"Every Name in History is Hannah"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Here is a paper I presented at The CUNY on Contemporary Poetry Conference this past weekend. I will be revising it for footnotes and citation this coming week, so please forgive these details. Forgive also transcription from Weiner's *Spoke*. I have yet to figure out an appropriate and efficient way to transcribe Weiner's unconventional type-settings.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

An idea after the conference...: can some of us working with Charles Bernstein (Weiner's literary executor) attempt to compile an extensive oral biography of Hannah based on reminiscences of friends, aquaintances and peers? This seems a good idea where very little writing exists about Weiner's life beyond scattered small magazine stuff (however essential this always is) and the books / MS's themselves in their radical diaristic / journalistic forms. Perhaps some of us could do this before the tenth anniversary of Hannah's death in 2007??? Any idea, also, how she may be celebrated on this important anniversary?

Here goes the paper:

Every Name in History is Hannah: on lyrical necessity in Hannah Weiner’s *Spoke*

The temptation of temptation is thus the temptation of knowledge. The repetition once begun no longer comes to a stop. It is infinite. The temptation of temptation is also the temptation of temptation of temptation, etc. The temptation of temptation is philosophy, in contrast to a wisdom which knows everything without experiencing it. Its starting point is an ego which, in the midst of engagement, assures itself a continual disengagement. The ego is perhaps nothing but this. An ego simply and purely engaged is naïve. It is a temporary situation, an illusory ideal. But the ego and its separation from its engaged self so that it can return to its noncompromised self may not constitute the ultimate condition of man. Overcoming the temptation of temptation would then mean going within oneself further than one’s self. Cannot the pages upon which we are about to comment show us the way?
--Emmanuel Levinas

1. Some facts in the case of Leonard

-- During the February, 1973 occupation of a Sioux reservation in South Dakota by participants in the American Indian Movement, or Wounded Knee II, the US government undertook illegal, if not blatantly terrorist, intelligence actions in order to infiltrate the AIM organization. These tactics were carried out in collaboration with tribal vigilates under the leadership of the local tribal chairperson, Dick Wilson, and his organization, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (or GOON for short).

-- As a result of these tactics, 64 local Indians were murdered and 300 reported harassed and beaten. These acts of violence have never been adequately investigated by the US Fed. Gov.

-- In the wake of Wounded Knee II, a Federal trial was held in which testimony was given by a Mr. Moves Camp against AIM leaders Russell Means and Dennis Banks. This testimony was proven fabricated and a mistrial declared by the presiding judge. The jurors requested that the case not be appealed.

-- In May and June of 1975, SWAT teams were assigned to the reservation and the rate of violence and death soared.

-- On June 26th, 1975, two federal agents, Jack Coler and Ron Williams, were killed in a gun battle on the Jumping Bull Ranch in South Dakota, where AIM supporters gathered at the invitation of reservation elders. To this day, both the gunmen and the red truck in which they rode remain unidentified.

-- A victim of evidence and testimony long since proven fabricated, AIM leader Leonard Peltier remains in prison to this day for his alleged involvement in the death of the Federal officers. His current date of parole is pushed back to 2008 – 20 years later then the date specified by the parole laws of the US gov.

-- In April 4th 1984, the year of copyright for New York-based poet Hannah Weiner’s book *Spoke*, the 8th Circuit Court ordered an evidentiary hearing regarding newly discovered evidence in the case of Leonard Peltier, including FBI perjury and the manufacture of the alleged murder weapon. In Oct. 1 thru 3rd of the same year, the judge presiding over Peltier’s case, Judge Benson, denied Peltier’s appeal for a new trial despite the FBI’s admission of perjury.

The case of Leonard Peltier and AIM inform the background of Hannah Weiner’s *Spoke* in a crucial way, the manuscript in which, to quote poet and scholar Judith Goldman, Weiner’s “extreme identification” with Native Americans may be said to come to a head, if not to reach a point of crisis intensified by other events in the poet’s life: the apparently failing health of her elderly aunt and mother, whom the poet visited frequently in their native Providence; as well as the poet’s increasing desire to be published and recognized for her output as a writer, to achieve literary notoriety if not fame.

Such a crisis arguably becomes a kind of test for “clair style” -- a form of writing practiced by the writer since a series of MS.'s in the early 70’s when she began to envision text in her immediate environment, and on her manuscript pages while composing. Says Weiner at the outset of the 1974 *Clairvoyant Journal*, the MS. culminating her formative experiences of “clair style”: “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 italics.”

