BIG SENSIBLE, introductory remarks on Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal by Patrick Durgin
for new Bat editions publication
Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal is the last in a series of autobiographical texts. The Fast, Country Girl, Pictures and Early Words, and BIG WORDS precede it. This series begins with her first written account of visionary experiences that would develop over the 1970s, years during which Weiner invented a unique literary form to portray them. The series culminates in this invention. It is not that her subsequent books were less autobiographical. Rather it is probably accurate to say that the themes and formal standards of her career are established in Clairvoyant Journal. Typescripts belonging to the Clairvoyant Journal may have been lost. An original inventory of her papers prepared for the Archive for New Poetry at the University of California at San Diego indicates that Weiner completed it in 1978. But this inventory was compromised by the fact that material was unwittingly lost after her death in 1997. There are gaps within the sequence as well as empty folders in the archive; some typescripts Weiner herself either lost or never prepared. Weiner entrusted her literary estate to Charles Bernstein, but neither he nor Steve Clay, who conducted this inventory, came into possession of her papers until sometime later. Not much later, but long enough. What we do have are handwritten notebooks and typescripts. The latter I edited and published through the San Diego archive. These Early and Clarivoyant Journals (all but The Fast) are available as high-resolution scans here. The Bat edition is a resetting of the only book-length publication from Clairvoyant Journal. In 1978, Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh brought out the entries dated March through June 1974, and that notorious book has become a collector’s item. That it has so long represented Clairvoyant Journal is misleading inasmuch as the fact it is part of a greater whole is only implied, and not even until reaching the title page. Before the online rendition of the typescripts, the full extent of the project was largely unknown and practically unseen. This essay expands upon my note on the text, printed in the Bat edition. My purpose here is to discuss some resonances between Clairvoyant Journal and Weiner’s work before and after, elaborate on the unique formal traits of the text, and offer evidence of how and why its form was devised. It is part of a large editorial project led by Bernstein, Marta Werner, and myself—which we hope will result one day in a collected works.
the words began to appear
in 1972 and led to the clairvoyant journal a three voice
performance poetry book about learning explaining instructions
and the counter voice –“Hannah Weiner Silent Teacher” (1993)
Falling somewhere between diary and fabulation, Weiner’s journals document extra-sensory phenomena that have been attributed to a psychotic break, potentially triggered by psychedelic drugs, and mediated by Yoga and dietary regimes as well as the very struggle to achieve a poetic prose adequate to as "real time" a transcription as possible. I say transcription because Weiner saw words themselves. They say, write what you know. But what she knew was “written in” (to quote the title of her 1985 poem). One voice, the regular roman type, recounts a day’s past and present actions; while the capitalized words represent words seen in her environment, “on my forehead IN THE AIR on other people on the typewriter on the page”; and the italicized, third voice comments on the two, even hectors her, and is likewise a hallucinatory presence, seen or heard. Though precisely composed, any given page of Clairvoyant Journal looks immodest, crowded, very busy. The coincidence of three writing subjects disrupts and truncates words, phrases, and sentences. Orthographic decorum was outpaced by the moment. Pages serve as compositional fields, concrete limits. A sort of shadow society emerges. This society is informed by the “silent teachers” of her real and imagined aesthetic and political milieux, but the information they give is contingent on the vicissitudes of signifiance. Her tools were a keen sense of humor, uncanny gift of observation, and a typewriter, white correction fluid, ink and pencil on 8 1/2 x 11" paper. In my introduction to the Early and Clairvoyant Journals, I referred to the project as "avant-garde journalism," while Thom Donovan has coined the phrase "intense autobiography" to describe it. Her word for herself in this mode was “clairvoyant” and “clair-style” was the result.
Confessional and voyeuristic, the overall project bears many similarities to the coterminous autobiographical projects of Weiner's close friend, Bernadette Mayer. In Studying Hunger, Mayer hilariously deflates the documentary value of life writing, in the interest of lending attention to the actual integrity of a writer’s medium. Little wonder both were intimately connected to and at times leading the conversations now historically attributed to conceptual art’s heroic period in New York, harbinger of the so-called post-medium era. Just as Weiner drew on the conceptualist enthusiasm for total codification in 1968’s Code Poems—the drive to “document everything” and “make documents of things”—Mayer describes a journal she kept for her psychiatrist as merely literary, a “great piece of language/information,” a byproduct of another experiment. As Mayer put it,
if a human, a writer, could come up with a workable code, or shorthand, for the transcription of every event, every motion, every transition of his or her own mind, & could perform this process of translation on himself, using the code, for a 24-hour period, he or we or someone could come up with…an emotional science [that] …stays on the observation…side of language which seems to separate, just barely, observation & analysis. (2)
Seeing words for Weiner affirms this verbo-visual border rather than staying to one side of it, exactly because words occur to Weiner as sightlines that tell one what to say, without knowing what to think. Observation and analysis are not separate precincts. Oscillating between the sensible and the intelligible, any such “emotional science” demands a new convention. Weiner at one point color coded her text (though not long enough to establish an appreciable pattern). Mayer admittedly imitated this in Studying Hunger. For Weiner, color coding on the typewriter meant changing from black to red ink on the tape or ink cartridge, probably just a matter of a keystroke. Handwritten edits are in various colors probably corresponding to convenience rather than a code, though other of her handwritten notebooks use ink markers of different colors as expressive in themselves.
