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Amodern 10: Disability Poetics
December 2020


Psychiactric Disability and Hannah Weiner's Typewriter Poetics

Declan Gould

Hannah Weiner is best known for her Clairvoyant Journal, whose diaristic poems are characterized by their striking multiplicity of voices. Readers often link this polyvocality to her neurodivergence, but Weiner consistently eschewed medical labels when she discussed her writing, and instead described her experience in terms of “clairvoyance.” Weiner describes clairvoyance as the ability to:

SEE / words, IN CAPITAL LETTERS, on the typewriter page, on my forehead / (very large clear ones) on other people’s foreheads, in the air, / on furniture, everywhere, in different sizes.1

Published posthumously in 2004, like Clairvoyant Journal (Angel Hair Books 1978), “Big Words” (which documents a five-month period beginning two months before Clairvoyant Journal) enacts Weiner’s experience and aesthetic process through three distinct voices. Beginning in June 1973 and ending in December 1973, “Big Words” records her experience attending a yoga retreat at an unnamed ashram and then returning to life in New York City, where she documents everyday activities such as shopping, eating, deciding what to wear, going to the doctor, writing, and interacting with friends – many of whom were Language poets and/or part of the second wave New York school. In her 1995 interview with Charles Bernstein, she states that her interest in “things that most people would edit out,” and in diaristic writing that practices radical inclusion, “came from conceptual art.”2

As Bernstein describes, Weiner’s account of these daily activities involves a “three-voice structure” that portrays “not only her own diaristic impressions and notations but also – scored in italics – a voice commenting on what she had written and – in capital letters – giving commands to her.”3 Scholars such as Judith Goldman, Jackson Mac Low, and Ron Silliman have read this poetic form as both Weiner’s enactment of the evacuation of authorial intention (a tenet of Language poetry) and as a performance of her clairvoyance.4 Building on these interpretations, I argue that Weiner’s “clair-style” also engages with her disability as poetic constraint, and employs poetic form to interpret not only her psychiatric disability, but also the material and discursive factors that shape (and are shaped by) her experiences with this difference. By examining how Weiner creates poetic forms that strain against the discipline of the typewriter page, reroute expected logics, and draw readers’ attention to the ways that her psychiatric disability comes into conflict with the typewriter’s normalizing grid, I show the complexity, indeterminacy, and interactivity of the process of engaging with disability as poetic constraint.

This approach builds on scholars of disability studies, such as Tobin Siebers and Susan Wendell, who offer “complex” and “interactive” theories of disability that account for the biological as well as cultural and socially constructed facets of disability.5 Such theories are important correctives that respond to scholars of disability studies who – in their efforts to emphasize the social constructedness of disability – do not adequately account for the embodied or material aspects of living with disability.6 This article builds on proposals for more interactive models of disability by analyzing how one poet negotiates the discursive, material, and biological facets of her experiences with disability using the typewriter, and how examining these three levels of experience can deepen and broaden our understanding of disability aesthetics. By synthesizing these theories with current discourses by scholars of avant-garde poetry who problematize the tendency to read poetic innovations that are rooted in disability as merely symptomatic of medical conditions, I create an approach to analyzing poetry that makes visible both the complexity of aesthetics that engage disability as poetic constraint and the ethical imperative to explore the material manifestations of this complexity.

I demonstrate that even poetic forms that appear to have a direct relationship to a medical diagnosis are still figurative and inventive, since that they are the products of composition processes through which the authors mediate their material conditions, embodied experiences, and artistic communities. For Weiner, this process involves engaging with her disability as constraint in her typewriter-based writing practice, through which she resists categorical, dualistic thinking – such as disabled versus nondisabled and abnormal versus normal – and instead investigates disability as an uncontainable embodied difference shaped by particular, constantly changing material, biological, and social factors.7 This open-ended approach to disability resonates with what Wendell calls the “interactive” model of understanding disability, where, “Neither impairment nor disability can be defined purely in biomedical terms, because the biological and the social are interactive in creating (or preventing) both.”8

