim, and catastrophe in Arabic is nakba, the term Palestinians use for the “ethnic cleansing” they endured in 1948: “If you do not want to talk about Odradek, Gregor Samsa and the Muselmann, then shut up about your love for a neighbor.”[8] The transcendental ethical two (me and you, reader-writer, reader-text, writer-text) tends to founder on the shoals of the spiraling out political three. No one, no two, but peut-être a futurity of three or more, in an act of imagination that brings together present absences, absent presences and so-called “present absentees.” Borrowing from Lacan, “It’s only because we can count to three that we can count to two.”[9]

Near the end of Agamben’s argument on the Muselmann’s unsaying speech, he makes a concomitant argument for interstitial knowledges in time:

In the concept of the remnant, the aporia of testimony coincides with the aporia of messianism. Just as the remnant of Israel signifies neither the whole nor a part of the people, but rather, the non-coincidence of the whole and the part, and just as messianic time is neither historical time nor eternity, but, rather, the disjunction that divides them, so the remnants of Auschwitz — the witnesses — are neither the dead nor the survivors, neither the drowned nor the saved. They are what remains between them. (163–64)

I’d like to posit this liminal space of what remains as precisely where the multifaceted Noone of innovative, avant-garde, whatever-you-want-to-call-it poetry can do its interruptive, interrogative work, burrowing in the gaps between calcified knowledges to release and circulate what I call the “mad affects” that can both hinder thought and set it alight. Something like chips of Walter Benjamin’s messianic Jetztzeit — “now-time” — that flash up as unarchived, effaced remembrances of suffering that interrupt and reorient this time. Or Jacques Derrida’s profane “messianic hope … without content”[10] that can manifest itself as an urgent injunction to act in the present, much as democracy or justice à venir may never come. Maybe it will, peut-être it won’t.[11]

To offer one slant anecdote, I went to Palestine-Israel for the first time in January 2009 for a research trip that ended up coinciding with that horrific war on Gaza. Yet, I deliberately did not write about my direct experiences on that trip. Instead, I used collage, disjunction, parataxis, dissonance, and other aspects of form in an attempt to engender “mad affects” within other people’s Orientalist and thanatourist narratives and other people’s first-person testimony. As Shoshana Felman writes, “The more a text is ‘mad’ — the more, in other words, it resists interpretation — the more the specific modes of its resistance to reading constitute its ‘subject’ and its literariness.”[12]

It is of course not new to use artifice to generate unreadable effects and affects in an attempt to shift the molecules in the brain — modernist avant-garde and post-structuralist “language” and “languagey” poetries have toyed with this process masterfully by way of “fragmentation, quotation, disruption, disjunction, agrammatical syntax, and so on.”[13] But, much as I’m not interested in neoliberal notions of what’s new in poetry, there is another element that emerges with the author’s attempt to witness and persuade and sell by adjoining her/himself to the Muselmann’s impossible speech; or to that of the homo sacer not considered human enough to be sacrificed, but whose bare life can be extinguished at will. There is poetry/performance from Juliana Spahr, M. NourbeSe Philip, Laura Elrick, Kaia Sand, Jordan Scott, kari edwards and others that enacts this “speaking silence” through affective gestures, that attempts to conjure the deracinated spectre or golem of the Noone and stick her/his “‘Oriental’ agony” (Agamben, Remnants, 70) to you like shame, instead of evacuating the desubjectified subject on the altar of the language game. Speech happens at the threshold of the human and the inhuman, at the hyphen adjoining I and Thou, but it indeed may be mad and indecipherable: “Odradek is the form which things assume in oblivion.”[14] The text reaches a limit, but perhaps better to go there than stand by and deny we have responsibility as authors. Or pretend we’re not authors at all.

The Noone is someone, many ones, a social “structure of feeling”[15] that can be powerful when harnessed. I feel this with my compatriots on this panel, a common politics and sociality that are part of what keep me going. As I struggle to write these ten minutes, Israeli troops have killed at least nine unarmed people and wounded scores of others on a humanitarian ship carrying ten thousand tons of food, medicine, building supplies and toys to Gaza. Can poetry do anything about a tragedy like this? No. And again I wonder what the hell’s the point. But I still feel called to fail well in the catachrestic effort to listen to what is unsaid and beyond knowledge in the testimony of the witness who bears witness for the Muselmann’s “bare, unassigned and unwitnessable life” (Agamben, Remnants, 157). “They crowd my memory with their faceless presence,” writes Levi.[16] Like the Guantanamo detainees risking US national security by shamelessly scratching thousands of lines of poetry onto Styrofoam cups with their fingernails. “No more sand art, no sand books, no masters.”[17] In 1982, after the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, Emmanuel Lévinas was asked if the Palestinian was not the consummate other to the Israeli. Lévinas demurred, saying that’s not what he meant at all, that the other was neighbor, who could be kin, but was at least a friend vis-à-vis a discernible enemy. Perhaps, as Slavoj Žižek suggests, in an effort to transcend the friend-enemy binary we should restore the grotesque face to the faceless Muselmann neighbor, whose infinitely vulnerable call is neither legible nor audible, but can only be hauntingly felt, an infinitely unreasonable impress-ion on and in me, engendering a set of mad affects that I can’t turn away from, that stick to my bones. In Arabic, shahīd means martyr and witness, as in witness to the truth. Unthinkable truth of living experience — there is no certitude in testimony, and the poem is untranslatable. The two can only be created by passing through the three.