Throughout her three decades as an artist and writer, Weiner remains interested in the amount of looking involved in reading—how the site and sight coalesce in that sensation we ascribe to “valuable information” (Hannah Weiner’s Open House 18). Weiner’s “working notes” published in a 1987 issue of HOW(ever) strongly imply what her friends will corroborate; when not seeing words she required encouragement to write at all. Though all who read must see words, if not visually, then haptically, clairvoyant writing is a reading practice focused on initial apparitions of words that may take place out of her visual field (e.g. on her forehead rather than in her imagination). Weiner juxtaposes WEEKS, which sources television news reports, to SPOKE: “SPOKE was written clairvoyantly. I saw the words in small groups on my forehead and wrote them down in a notebook. The large words were seen on the notebook page.” Tom Ahearn’s iconic portrait of Weiner facing forward out of a book with a message for all, “I SEE WORDS,” serves as a graphic endorsement of her own embodied appearance. And so it complements the crucial audio recording rehearsed and recorded (also in 1978) for the New Wilderness Audiographics series of cassettes. Most poetry readings are bland authorizations of work best suited to a page; a poet shows up and literally stands behind their work. But not these. Ahearn’s portrait uses script-like handwriting and is full of whimsy. Compared to Nelson Howe’s 1975 portrait using (Letraset?) print affixing “WORD” to her forehead, a surprising degree of gravitas attaches to the matter. The author’s smile has lowered. She appears older, even slightly dowdy by comparison. From the look of things, print is reified script. Another potent example comes in a June 1982 letter to Charles Bernstein. Weiner typed the letter in “invisible ink.” Actually she removed the ink tape, crudely embossing the page so that there is nothing immediately visible except a handwritten note at the bottom reading, “hold up to the light stupid and you can see the letter.”
Fifteen years earlier, the collapse of sight and sense is just as obvious. An outrider of conceptualism, Weiner understood its aims and redirected them on her own terms. Just months prior to her first confrontations with auras, voices, and “BIG WORDS,” Weiner executes a piece entitled “Street Works IV.” The Street Works series were organized by the artists and writers associated with Vito Acconci and Mayer’s radical mimeograph journal 0-9. In two separate documents, Weiner describes her piece. Her interests in complete disclosure, group mind, and the impassivity of communication through normative linguistic channels is as strident as ever. In one, she asks the rhetorical question, “Doesn’t everybody like to snoop? It’s too late for secrets” (qtd. in Bowles 112). This was probably written prior to the October 1969 event, which was advertised as “Hannah Weiner’s Open House,” a kind of studio crawl consisting of visits to the living spaces of several artists and writers, Weiner included. The other, also undated but apparently after the fact, seems less ambitious: “I met new friends” (Hannah Weiner’s Open House 25). Undoubtedly keeping company with clairvoyant phenomena left the sanctioned arenas of conceptual art and performance happenings wanting, or perhaps redundant. She came to see a vast socio-political mindscape as indistinguishable from her “self,” then realized she could apportion this self to the page. The artist who had shown in the Dwan Gallery—and screened films and exhibited book objects with the concrete poet and technophile Robert Newman’s alternative space Gain Ground—was soon published by Roof, This, and in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. She was from this point on definitely one of the poets and was embraced by second generation New York School and East Coast Language Writing.
It’s possible to say that conceptual art’s allergy to “literature” also delimited the range of its power to pursue its own domain, for it is finally as a poet that Weiner mastered these imbrications of sight and sense. Marcel Broodthaers’ melancholic admission that literature had a “pejorative connotation” faced with accusations of “irresponsibility” by Douglas Huebler, among others, doesn’t capture how the first wave conceptualist approach to linguistic materials in many ways foregrounded the plasticity of language that literary modernism had been exploring (Broodthaers 413, Heubler qtd. in Kotz 254). For example, Adrian Piper claims the work of Samuel Beckett as an important precursor, which she read with and at the urging of Sol LeWitt (Sol LeWitt: A Retrospective 76). Artists’ poems are cataloged rather than collected—most vividly in Carl Andre’s case. The summer 2013 issue of Artforum features a “portfolio” drawn from the forthcoming Tate “catalogue of Andre’s poetry works”; and the cover of the neo-conceptualist anthology I’ll Drown My Book features a shot of a gallery space; and the ubiquitous tropes of “uncreative writing” and “unreadability” are by this point axiomatic; and isn’t the painted word a ubiquitous museological presence? Witness major exhibitions by Mel Bochner and Christopher Wool. Then there is the reciprocal movement of transgressive and “new narrative” authors like Kathy Acker, Dodie Bellamy, and Eileen Myles long embraced by publishers like Semiotext(e)—the first publisher, to my knowledge, that has ever become an exhibiting artist at the Whitney Biennial. Perhaps avant-garde commitment is mitigated by the market for medium—books must sell in quantity while inherently scarce “pieces” cost dearly. It’s no wonder that Weiner would emerge from the 1970s a central figure of the most thoroughly medium-centric literary movement of the century, Language Writing. Language Writing is appropriate insofar as it critiqued literature as an institutional construct through attention to its constitutive structures: minimal linguistic units as capacious emblems of psychic life—public figures for, in Alan Davies’ phrase, “the private enigma” (10).