In “MOSTLY ABOUT THE SENTENCE,” Weiner describes how purchasing “a new electric typewriter in January 74,”  which “can only type lower case, capitals or underlines,” served as a reminder of how she was required to either adapt her “clair-style” to the machine’s limitations or push the limits of what the typewriter could do.9 Similarly, in “Clairvoyant Journal,” Weiner suggests that the act of writing was itself a process of negotiating her clairvoyance:

As I type I see a word that I perhaps should put in as I see it but I’m already or can’t stop the word I’m doing, or’ perhaps I could retrain myself to stop action instantaneously at the sight of a word OPPOSITE rather than continue.10

It is not only her thoughts, but also the movement of fingers pressing keys that are disrupted “at the sight of a word” arising clairvoyantly, at which point she must decide whether or not to break the rhythm of her typing in order to document the word she is seeing. Weiner describes the act of discontinuing what she was typing in order to “put in” a word “as I see it” as a behavior that needs to be learned, rather than something that occurs automatically. She also strains against the confines of the typewriter’s horizontality by painstakingly typing many of the “seen words” diagonally, despite the typewriter’s lack of a built-in mechanism for doing so, thus emphasizing and visually enacting their disruptiveness.11

Begun ten months after Weiner started seeing words, “Big Words” consists of 205 pages of trivocal, disjunctive, diaristic writing.12 The typescript is divided into sections by way of the dates (some typed, some written in by hand) that appear sporadically every 1-20 pages, beginning with “June 1973” and ending with “Christmas Day.” On the surface, the bulk of this double-spaced text appears to be fairly conventional in its grammar and punctuation. Yet this relatively straightforward, narrative text – often reporting Weiner’s ordinary, everyday activities in the third (and sometimes second) person – is interspersed with words in all caps, some of which appear in the spaces between the lines and some of which are oriented diagonally or vertically, giving the pages a playful, improvisational, sometimes chaotic appearance whose degree of disorder varies from page to page, depending on the frequency and placement of the diagonal and inter-line words. Occasionally, a page (or series of pages) is sprinkled with words in red ink, Weiner’s way of marking words that appeared to her as she was typing a portion of “Big Words” from the manuscript originally handwritten in one of her Criterion composition school notebooks.13 In other words, these red words are her way of integrating the process of transcription into the poem as a mode of composition. “Big Words” returns again and again to concerns about illness, healing, and processes of interpretation and reading; as Weiner is learning to read and respond to the words that are appearing to her, the reader is learning to read Weiner’s paratactic, textual mappings of her clairvoyance-inflected experiences.14 As Weiner’s friend and fellow poet Jackson Mac Low states in his blurb about the Clairvoyant Journal (which follows a similar structure to “Big Words”), “Her achievement – and it is a considerable one – lies in her having developed a specific literary form through which to convey her remarkable experience.”15

Mac Low demonstrates an eloquent appreciation of Weiner’s marriage of form and content, but like others writing about her work during her lifetime (including Weiner herself), he refers to her psychiatric disability exclusively in terms of clairvoyance, stating “Hannah Weiner is the only clairvoyant I know, or that I’ve ever known, as far as I know.”16  Others writing about Weiner’s clairvoyance during her lifetime also avoid characterizing her psychiatric disability in terms of the language of psychiatry. For example, Dick Higgins describes the Clairvoyant Journal as noting “whatever words occur intuitively,” while Bernadette Mayer observes that this text investigates “psychic phenomena” via “three main characters (voices),” or “‘directors’ of what is to be included,” and in 1995 Bernstein views it as both “performance work” and “dictated” poetry.17 These aesthetic, conceptual responses to Weiner’s work honor her writing by approaching it on the terms that Weiner herself set, but they also risk glossing over the ways that Weiner’s psychiatric disability caused her and the people who cared about her great pain, and do not create space for reflection on the ways that the anxiety and distress caused by her psychiatric disability may have been exacerbated by external cultural and material factors.

