The southern New Critics bequeathed to generations of American English students a reductive but serviceable distillation of poetics into versification, fickly defining prosody as according to an obviously conservative set of lyric values. But “the new criticism” was a phrase coined by Joel Spingarn, whose impressionistic depiction of poetry carried little of the taxonomic and finally deadening thrust of “close reading.” Close reading had to do with hearing (the inner voice) and looked at a page only closely enough to take a strictly alphabetic set of cues. This kind of inspection could be quickly learned and reading poetry thereby could be easily tested.
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.
The following talk was presented at Rex Regina gallery, Bklyn NY this past fall at the invitation of Stacie Johnson.
Before I talk about the poet/live artist/clairvoyant journalist Hannah Weiner today, I would like to talk about a term that I have been using to describe a certain form of autobiography, namely “intense autobiography.” (I have used this term previously in essays about Bhnau Kapil and Jalal Toufic).
Basically, I want to use intense autobiography to describe self-life-writing practices (the literal translation of auto-bio-graphy) that stray from the genre of autobiography, in which one provides the facts of their life, from birth until present, usually late in life. While intense autobiography exists in relation to these forms of self- or person- writing, it is different. And where it differs largely are in two respects: 1. That writing is not a transparent, narrative means of making self or person appear retroactively, but the very means through which the person/self comes into being in relation to a social milieu; 2. Through intense autobiography the “body”— that container demarcating human personhood and rights — becomes a site of experience and experimentation where the limits of the self are related, if not often contested, in relation to a public, community, and/or social discourse.
Intense autobiography can also refer to a series of practices upon the body, much as Foucault spoke of disciplinary practices in terms of a “technology” or “care” of the self. The body-self is a site where subjecthood is negotiated and contracted; where disciplinary boundaries and biological essences are tested; where the body as a territory is both mapped and deterritorialized, as in the many well-known cases outlined by Deleuze and Guattari. What I want to talk about when I talk about intense autobiography is how self-life-writing demarcates social, biopolitical, and geocultural thresholds.
I’m back, with apologies for the long absence. The bad news is that I had to take a month break from these Commentaries due to a minor but temporarily disabling health issue, that pretty much knocked me out of commission, for anything but the day job. The good news is that I’m healed, my “tenure”here has been extended, and I'll be posting these Commentaries through November.
Last fall, on my trip across the country (mostly by rail) to visit the park spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, I worked in a visit to one of the poets most readily associated with American space (though not urban space), Gary Snyder, at his residence high above the Yuba River, Kitkitdizze. I have yet to document that conversation (we spoke, amongst other things, of Gary’s experience bivouacking in Central Park in the late ’forties, while awaiting his seaman’s papers), which will happen, when I get around to it, on the Olmsted blog. After I left Gary, I stopped just on the other side of the Yuba River, to check out something called the Independence Trail. It turns out that the trail — occupying the site of old, abandoned hydraulic miner’s ditch — was built in answer to a request to, “Please find me a level wilderness trail where I can reach out and touch the wildflowers from my wheel chair.” It is a mostly level trail, shaded by oak and pine, that contours the slope of the undeniably wild Yuba River valley, with views to the river below. At the time, I did not know that this trail, the “First Wheelchair Accessible Wilderness Trail in America,” had been created by one John Olmsted, a distant relative of Frederick Law. J. Olmsted worked to save hundreds of acres in what is now the South Yuba River State Park, as well as what is now Jug Handle State Nature Reserve on the Pacific Coast in Mendocino County, Goat Mountain in the Coastal Range, and the Yuba Powerhouse Ranch. He wanted to create a “Cross California Ecological Trail.” Walking his Independence Trail helped me realize, yet again, how limited my conception of wilderness can be.