Weiner did something very few writers ever do: invented a form. It is a poetic form not in the sense of a convention to be followed but in the sense Robert Creeley defined as “the logic…of content” (43). In June 1974, the last month represented in the Angel Hair edition, Weiner filled out an alumni questionnaire from Radcliffe describing the project and her psychic powers: “NOT ENOUGH TIME to get the material edited BY MYSELF” (qtd. in Harris 27). Yet her invention can be traced as we attempt to piece together the entire sequence of journals comparing typescripts to the publication history. The visual prosody of verse and prose techniques, typographic conventions to format the speaking/writing voices, and narrative point of view embodied in pronouns and articles are each implicated in this process.
The trivocal form particular to Clairvoyant Journal is established even before she moves from the third to first person in the regular roman type. In “Mostly About the Sentence,” Weiner relates the de-gendering of pronouns to The Code Poems’ play on universal translation—a dispersal or diminishment of “authority” and “ego” that coincides with relinquishing “her autonomy to other parts of her self” in order to “show the mind” (Hannah Weiner’s Open House 131, 134, 129). “Mind” is a tricky noun. The definite article modifying “mind” is less definite than the possessive. A quirk of English is that all body parts are so modified. But a mind, unlike a brain, cannot be shown. Even the indefinite article would reflexively show a mind to be the case, hers. In early drafts of The Fast, Weiner quickly moves from third to first person narrative point of view. The opening lines evoke the image adorning the cover of the book—distilled from a tall stack of typescript pages—and they read like a fairy tale. “Once there was a girl. She decided to live in a tiger. When she wanted to go out she left through an orange stripe.” Later in the same paragraph she interrupts the narrative, “This is silly. Willy nilly. Lost the pace. Here’s my place” (emphasis mine). Handwritten corrections of “my” turn it first to “her” and then to “the.” “What is this happy animal doing on the page?” ends the paragraph; “the” is replaced by “my” and “her” and “this,” but all are left crossed out (and of course, all of this is left out of the book, which wouldn’t appear for over two decades). A few lines later an “us” and a “we” introduce the second person plural. The first person plural, a pronominal impossibility, emerges by way of imperatives and advice—the remit of later “seen words”—“You will find you are the same you! …Never mind who. The mind knows who. The mind knows. It is there watching. If you do something good it smiles an intelligent smile on you…” From this point forward, the narrative point of view is held at the first person singular. This has the effect of holding the phenomena of seen and heard pictures, auras and words at bay, a kind of critical distance that implies literary self-referentiality.
My thoughts right now are about my g r e a t experience. …But what I witnessed and still witness within myself is so contrary to many accepted notions of science, at variance with many time-honored dogmas of faith, and so antagonistic to many of the universally followed dictums of civilization that when what I have experienced is proved empirically there must occur a far-reaching revolutionary change in every sphere of human activity and conduct. But other people’s experience aside, I suppose you’d like to read this, and can’t if I don’t write it, though if you are, it means I’ve written it.
In this passage, I elide a block quote Weiner pulls from a secondary source to include in the typescript—before immediately launching into this process note. The second paragraph of The Fast subsequently reads:
My thoughts right now are about my great sink experience. A book called Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man by Gopi Krishna describes the experience of a man when the energy hit him. (2)
The comparison does not mean that reflection is primarily what is redacted from the work in the interest of enlivening the narrative, but it is redistributed and reclaimed. The very first paragraph of The Fast reads:
I want to write but I am lazy. I would like to put my thoughts about the fast directly on tape without the medium of speech. California does psychic. It is unnecessary for us both to speak. Does she send her thoughts to me or I send my thoughts to her? When we both think it is 10 o’clock and it is 11:30 we are both not perceiving reality. (ibid.)
Weiner’s authority derives from her mind and body, which behave as a recording surface or “medium”; it is what “she” (Ms. California?) “does.” Readers are forewarned that this is a partial account, given an intention to judge by the results, and tantalized by the foreshadowing that this is not just about an episode for her in the past but for us yet to come. The narrator is already split, and from the outset we must accept that this can be the case and yet be true, as true as two hands on a clock misaligned make a precise designation. Ornamentation is beside the point. A certain brand of realism is promised. An accurate transcription is exactly what quotation marks imply, but ceding expertise in this way does not suit Weiner’s project to produce a literary document. So the passage from Krishna’s book is left out of hers.
In The Fast typescripts, she uses a number system, usually written 14 (1) or 3-2, where the first number is the “book” (notebook) and the second number is the typescript page. The notebooks correspond roughly to the “days” numbered in the complete, published book. But the number system also serves as cross-referencing in the typescripts, as in “3-2” where she writes, “It was a very painful day, enough to make me 3-7 3-7 3-7 I stood in the middle of the studio…” This may be notebook 3, page 7. Turning to 3-7 of the same typescript we see many more examples, even “Today is a 3-24 day.” Turning to the corresponding passage in the book, “Fast Day 5” has transformed from Tuesday (day 3) to Friday (day 5 of course), and the series of three number combinations to three words: “It was a very painful day, enough to make me cry out loud” (8). This tells us the cross-referencing might serve as a narratological as well as a bibliographic apparatus, to reassemble the chronology, but also for her own purposes, to discover patterns and read signals. A kind of numerology. Perhaps like astrology, the concern is less with how she felt then, than with how she ought to have felt. But then, in “12-1,” we find her revising “My 12-1 self” to read “My higher self.” Why is it higher? Because, “It’s different then when I hear my own voice talking to me. That’s clear—that’s like all the thoughts I think coming back to me in my own voice…It’s like reading without mouthing the words.” Elsewhere, these codes are replaced by blank spaces, literally blank or fill-in-the-blanks, _____. Filling in the blanks in longhand becomes a proto-clairvoyant method. What she notices in 13 (10) becomes a prediction of clair-style process: “the precognition is the one I’ll have when it happens.” Clairvoyant Journal works by giving the appearance of spontaneity. Here she already recognizes that it must. The form of Clairvoyant Journal is already guiding her compositional practice before it manifests.