It is not until after her death in 1997 that scholars begin framing Weiner’s clairvoyance in terms of psychiatric disability, and in the first published statement that Weiner had schizophrenia, Bernstein writes in his contribution to the Hannah Weiner tribute published in the Poetry Project newsletter in 1998 that, “It is an irony, perhaps, that the writing Hannah will be best remembered for coincided with a period in which schizophrenia made her everyday life increasingly difficult.”18 While previous characterizations of Clairvoyant Journal emphasize its aesthetic and conceptual qualities, posthumous writings about her work following Bernstein’s 1998 testimony tend to frame her clairvoyance in more medical terms, describing it as a symptom of schizophrenia but ultimately focusing on the other important ways that her claims of clairvoyance signify.19 As Bernstein observes, “Mostly [Weiner’s psychiatric disability] was ignored / repressed / overlooked. Until it couldn’t be and then she became more isolated.”20 In contrast, more recent, disability studies-oriented analyses raise important questions about how Weiner’s writing intersects with contemporary understandings of psychiatric disability. For example, Goldman shows that the way Weiner frames her writing “requires that we read clairvoyance other than as a symptom of schizophrenia,” and “alerts us to the peculiar status of her texts without allowing us to medicalize and dismiss them,” while Bernstein proposes that “schizophrenia gave her insight into language, into human consciousness, into the nature of how everyday life can be presented rather than represented in writing.”21 Meanwhile, Durgin points out that “Weiner’s ‘avant-garde journalism’ shouldn’t be read at the expense of the very real suffering she endured,” and interprets Weiner’s work through the lens of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of schizoanalysis.22 In addition, Andrew McEwan argues that Weiner’s work “perform[s] a critical interruption within liberal humanism from the perspective of mental otherness that does not figure those who experience such states and stigmatizations as poetic tropes, but as co-researchers.”23

Weiner’s, Mac Low’s, Higgins’, and Mayer’s orientations towards the aesthetic and conceptual qualities of Weiner’s clairvoyant texts could be read as reflections of their engagements with the New York School’s valuation of – as Kenneth Koch describes it – having “fun with poetry,” using “the unconscious,” and paying “attention to the surface of language,” but they could also be read as a reflection of a desire to avoid identifying Weiner as a “mental patient,” a group whose “point of view is not represented and may even be actively discounted or discredited.”24 Although this view of people with psychiatric disabilities was dominant in the 1960s and ’70s (and continues to be widespread today), the Psychiatric Survivors’ Movement began to offer a counternarrative in the late 1960s, around the same time that Weiner was writing “Big Words.” According to Despo Kritsotaki, Vicky Long, and Matthew Smith:

By the late 1960s, the emergent Psychiatric Survivors’ Movement was depicting mental patients as an oppressed minority, with mental hospitals depicted as repressive institutions that violated their human rights, and psychiatry as an inhuman, authoritative or false science […] such critics challenged madness as a medical category, proposed social models of mental distress, and suggested various degrees of reform.25

In addition to these burgeoning critiques of psychiatry, the period during which Weiner experienced the onset of her clairvoyance was also shaped by the advent of antipsychotic drugs in the 1950s and the “Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963,” which paid for the building of community health centres meant to replace mental hospitals,” and which contributed to the 68% decrease (from 365,000 to 115,000) in institutionalization in the United States between 1966 and 1975.26 Considered alongside the testimony of Weiner’s younger brother, Maurice Finegold (who recalls only one occasion when Weiner was hospitalized, and who remembers finding prescription medications in her apartment after her death), this historical context suggests that Weiner may have been prescribed antipsychotics, and that rather than being institutionalized often or for prolonged periods, she was able to live independently for most of her life.27 However, the exact details about the comprehensiveness and consistency of her psychiatric care remain unclear.