During a suicide bombing, the body, in an act of sublime necropolitics, becomes the ballistic weapon, and the primary target isn’t the victim/enemy but the witness who must attempt to make meaning from shards of bodies melding in a precarious we. In Latin, the roots of testimony are not only the master’s testis but terstis, the one who is present as a third. Psychoanalysis and philosophy sometimes tell us that subjectivity is witnessing as response-ability, however impossible a task; and the intersubjective third is a mental space where responsibility begins.[18] Perhaps the truly radical call, beyond reason or recognition, is to witness that alien thing in the excessive neighbor beside me and you — Freud’s strange Zug (a trait, but also a line or mark or remnant) in the Muslim’s absent present face. That punctum, the accident that pricks, wounds me, can render me capable of renaming a body grievable, as Judith Butler has called us to do. If “negation is at the heart of testimony”[19] — Celan’s no-poem, the noem, is also noesis, the heady nous, and even yes, nous, the impossible we. Noone is an interpenetrative many. In the same bony ash-strewn poem that contains “Noone / bears witness for the / witness” the speaker stands “at the threeway,” the impossible fork in the path, and calls out in apostrophe to “you threeway / hands.” Much as witness and testimony and experience and feeling and presence and even Celan may be bad words in our hallowed post (Post)-modernist/structuralist/breakfast cereal circles that may sometimes include Reznikoff but not Forché and friends, perhaps “something / is given off” within us, a response-ability to the mad address, an impossible handshake “in isolate flecks” as “No one” madly adjusts the gears.[20] As the consummate formalist Victor Shklovsky said, facing the dearth of aesthetic options after the Russian Revolution, “There is no third path and that is the one we’re going to take.”[21]


A version of this essay previously appeared in
Canadian Literature.

 


 

1. This is a slightly revised version of a paper I gave at the Rethinking Poetics conference at Columbia University, New York, June 12, 2010, on a panel titled Affective Economies and Prosodies, with Jeff Derksen, Lisa Robertson, and Chris Nealon. I have preserved the markers that frame this piece as an oral performance for a specific time and audience.

2. Paul Celan, “Ashglory,” in Paul Celan: Selections, trans. Pierre Joris (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 104–105.

3. See William Carlos Williams, “To Elsie,” in Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1985), 53–55. Also, Das Ding (the Thing, la Chose) and Nebenmensch (a fellow human being, the one next to and adjoining me, the neighbor) are terms theorized by Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan.

4. Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 44, 151. Hereafter cited in text.

5. Celan, “Ashglory,” in Breathurn, trans. Pierre Joris (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2006), 193.

6. For more on the “bad subject,” see “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” in Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), 181.

7. Please note the “or more.” I am not proposing a “third way.”

8. Slavoj Žižek, Eric L. Santner, and Kenneth Reinhard, The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 7.

9. Ibid., 71. Citation comes from Jacques Lacan’s Les non dupes errent, December 11, 1973, but recontextualization in The Neighbor is important.

10. Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac, eds., Derrida and the Time of the Political (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 15.

11. The liminal doesn’t have to be “between.” It can be threshold, window, gate, whatever failed projective metaphor you choose.

12. Shoshana Felman, Writing and Madness (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2003), 254.

13. Juliana Spahr, The Transformation (Berkeley: Atelos, 2007), 49.

14. Walter Benjamin, “Franz Kafka,” in Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2: 1931–1934 (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1999), 811.

15. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 131.

16. Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz and The Reawakening: Two Memoirs, trans. Stuart Wolf (New York: Summit Books, 1986), 90.

17. Celan, Poems of Paul Celan, trans. Michael Hamburger (New York: Persea Books, 1972), 217.

18. See Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), and Jessica Benjamin, “Beyond Doer and Done to: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness.” Also, see Bracha Ettinger on the transjective in The Matrixial Borderspace (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

19. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 54.

20. Williams, “To Elsie,” 53–55.

21. This is Jacqueline Rose’s paraphrase of Shklovsky in The Question of Zion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 14.