"We’re here to give metaphors for your poetry."

by on May.20, 2011

If we accept Hannah Weiner’s claim that she was clairvoyant, that she indeed saw words (“I started to see words in August 1972. And I saw them for a year and they were all over the place, coming out of my hair and my toenails, and god-knowswhat.”), then she was in contact with the paranormal.

[*Clairvoyance: Direct nonsensory awareness of (or response to) physical events. – from Stephen Braude’s glossary in The Gold Leaf Lady]

…. I was difflong list erent    I was

anybody else    I was    terrific    I also drunken too    I was

insolete    I was obtained    I was original copy    I was

insistant    who am signa     I   ture    I was also indifferent

And why not believe her words over the overwrought claims put forward by a global mental health industry bent on manufacturing ‘psychiatric conditions’ and ‘mental illnesses’?

Para + normal. Alongside, beyond, contrary to, or altering the normal. But is there a normal? (Whose normal? Why normal? How normal? I just remembered Joyelle McSweeney’s amazing essay about Hannah Weiner’s texts as “disabled texts”.) “There is no difference between a real perception and a hallucination, taken in themselves,” writes Charles Sanders Peirce. The difference is “in respect to the relations of the two cases to other perceptions” (quoted in Stephen Braude, “Peirce on the Paranormal”).

In a fantastic interview Jeffrey Kripal, when asked What does writing about the paranormal require, replies:

A truly open mind. An attempt to think in terms of paradox rather than binary logic. A willingness to entertain the possibility that materialism, objectivism, constructivism, and naïve realism may not have a total purchase on all of cosmic reality, including, and especially, the human form. And, most of all, an impish delight in the weird and wonderful. It also requires a willingness to be tricked from time to time and an understanding that the truth can be hidden in the trick, that the two are not always mutually exclusive, as with a placebo. The paranormal, after all, is a trickster through and through.

Oh wait is the necropastoral paranormal? Is there a difference between writing about the necropastoral and writing a necropastoral? What does writing the paranormal require?

: An openness to instructions, to signals, to Bataillean “raw phenomena”. A refusal to be embarrassed (“Oh, Charles, I don’t have time to be embarrassed! I’m always seeing words!”). UFOs, aka the damned. (“Here we have an impossible stew of fraud, propaganda, secret military projects, paranoia, science fiction, a modern technological angelology and demonology, mystical illuminations, psychical experiences, out-of-body experiences of various kinds, and occasionally some very convincing sightings by multiple reliable witnesses.”) Paranormal forms, maybe a spider or spit (“I bought a typewriter. And I looked at the words all over the place, and said you have three choices: caps, italics, and regular type, and that settled it, that’s all.) and paranormalizing genres. Para-genres which would seek to instantaneously, insistently, intensely, repeatedly expand the genres that comprise “paraliterature” (Samuel Delany: “those texts which the most uncritical literary reader would describe as just not ‘literature'”). Ghostly genres. Mystic genres. Becoming-genres. Sensational genres. Shadowy doubles. Leaky things and animal, flower, stone. Faux folk tales and burlesqued classics.

If poetry itself is (the) paranormal – and art (think Spicer’s dictation, Surrealists’ automatic writing of Surrealists, Rimbaud’s Je est un autre) – but wait – did you say writing comes from the subconscious? I say it’s UFOs, stupid. In any case, does it have to be either/or? Inside/outside? desire/death? – so, anyway, what does that make poetry? A kind of super-intelligent, super-conscious force, perhaps – which wants to do or say what? Are poems messages? Assuming we are getting these messages in time (on time)? I’m not saying they are revelations. Maybe poems are just intelligent in a way that eats normal intelligence, or intelligence you would normally consider intelligent. Maybe their intelligence can neither be explained not believed. “Explanation and belief, after all, represent the epistemologies of the previous Dominants of Science and Religion.”

7 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes Göransson


    Great post. This might be the best definition of “maximalism” out there: “Impish delight in the weird and wonderful.” I don’t even know what “impish” means but it sounds great (like something a swarm of pixies would feel while terrorizing a wall street banker).


  2. Johannes Göransson

    And then there’s of course Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse”.


  3. Carina Finn

    from the OED : imp, n. 4. spec. A ‘child’ of the devil, or of hell. b. Hence, with omission of the qualification: A little devil or demon, an evil spirit; esp. in 17th c., one of those with which witches were supposed to be familiar; now chiefly in art and mythology.

    “Maybe poems are just intelligent in a way that eats normal intelligence, or intelligence you would normally consider intelligent. Maybe their intelligence can neither be explained not believed.” – like when a precocious child writes brilliantly & their parents & teachers don’t believe in it, as though writerly intelligence, poetic intelligence specifically, is in itself something that can/must not be believed.

    written proof of the brilliant imp is a risk to the “legitimate,” to grown-up language. hannah weiner’s words classes as clairvoyance are a threat to the same order. when a machine encounters a material it cannot process it is an error. so the gift becomes a disability, the genius a crazy, art a malfunction. easier to call it a symptom & diagnose it

    because society is obsessed with diagnostics & genre-defining is a kind of diagnosis, & what we have is a great DSM-# of “Poetry” where was doesn’t fit can only be a sickness. there is no room for invention in a system governed by capital-C craft, which requires clarity NOT clairvoyance so that one might articulate the world through a system that produces products which can be understood by other like systems.

    a “para-genre” which is continuously & necessarily expanding is incompatible with standard machinery. therefore it must be sent to the workshop & fixed. unless it is a “legitimate illness” & sent to the sanatorium for cages & observation.

  4. Johannes

    1. I love “para” – paraliterary, paranormal etc. Last year Kate Marshall (also in the English Dept here) and I cooked up a plan for a year-long course of events under the rubric of “paramodernism” – set to feature stuff about Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith, Steve Shaviro’s cinematic body, Aase Berg, Dodie Bellamy, gurlesque, “ugly feelings”, b-movies etc. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it happen (ie get the funding). I think the Johan Jönson reading was the only thing that actually took place.

    2. It is interesting how uncomfortable Wiener’s kooky-ness makes even her supporters. And I mean “kooky-ness” in the best way.

    3. Carina, love the stuff about the imp, i guess it’s one of those words you can kind of tell what they mean just by the way they sound – it sounds like a word that hasn’t fully developed into a full word.


  5. Monica

    Great connections! Thank you Johannes & Carina. I love paramodernism. Am about to leave for camping with these para-ideas.

  6. Sarah Fox

    Wonderful post Monica! I’m sure you’re aware of PennSound’s Hannah Weiner archive, but if you haven’t listened to her talk on Astrals–her “Silent Teachers”–particularly “Pah,” this recording is marvelously strange and maximalist: http://mediamogul.seas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Weiner/Weiner-Hannah_Bibilos-1994_PAH.mp3

    Hope you had fun camping!

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