I have not found any direct testimony suggesting that Weiner was ever active in any of the various antipsychiatry movements of the 1960s or ’70s, or about what her position concerning such movements may have been, but she was arguably sympathetic towards the ethos behind them.28 According to Jennifer Russo, Weiner “practices yoga, visits integrative doctors and chiropractors, and experiments with eliminating certain foods from her diet,” she “tries everything from acupuncture and Chinese massage to special diets and homeopathy,” and her interest in “both physical and physic healing through non-traditional, non-Western means” suggests that she was dissatisfied with Western medicine.29 Bernstein suggests that this dissatisfaction may have come about in part because the medication that her psychiatrist prescribed caused her to stop seeing words, but aspects of “Big Words” also suggest that she may have preferred Eastern healers over Western doctors, and that she felt misunderstood by most Western doctors.30 For example, she writes that “SWAMIJI has more power than the western healers she has been to” and that “Dr. Sharp is the first western doctor she can talk about her whole experience to, he understands EVERGY,” suggesting that – like the Psychiatric Survivors’ Movement – she may have seen Western medicine as a “repressive,” “authoritative” institution that reinforces the medical categories of madness she wanted to challenge.31 Also like the Psychiatric Survivors’ Movement, the latter quote indicates that Weiner saw her “mental distress” as caused – or at least exacerbated by – doctors’ refusal to understand or give credibility to her experience.32

While it is certainly possible to find evidence that Weiner’s view of Western medicine in general – and psychiatry in particular – resonates with antipsychiatry in compelling ways, Weiner seems to have taken an eclectic, mercurial approach to her medical and psychic care, rather than opting for a more ideological or systematic methodology. After all, she underwent psychoanalysis when she was an undergraduate at Radcliffe, was married to a psychiatrist for four years in the 1950s, and did – at least at some points during her experience with clairvoyance – seem hopeful that Western psychiatry could help her.33 However, later in life, she seems to have had a sense of being misunderstood by all of Western culture (i.e. the dominant white cis-heterosexual able-bodied idea of normativity), stating in a letter to Bernadette Mayer in 1982: “i swear there are times when i will quit writing […] or even to continue my life […] over the impossibility except with indians of ever being accepted for my knowing.”34 In addition to rejecting Western culture (presumably including Western medicine), here Weiner evokes a racialized understanding of medicine. (For an in-depth analysis of Weiner’s appropriation of Native American culture and the complexities of her involvement in the American Indian Movement, see Daniel Benjamin’s article, “‘What Good Is Poetry and How Do You Get to Change the World’: Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyance as Translation.”)

In “Big Words,” Weiner’s “knowing” often manifests in words typed in all caps, which disrupt the movement of the reader’s eyes across the horizontal text and the narrative of her daily activities as well as Weiner’s (re)writing process itself. She also mediates the constraint of having a psychiatric disability by writing seen words diagonally, thereby transforming the typewriter into a means of rerouting expected logic, with the typewriter carriage’s prescribed horizontal track and automatic flush left resisting the process of diagonally typing her seen words. In “EXPLAIN YOURSELF,” Weiner’s introduction to “Big Words,” she writes:

Figure 1. Text reads “Certain phrases or positions of words are to be read in the negative /  (just heard a voice say “primitive” -THIRD EAR- astral hearing. / Words that R and @ these phrases are negative. ENOUGH. this word / E /  means the A REVERSE as do other indefinite words such as now, soon, too. / D / KNOWLEDGE. Some of these words convey information from / O psychic forces, some of it is accurate NOT ALL OF IT, / W /  N and some words are OTHER PEOPLE'S thoughts.“

Fig. 1: A page from Hannah Weiner’s “Big Words” typescript.35 

Here, Weiner reveals that she hears – as well as sees – words, and that the vertically-typed words signify “the […] REVERSE” of what they say. She also tells her audience to read “Certain phrases or positions of words […] in the negative.”36 While it is unclear whether these instructions refer to the diagonally typed words, the implication is that the “positions of words” are not arbitrary, and that she sees their formatting and placement as signifying in ways that are particular to her experience with clairvoyance.