Weiner is transcribing handwritten notebooks on her typewriter. Typing is a kind of revision at this stage, and those typescripts are later revised in longhand. Yet even as she types, she addresses a person (“you”) for whom events recounted are repurposed. That is, she drifts into and back out of the past tense, referring sometimes within the notebooks and sometimes to the notebooks, then to a putative reader: “I felt much less vulnerable afterwards and more able to think about setting up my own life again. for the first time since I haven’t told you that story yet” (14 ). Typing as visionary experience, as per Clairvoyant Journal, is the logical extreme of this cascade of tenses out of an indeterminate point in the past to the present and a future readership.
I’ll have to begin to edit this book, typing—a light task—editing—a high task. I think I shall have more of a sense of myself when I type this book. I can relate myself again to something I create. I said to C [Charlie, an early name for the astral guide whose advice she longed to decipher], I ‘ve worked in fashion it takes 2-6 years to get your idea from the creation stage to mass acceptance, maybe less—so I’m used to immediate acceptance of idea gratification—a lifetime devoted to communicating based on fame—I can’t buy it—but I still want the opportunity to communicate. (14 )
The “astral ear” that roughly corresponds to the later “third voice” of Clairvoyant Journal begins disguised as another person, “Charlie,” a form of ventriloquism that in structure resembles the resolution of an intensely layered process of recollection in the development of her narrative style, into a real time transcription of typing in Clairvoyant Journal, where the typing is the main event rather than a means to an end.
I’ve begun to hear my voice. I think and hear the voice finish the thought in my head. Today it was another voice. S’s, a psychiatrist—I was near her office—the voice said “Sure” to a question I asked it. Came home tonight from G/s Voice going like crazy—I said to myself. I don’t want to hear you and it stopped. it’s like a multitract tape out of sync. The thoughts in words that I think—and the voice saying the thing I think before I can say—think it is my head—and the voice also saying the prethought thought. All word answers. Questions reflections sometimes a rehash of earlier thought—like a playback of the memory tape. (15 )
The same questions that pertain to journaling as investigation into the accuracy, location, and intention of the voices pertain to the composition of a work. Before she sees words, she sees colors (auras) and other hallucinations (tigers, tigerskin patterns, butterflies, etc.). At this stage, she will hear voices as well. The accent is on telling and being told what happens for the sake of reflection, and reflection turns into revision, and revision is either a pun in this case or, as she realizes, a suitable model for the becoming-literary of her journals.
Literature has a context in life…[A]lthough in many ways I could succumb to a state of dreaming, non action, non communication, I fight it. …To consider what is going on in my mind and around me, directed by whom? is the prime object of my life at this moment. To sort out the signals that come to me. To make intelligent use of them—is that possible—my intelligence is rational and the rational intelligence cannot cope with the foreknowledge… Still, in order not to be a puppet or to give myself up completely to forces I cannot understand, I am taking part of consideration. Which in some cases means obedience and in some cases rebellion. (20 )
Three notebooks later, these meta-level considerations relent long enough to return to the climactic end sequence, the “last week I spent in the sink,” familiar to readers of The Fast. The narratological economy of that book was reached in what appear to be several, or at least three, stages. The notebooks were composed, then typed, freely altering the original, to produce a draft which is then revised and redacted in long hand. Another stage is missing from the record in that it is not possible to see a clean copy of The Fast beneath the strikethroughs and other mark up.
The Fast was ready for publication by about the same time as her book Silent Teachers / Remembered Sequel was being prepared. The former is published in 1992 and the latter in 1993. Formally, they are quite different. But they share thematic elements; what was underway in The Fast typescripts not only extends back to projects in the late 60s, but entails a certain threshold she felt she reached between memory and repetition. A poem called “we must integrate into the next generation” is the pivot point of Silent Teachers / Remembered Sequel. It carries this epigraph: “well the next generation could be / the one that is done and gone and / is teaching you now” (33). Posterity, as I have argued elsewhere, is peculiarly significant to Weiner in the 90s, marked not just by the fact that she was still seeing into print projects then decades old, but also that her new work was being published in honor of her 65th birthday. And while she’d put the trivocal form of Clairvoyant Journal behind her, the long poem “remembered sequel” is headed “CLAIR STYLE SEEN WORDS” and negotiates the “mind substructure” of “passages [that] are remembered and infinite” (45). Weiner doesn’t use the word posterity, but “consequence,” “continue” and “complete”: “forget the sentence whatever justifies substance / complete the subject from remembered” (47). Weiner contemplates herself as a consequence of “mother” and among the “subculture” of “black children speak[ing]” (68). Perhaps part of the odd ethnocentrism she confronts in her own imagined social holism from the journals through Weeks and other late and non-clairvoyant works (but especially 1981’s Nijole’s House), but perhaps also an ideational eclipse, as when she sees “black…with my eyes open” in the course of The Fast. There Weiner attributes her failing “powers” of clairvoyance at times to “deciding this would be black magic” (16). (In typescript “8-1” she surmises red and black are “death colors.”) But missing from “10-4,” where the “black magic” passage appears in typescript, is an interjection: “You’re stupid it isn’t black magic its speaking history persuasion” (16). Presumably this dates from the early 90s, especially since it resonates so well with the themes of the “remembered sequel”—though it also sounds oddly like the mid-70s “counter voice” that insists that sis is frequently “stupid” to think the way she does. Instead of its former, corrosive effect, by the 90s Weiner was using disjunctive verse lines based on repetition to replace the equivalents among separate persons, typefaces, and opinions. “Silent History” is a vivid example of this imbrication of lexical units to fashion a “structure” of “knowledge” in hindsight (Hannah Weiner’s Open House 178). It is also a momentous indictment of literature’s complicity with historiographic license.