Something particularly unique about *Spoke*, and why it may be said to bring Weiner’s “clair style” to a head, that is to raise the stakes of the writing, is the extent to which the book foregrounds the practice of naming as well as that of pronouns, especially the pronoun “I”. This foregrounding is not unique to Weiner’s *Spoke* nor her writing in general, as it is also foregrounded by many in her closest peer group: writers and artists living in New York and associated, however loosely, with LANGUAGE, St. Mark’s Church, and a continuum of other avant garde venues and individuals who in the 70’s and 80’s explored forms of writing variously questioning and demonstrating the antinomies of lyrical personalization and textual authority. In this presentation, I will try to negotiate the importance of Weiner’s shared concerns for issues of compositional intentionality and textual authority with the uniquenesses of her compositional practice and her condition as someone diagnosed (however accurately and problematically) with schizophrenia.

2. Sirnaming

On one of the first pages of *Spoke*, a page unmarked by any number (but presumably 1 since the next is 2) and identified rather by the date, “June 13th,” a problem of naming and names is immediately present if not accounted for: naming here may be associated with childhood (and adult) writing exercises, “schoolwork,” or learning to write one’s name properly; it may be associated with cycling on a domesticating and interiorizing exercise bike opposed a roadster – the spokes upon which the book's title obviously plays. This ambivalent scene quickly takes a turn to “my right Hannah” and the names Bruce Andrews and “the language group, ” a group Weiner clearly identifies with explaining “ it is always / ok to use the name bruce andrews” however she may also expect being “scolded for it”.

Sir (s I r) name / some name / no name / my name / the name / who name / myself name:
these are some of the (non) names Weiner provides instead of proper names.
To defer their inscription? To defer naming as an act of identifying, of mnemo-technique as disciplinary?:

“NAME WAITS don’t write it in Mary slightly suspicious it name”

Foremost, “sirname” is an obvious pun on “surname” as an instrument of patriarchy, the name handed down by parents, and by culture determined to interpolate, therefore adjudicate. “Some name” / “my name” is a deferral by making general, the de- or in- differentiation of name as index or wound (Symbolic Economy 101 (read: binary)). To both defer and indicate naming – “who name,” “my self name” -- is to perform and effect oppositionality.

But there are stakes to deferment / denominalization Weiner seems all too well to recognize. To defer or refuse naming is to forego inscription in a commemorative order of authors, erased from literary economy, however faint and marginal that economy may be. To place her name among “the language boys” – where “girls obey orders of course” – Weiner realizes is to reproduce the authorial function stealthily under the guise of “avant garde” written forms that manifest contradictions of authorship, enunciation and literary economy. However to finally write the name “Hannah” within her manuscript (which Weiner does significantly in handwritten signature at an edge of typewritten standardization and photo-mechanical reproduction) is to become or make one’s self “silent”. Such an erasure is qualitatively different than “speaking silent” if to speak silent is both to transmit bio-cultural know-how (knowledge) under the pressure of persecution / genocide – the situation of course of Amerindians – or to very literally do so where writing displaces speech as heard presence / non-silent speaking. To speak silent, as ‘sposed to Spoke-ing, as Judith Goldman also argues, may adequately instance the major contradiction at the heart of Weiner’s practice and possibly language itself. That to not be silent is to more often than not become complicit; but to not become complicit is more often than not to become erased.

3. A FEELING for / or Every Name in History is I?

On pg. 32 of *Spoke*, Weiner apostrophizes in uppercase A FEELing for THE WORKERS of a postal strike:

“sis its just a small sacrifice to write postal
strike LEARN WHAT THE WORKERS about it

Can one “learn what the workers feel” because “the mind thinks faster then we speak” --
or write for that matter?

A feeling of the embodied mind writing in non-intent.

Beyond / before the revision of palimpsestual MS.’s I’ve yet to see but I may imagine or FEEL already, I may undergo a mindful-affective act of composition in the act of reading Weiner’s published books carefully and recklessly. Flying fugally to next expression “fugue” also may refer to psychotic episode. Such fugal flight – compositional action that binds writing to emotions where the will burns its wick at both ends proves identification – a declaring “I am” / “we are” -- not merely rhetorically effective, but perhaps the objective phenomena of going through the affective dilemmas of unique others, other instances in “space-time”. I is not I, then, any longer when we FEEL (where SEE and FEEL are interchangeably visionary)? Or “every name in history is I”?

“I was warning signals instantly on the red cross”
“ I was Hannah”
“I’m 68 before I DIARY become”
“I was weaken”
“I will read it until I die above.”

I am wondering if these are mere speech acts / another performance theory enacted out of pragmatic exigencies? Or born of another different necessity?