1970, the year of the events depicted in The Fast, was exactly when she put another phase of her practice behind her to make way for clair-style writing. In typescript 2 (9-10) we find a series of stanzas in which reside the concerns of recent work she regrets having discarded. “I wish I had these films that I threw out last summer” (6-4). These are dated 1968, Water, Snow, and Foot. From Jonas Mekas’ laudatory review of Foot in a 1970 issue of the Village Voice, we can infer these to be what came to be called “structuralist film”—explorations in medium specificity. Comparing her 8mm short in opposition to what he perceives to be both a formal and generic “failure” on the part of Truffaut, among others, Mekas says “It doesn't matter how big the undertaking: a failure is a failure.” He celebrates the “aesthetic experience” she creates in this medium: “Autumn colors. Woods. A glimpse of one foot, then another. A foot coming into the frame and out, again into the frame and again out -- as someone walks through the woods. Only the front half of the shoe, a sandal of some sort, light blue and white, in the overexposed color. A perfect haiku. A film haiku, a short, one idea, or one image film.”
view image in new tab for more detail.
Her regret probably comes less from the praise that might have signaled a career opportunity as post-auteur filmmaker (she mentions also many lost poems), and more from what she earlier called “immediate acceptance of idea gratification”—that form and content held fast in logic as well as execution (the basic ambition of structuralist film as well as, arguably, a tenet of “body art,” which Acconci would be pioneering, along with Weiner’s friend Carolee Schneemann about this time). These stanzas in The Fast typescript, ostensibly accurate to her 1970 journal, tread the same ground—forgive the pun.
I keep my feet on the ground
and walk around
especially during the day
when I’m on my way
from point A to point B
which is a distance equal
to any sequal.
there’s just a space
to where the parts of me
I still remember
I have no legs, just feet
and a large space
reaching up to,
well, you know,
where all the parts of me
I still remember, meet.
If the sequel is equal (“sequal”), there is perfect repeating and nothing or no reason to remember. Recurring here are the medial attributes of the human body explored through figures of disjunctive harmony (all harmony is disjunctive) and spatio-temporal curvature. As for the former, consider two poems printed alongside each other in a 1968 issue of The World.
Peter's foot is attached to Peter.
It is attached to the leg.
This is true of the left foot
and the left leg
and the right foot
and the right leg
Peter's leg is attached to Peter's hip bone –
and this goes on, in the usual way,
until we have
is attached to
What if it missed
And for the latter, consider Weiner’s “Three Poems,” a sound work contributed to Eduardo Costa and John Perrault’s 1969 reel-to-reel publication Tape Poems. The editors introduce the collection with the assertion that “The tape recorder is already as necessary as the typewriter.” But not for Weiner, yet. “Three Poems” gently satirizes the clinical style of conceptual art while proposing a Doppler effect as a semantic condition for the (unseen) page: “the sound of an object in one dimensional motion along a line from A to B.” There is a narrative line to be drawn from her earliest works to her last works, a consistency that should not be overlooked because of the obvious achievement of Clairvoyant Journal. Rather, that achievement is proof of the vitality of the efforts that lead up to and stem from the project; it forms a gravitational center around which she builds her oeuvre.
The decision to retain a first person narrative point of view in Clairvoyant Journal probably occurred after seeing excerpts through to press with a small handful of little magazines. The only such excerpt acknowledged in the Angel Hair edition is the June 9, 1974 entry, published by Tom Ahearn as a pamphlet in his Diana’s Bi-Monthly series. The third-person neuter is used to describe the author in situ, an author who gradually comes to resemble her words.
The words “in front of it” could be taken as self-estrangement (she is an it) or as the writer’s very dispositif, the typewriter. See the italic “concentrate” precede its depiction in context (the capital, the word that pictures itself to her) and you see that the third voice emits from the blank page. Both visions must be inscribed there before vanishing. Previously, the third person feminine was used, provocatively suggesting omniscience. BIG WORDS (June 1973) begins as “RETREAT appears in large letters across her room. She sees words.” A page later selves part ways pronominally while identically formatted, “NOTHING IS SURE OF ITSELF…YOUR OK YOU OBEY IT OBEYS YOU YOUR OK” (Angel Hair edition, unpaginated). The first person that anchors the Angel Hair edition, and the Clairvoyant Journal in general, is in these ways something earned. The work she undertook was to establish the writing process as the setting of the narrative, in print, by 1975. “Whatever you’re going to make out of it,” she writes in The Fast typescripts, “make out of it—by 1975.”
By late 1973, Weiner had decided on the typographic conventions to format the three voices, to create the trivocal form of the Clairvoyant Journal: roman, underlines (or italics), and capitals. This certainly means that seen words form a counter voice in addition to sightings in the space about or on her—that the clairvoyantly experienced language is not homogenous. Hence, the text takes a trivocal form fairly early on. This might mean that the penultimate journal, which she later called BIG WORDS, was originally conceived of as part of the Clairvoyant Journal proper. In 1975, she submitted sections under the latter title that dated from 1973, the year of BIG WORDS. She did not observe this distinction until possibly the early 90s (when BIG WORDS is listed on the back cover of The Fast), and this possibly dates the extant typescript of the previous journal, Pictures and Early Words, roughly, to that period. It was typed on a word processor, the only one of the journals to have been done so, and there we derive the same demarcation of four early journals that is used for The Fast. Possibly, after Clairvoyant Journal emerged as a book, or once the trivocal form of that book was unalterably established, she retrospectively separated and named them as books. Accompanying Pictures and Early Words is a list of her books that runs all the way to 1994.
Meanwhile, the preface to BIG WORDS is especially curious because there is no mention of underlines. Here the third voice might be represented by parentheses (explained in quotation marks), or in other ways, including the word spoken to her in composing the preface: “(just heard a voice say ‘primitive’—THIRD EAR—astral hearing).” Astral visions were the subject of some of her very last writings, but here the seen words in capitals conflate the third eye with overhearing, eavesdropping, and autosuggestion. Charles Bernstein is reminded by this passage of “Poe’s frequent use of ‘supernal’—meaning heavenly,” while the suggestion is also “other people’s thoughts,” hence “something beyond the clutch of rationalized perception, getting to some truth not necessarily understood or contained” (email). In this sense, astrals can only be represented; they present themselves only to those who, as Weiner often insists, share her “power.” This brings them close to some sort of reported speech, typically under the purview of quotation marks.
Weiner would in 1975 add underlines to a 1973 section that originally attributed the third voice to quotation marks. Reported speech, asides, and graphic diexis (words or scribbles angled to point at or enwrap other words) all bear a "family resemblance" and are depicted by quotation marks, parentheses, and “slants” or language written vertically or diagonally. When submitting these pages (again in the third person feminine), Weiner included a preface that differs from all others I have seen, in that it states that “‘I see words on my forehead, in the air, on other people / on the typewriter, on the page. These appear in the text in CAPITALS or in quotes” (Watten letter). (This entire statement is a quote left open.) In the preface to Clairvoyant Journal among the extant typescripts Weiner adds by hand to the underlines (or italics) “quotes or slants.” She changed her way of describing the counter voice, referring to underlines where she had earlier spoken of quotation marks. In the process, Weiner affirms that quotation marks would not do exactly what underlines could do. Though for a time she entertained an overlap between typographic formats or type cases, insofar as they might perform similar (astral) functions. One is reported speech. In this page from BIG WORDS, for example, the added underlines, a yoga instructor’s directives, may be reported or remembered. In this page, we find a recollection in quotation marks. Is she remembering something once said to her, or just citing a fact? When Clairvoyant Journal is read aloud, the three type cases have crucial prosodic significance. Because quotation marks have no prosodic but plenty of rhetorical value, perhaps a fact so cited renders these scare quotes. Weiner was always interested in exploiting forms of citation and appropriation. Weeks is replete with chatter emitting from the television news (and is non-clairvoyantly written). Spoke, a clair-style poem, cites at length (without quotation marks) The Fort Laramie Treaty. But the visually nonstandard textual material—angled and BIG—are obviously so derived, too. There is no evidence that Weiner converted quotation marks to underlines, though the functions of the counter voice certainly suggested as many formats and cases as the functions it performed.
The counterpart to those she pictured as capitals becomes a voice of conscience. These ultimately italicized words “sometimes make nasty comments I wouldn’t applaud,” to quote Weiner’s introduction to a reading for the Public Access Poetry television program taped shortly before the Angel Hair edition was published. Yet the visual effect of the italics, so often like a voice-over, visually superimposed, can be ecstatic. They occur to her as she types. In Big Words, quotation marks indicate interventions, an internal dialogue externalized on the typewriter paper: “’Best voice.’ Which is? CAPS.” Italicize “Best voice” and they function much as the italics will in Clairvoyant Journal. That is, the counter voice could be considered a sort of interrogator or mediator in the chronicling or confession of what transpired. Captials, italics and regular roman type had already been used together by Perrault in the “New Poems” section of his 1969 collection Luck, where he also explored parenthetical statements as it were in lieu of an italicized third. Whatever influence this may have had on Weiner’s work a half a decade later is open to interpretation. But the preface to BIG WORDS uses single and double quotes paired with CAPITALS to total three voices (). “I type them in capital letters or ‘put them in parentheses.’” The typographic status of the third voice is linked to a particular function or set of functions Weiner was discovering even after the roman-caps-italics trio became the standard, definitive arrangement. This suggests her growing “rebellion” against generic precedents for the project, such as the novel. That the very grammar of the writing rendered it outside of most generic traditions meant the form was necessarily new—exactly Creeley’s point when he describes form as a logical extension of content.
As a literature of witness, the visual prosody of Clairvoyant Journal is fundamental. Beyond the short-lived, rhetorical color coding mentioned above, following the prosodic cues would be largely contingent on whether we consider the piece to be written in prose or verse, assuming it is poetry in any event. Returning to the publication history helps here, too. Tom Ahearn recounts that he had no discussions with Weiner at all during the typesetting of the Diana’s Bi-Monthly pamphlet. Ahearn’s print margins were quite narrow; transposing it sets the overlays in direct proximity to the ongoing narrative. For instance, from the second typescript page of June 9, 1974, Ahearn situates the third voice’s coaching when and where a letter is dropped from a phrase in capitals.