AUG 17

mattress I was open openly I didn’t think I was acid
problem I was quilt I was waiting for the entire I
was waiting for an hour to pass by I was curtain conscious I
was spelling it correctly I was conscious I was
important I was also leader I was blue pen conscious BIG
FOOL I was writing in it with it I was instructions
I was paper conscious I was a problem to my
inmates I was jail sentence I was liquidated just
once I was overweight too I was conscious problem I was a pillow
case I was in the closet I was an iron put the public
in the living room couch and don’t mind with the buttons on
and don’t spend any mothers money publicly I was hysterical
just once in a while
I was secretary I was Indian I was too conscious

Around pg. 59 of *Spoke* the pronoun “I” initializaes a sort of incantation, an incantatory repetition by which the reader may feel themselves transformed by insistent energetic pattern but also the specific over-determination of compelled declarative writing. The insistence of an “I” declaring its identification w/ people, places and things punctuated by non-regular tabs and other non-signifying expressive “spaces” begs a shared problem of Weiner’s most sympathetic contemporaries. Yet where identification, say, in Bruce Andrews’s *I Don’t Have Any Paper” explodes ventriloqual quilting points, and any number of texts by Charles Bernstein effect bathetic gems of Brechtian mannerism, Weiner’s identificatory statements (however also performative, ironic and self-reflexive) seem to erupt and inter-rupt uncompromised by a tragic will to power. It is in the sense of this constellating, or triangulating, that Weiner may in fact truly be the “test” or even the dream for and of Language Writing, insofar as her necessity embodies the productive, if not utopian, intent of a group of individuals to bear out the contradictions of late-Capitalist lyrical selfhood by becoming schizophrenic text beyond any rigid Marxist Structuralism.

Does not Deleuze / Guattari, and Pierre Klossowki before them, speak of such a necessity when they refer to Nietzsche’s so-called “psychotic” letter writing to Swiss historian Jacob Burchhardt:

This is what Klossowski has admirably demonstrated in his commentary on Nietzsche: the presence of the Stimmung as a material emotion, constitutive of the most lofty thought and the most acute perception. “The centrifugal forces do not flee the center forever, but approach it once again, only to retreat from it yet again: such is the nature of violent oscillations that overwhelm an individual so long as he seeks only his center and is incapable of seeing the circle of which he himself is part; for if these oscillations overwhelm him, it is because each one of them corresponds to an individual other than the one he believes himself to be, from the point of view of the unlocatable center. As a result, an identity is essentially fortuitous, and a series of individualities must be undergone by each of these oscillations, so that as a consequence the fortuitousness of this particular individuality will render all of them necessary.” The forces of attraction and repulsion, of soaring ascents and plunging falls, produce a series of intensive states based on intensity = O that designates the body without organs (“but what is most unusual is that here again a new afflux is necessary, merely to signify this absence”). There is no Nietzsche the-self, professor of philology, who suddenly loses his mind and supposedly identifies with all sorts of strange people; rather there is the Nietzschean subject who passes through a series of states, and who identifies these states with the names of history: every name in history is I…. (*Anti-Oedipus*, 21)

The non-subject of the speech act “every name in history is I” passes thru history / undergoes universal history / cosmic duration not as chronological or synchronic but the passage thru singular affective states in eternity. Can another person, a household object, an American president (Ron. Reagan), a Uranium contaminated landscape, and a civilization under erasure constitute an affective state to embody? Is the one who declares “every name in history is I” under pressure of necessity, for lack of a wiser term, “ontologically prioritized” or “privileged” – where one’s privilege is aristocratically to assert difference in non-reciprocal generality.

There is a long and on-going history of the subaltern – and women and minorities especially in 19th century --speaking as mediums to become authorized by ventriloquy. Mediumship is a language pragmatics Weiner is all to well aware of, references and even pokes fun of throughout her texts. Not to mention her wonderful plays on Orphic sublation – “going down” being literalized by words subscripted: “ I was openly tested with an Indian movement / as a leader humble in origin an antichrist special under the line special which is the underworld as I CAN SEE IT as / I am trouble in overcoat don’t mention names”

It is this reading practice and involvement with Hannah Weiner – one of our most important writers – I would like to recuperate: to play between Weiner’s very successful navigations of a symbolic order, an order determined by inscription as interpolating, and a sense simultaneously Weiner is excepted from “the law”: not as a moral citizen or a subject of want but as one experiencing and journalizing, to use the phrase of Jalal Toufic, “death before dying”: a bardo which, like that of a Kafka, a Schreber or Artaud, often made the poet both fearful and supernaturally joyful.

If Weiner’s rewriting / copying of the 1868 Fort Laramie treaty into the final pages of *Spoke* fails deliberately as a well-intended act of representation, to represent the case of the other under erasure in a legal economy in which to speak is to be complicit with the discourse of the party “I” would otherwise attempt to prosecute, forgiveness may only be possible where the I over-identifies in innocent feeling to “the united states on the other side of the page.”

Avenue A
New York
Thom Donovan

from Wild Horses of Fire