The text just wraps where it must. But the spectacular visual effects are wedded to reading through rather than looking at the page. It is evident that the missing letter e belongs to the word over. In the chronology on Weiner’s author page, she remarks that excerpts appeared in “up to two dozen magazines,” but Ahearn’s 1975 publication would be among the first. An excerpt in E-Pod, edited by Kirby Malone and Marshall Reese, appeared in 1978, and though also freely reset, it offers a judicious compromise between looking and reading. The November 5, 1973 page, for example, respects line breaks and practically all other compositional features, except that the font was proportional. So where the vertical and diagonal words lead the eye to certain horizontal phrases (or locations within a phrase), these shift slightly and thus forfeit some level of textual fidelity. See this typescript page as compared to:
“Prov” (i.e. Providence, RI, Weiner’s family home, and also where she happened to meet Ahearn via Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop) lands directly centered on “BERKELEY,” a logical dialectic less legible in E-Pod than in the typescript, where it collides with and bifurcates the legendary countercultural landmark with a working class, eastern port town. Note also the editorial intervention of dates at the bottom of the page. And while the dates, which Weiner included herself, might suggest the generic conventions of a diary, the above page makes the clairvoyant phenomena especially vivid while neither resembling prose nor verse. E-Pod was published as part of the Merzaum Collective in Baltimore, which also published sound works on cassette and LP, scores and visual/concrete poetry, and was an early disseminator (via Pod Books) of some of the signal works of Language Writing. As the name of the collective elides Klebnikov’s and Schwitters’ transrational sound symbolism, collage, painting, performance, Weiner’s “clair-style” snugly fits into a near century’s worth of experiments in visual prosody. “Nov 5” is nearly a calligram. But Ahearn’s work on the June 9, 1973 pages set the pattern as early as 1975 and should be considered the paradigm.
That brings us to another episode in the publication history, later in 1975 when, on recommendation of Barbara Baracks, who had already published her work in her little magazine Big Deal, Weiner submitted pages from July 1974 to Barrett Watten’s This. Their correspondence reveals a pragmatic editorial process that would have certainly conditioned and probably carried through the typesetting of the Angel Hair book. Watten suggests cuts, Weiner accepts them, as well as corrections to spelling, but also takes back the typescript pages to make her own changes which she asks to be printed “as is,” “DONTS CHANGE IT.” “I took your editing seriously. and tried only to make it simpler,” she says, “clearer” in terms of the narrative content, some of which she omitted and replaced with new material. Somewhere along the line, the mention of “quotes” in the originally submitted prefatory statement is replaced with reference to “underlines. (Italics, or small caps, if printed).” But not in the body of the text. There she added underlines. It is possible that these additions were an artifice, or a recollection of seen words (Bernstein email). Weiner may have been open to change; in the exchange of letters Weiner’s voices intervene to call “bullshit” on the “integrity” of the “material.” Yet she also describes the process as “horrible.” Finally she declares herself “DELIGHTED…YOU BIG SENSIBLE.” If Weiner had the format set by late 1973, Watten’s invitation to revise strengthened her conviction. “Chop off my head but please send me the hair.”
This led directly to Watten’s preparing the Angel Hair edition using, like Ahearn, a “compugraphic” typesetting machine which obscured from view the entirety of the page until a proof had been printed. It is as though the machine presumed one was setting either normative verse lines or prose sentences, neither of which was exactly the case. Watten would have had to hold in his mind’s eye an already superimposed picture of the whole, had they not established a process based on the flow of a sentence, indicated by carats Weiner inserted into the proofs (Watten email). Set as prose, the linebreaks would change in the composition of the interior of a book whose margins and other stipulations were necessarily different. Ahearn struck the same compromise, of course, and Watten likely saw the results by the time he issued This 7 in 1976. And in the Angel Hair edition the “miss E” hit its mark, this time in italics. In the July excerpt, Watten and Weiner preserved page breaks but not line breaks, allowing the position of these extraordinary typographic effects to shift when they did not predominate or define the composition of the page. The pragmatic nature of this episode means we can recognize it as among those pivotal, early moments when a mirror was held up to the author, and she replied in kind. Even if it doesn’t provide a stable template for future settings.
Our copy text is simply what was left to posterity. Without the benefit of Weiner’s input, and four decades since she decided upon typographic conventions to discern for herself the voices in her life, we must duplicate her settings. In that respect, comparing the Angel Hair edition with this one is revealing. In “Mostly About The Sentence,” Weiner refers to Clairvoyant Journal as a "novel" (Hannah Weiner’s Open House 134). But the imperative “WRITE A NOVEL” also appears in a typescript page of “May 18.” We restore the page here; a good part of it was redacted from the Angel Hair edition, and with it went this directive. “Novel” here would indicate not only a certain set of narrative conventions but a modal convention of the genre: prose. Weiner uses the phrase "large-sheet poetry" elsewhere to describe her “clair-style” writing. She literally and figuratively justified the trajectory and emplacement of writing on analogy with a painter’s canvas—evoking her first book, The Magritte Poems, in the process—all marks stop where the canvas ends. So it might be unsurprising that some early settings err on the side of prose lineation. However, in the end you have neither a prose nor a verse margin exactly, but a sort of landscape framed centrifugally by relations. The kind of fidelity to verbal phenomena Weiner achieves gainsays both prose and verse modes in a kind of “concrete prose.” This term Marjorie Perloff derived from the Brazilian Concrete poet and theorist Haroldo de Campos, who sought “words of prose…ionized by their poetic function” (183). The idea is that the minimal linguistic unit is the correlation between each. Much of the drama of clairvoyant writing, and especially the struggle to find the form for the journal itself, comes from the effort Weiner made to restore a logical, isomorphic relation between sight and sense. In the end, discursable forms accede to a poetic form unique in its affective range. For this reason, we err on the side of preserving the overall placement of BIG WORDS and other typographic effects, and if only to facilitate this we respect the line breaks as such. Weiner’s work was published by many fellow poets, all of whom in a certain editorial capacity could be called silent teachers. But actual, empathic exchange is one thing. Virtually left to our own devices and a set of already vividly patterned typescripts, a whole oeuvre that is highly self-referential in terms of her publishing record, we tend to consider the page as a unit to which a high degree of objective fidelity is both plausible and necessary to represent the astonishing achievement of clair-style writing.
This volume amounts to a resetting of the Angel Hair edition with the inclusion of previously unprinted entries including May 18th in its entirety, May 27, 29, and 30. We follow the Angel Hair edition’s omission of one third of the material published in Diana’s Bi-Monthly, the first third, precisely because the typescript pages, our copy text, are missing. We know Weiner sometimes sent out original typescripts to editors who might excerpt them for publication in journals. And these pages would be returned with markup—or not returned at all. Our copy text then might include occasional alterations we cannot treat as definitive. So when it is clear that Weiner herself had crossed out sections in the body of the text, we respect these omissions. A couple of pages we reset here contain handwritten across the top, in red ink, the word “cut,” indicating their exclusion on some unidentified occasion. Though the very fact that she retained them with the rest of the journal, especially given her adamant requests to have the originals returned, means they belong to it. She kept and collocated them. Page three of April 25 and May 1st were both “cut” on some occasion or another, but we include them here. You can hear a live, trio reading of May 1st announced as “May from the journal in June” on Weiner’s Penn Sound author page. It was retrieved from the archive of Charlie Morrow for the audio CD Kenning 12 in 2001. Surely it belongs to this effort to also see what we have been listening to for so long. But for those who haven’t known where to look, or even heard of, much less listened to, this remarkable artist, a book like this is a proper beginning. Those who have been waiting for it will recognize Weiner’s peculiar brand of textual fidelity, wherein meticulous composition sustains rather than deadens contingencies. Clair-style writing’s idiosyncratic spelling, disjunctive syntax, discursive shifts, and other irregularities are in fact strictly regulated by the surest necessities of experience. Experimental writing perhaps never had a clearer cognate in the experiential. Weiner’s work twins deliberation and risk. And that’s the way to read it.
—Patrick Durgin, July, 2014
Written for the new French edition of Clairvoyant Journal, to be published by Bat Editions.
Ahearn, Tom. Email to author, July 2014.
Bernstein, Charles. Email to author, July 2014.
Bowles, John P. Adrian Piper: Race, Gender, and Embodiment. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.
Broodthears, Marcel. Collected Writings. Gloria Moure ed. Ediciones Poligrafa, 2013.
Creeley, Robert. The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley. Rod Smith, Peter Baker, and Kaplan Harris eds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.
Davies, Alan. “The Private Enigma in the Opened Text.” The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein eds. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1984: 7-11.
Harris, Kaplan. “Fashion Auras.” Wild Orchids Two: Hannah Weiner. Buffalo, NY: 2010: 19-42.
Kotz, Liz. Words to Be Looked at: Language in 1960s Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.
Mayer, Bernadette. Studying Hunger Journals. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 2011.
Mekas, Jonas. “Movie Journal.” The Village Voice. April 30, 1970: 55.
Perloff, Marjorie. Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004.
Sol LeWitt: A Retrospective. Gary Garrels ed. San Francisco: SFMOMA, 2000.
Watten, Barrett. Email to author, April 2014.
Weiner, Hannah. “Eleven Days from Clairvoyant Journal 1973.” E-Pod #3 (October 1978). Baltimore: Merzaum Collective.
-----. The Fast. New York: United Artists Books, 1992.
-----. The Fast Typescripts. UCSD Archive for New Poetry. Mandeville Special Collections. MSS. 504, Box 11, Folder 11.
-----. Hannah Weiner’s Open House. Patrick Durgin ed. Chicago: Kenning Editions, 2007.
-----. “A Journal Entry: of Hannah Weiner.” Diana’s Bi-Monthly: Deduction of the Innocents Pamphlets (Vol. 3, No. 6, 1975).
-----. Nijole’s House. Elmwood, CT: Potes & Poets Press, 1981.
-----. Silent Teachers / Remembered Sequel. New York: Tender Buttons, 1993.
-----. Spoke. Washington, DC: Sun & Moon Press, 1984.
-----. “Three Poems.” Tape Poems. Eduardo Costa and John Perrault eds. New York: 1969.
-----. "Three Poems By Hannah Weiner," The World 11 (April 1968), unpaginated.
-----. “Working Notes.” However archive.
*I am indebted to Charles Bernstein and Barrett Watten for providing access to documents and insights that helped orient my way through the research for this piece. Marta Werner’s advice and example continually guide my efforts, also. Thanks to them, this essay came to something.