These visual and verbal disruptions perform psychiatric disability by allowing the reader to witness the logic of Weiner’s clairvoyance, but they also insert the reader into Weiner’s clairvoyant reality in the sense that as we read the horizontal text, the interruptions, commands, and questions about how to interpret the seen words that we are confronted with are similar to Weiner’s clairvoyant-inflected experience as she types and moves through the world. In other words, by creating a reading experience that is literally as well as figuratively disrupted – that physically halts the movement of readers’ eyes across the page as well as our interpretation of its content – “Big Words” harnesses what Michael Davidson calls affect theory’s “emphasis on sensual response,” which “returns aesthetics to its original meanings in eighteenth-century philosophy: aesthesis or corporeal perception.”37 For example, the page for “N 6” (November 6) begins with a passage that refers to a word seen on the chest of Weiner’s “brother’s sweater,” and observes that this is a place where she “sees many words on different people,” and then states, “the emphasis is on BE HAPPY how GET A LOVER.”  This sequence of observations and interjections evokes a domestic scene, where Weiner is perhaps visiting her brother and having a conversation with him about her life, during which she experiences several moments of clairvoyance. She continues, “BIRTHDAY party for YOU,” below which she writes two lines of diagonal text, “NEPHEW,” and “NEW ENGLAND.”38  Since they are in all caps, presumably these diagonal words are “seen,” and as Weiner informs us in the next (horizontal) line, “both these slants are positive.” This comment on how the diagonal words signify in this particular moment further draws the reader’s attention to the graphic dimension of these diagonal words, and we are reminded that they are facsimiles of the words appearing to Weiner, thereby encouraging us to pause and consider the process of interpretation that the image of these words invites.

The first N 6 passage puts readers inside the logic of clairvoyance by allowing us to see both the rapid, paratactic way that Weiner moves from one thought to the next and how the succession of her thoughts is disrupted by the seen (diagonal) words. Weiner allots them a full seven lines, surrounding them almost completely by white space, as if to draw attention to the way that they create a break in her thoughts. This white space also draws attention to the pause in the documentation of Weiner’s quick succession of thoughts that the act of typing the diagonals represents, slowing her typing while she spends several moments forming the diagonals on the typewriter page. In addition, the second portion of the N 6 entry links Weiner’s diagonals directly with her interest in alternative medicine and her doubts about Western medicine by disrupting her thoughts about whether or not to take antibiotics with the diagonal phrase “NATURAL MEDICINE.”39 These three diagonals draw the reader’s attention to the ways that Weiner’s clairvoyance reroutes the typewriter’s prescribed trajectory and function, but this very rigidness also enables her performance of typographical resistance.40

In addition to her use of diagonally typed words, making large-scale changes when she moves between manuscript and typescript also allows Weiner to mediate the constraint of having a psychiatric disability. My comparison of the typescripts with the manuscripts suggests that Weiner moved back and forth between composing drafts by hand and composing drafts on the typewriter. As Durgin observes about her writing practice for The Fast, on the occasions when Weiner did draft a “Big Words” entry in her notebook before (re)writing it on her typewriter, it appears that “The notebooks were composed, then typed, freely altering the original, to produce a draft which is then revised and redacted in long hand.”41 I use the term “(re)writing” here because the revisions that Weiner made to many of these typed second drafts are quite extensive; the fact that she is rewriting and recomposing suggests that the text is in no way a direct transcript of her mind. For example, the typescript page labelled “August 14” (the manuscript page is unlabeled) begins, “When she got to the Ashram Friday she discovered everyone was going / to Boston to hear Satchinanda speak,” whereas the page from the notebook that this entry is based on begins “At the ashram everyone has / their hair cut short the way / she saw herself in her / astral image.”42 Weiner does not mention going to hear Satchinanda speak in the manuscript, but at the end of the entry she does mention “going to Brooklyn.”43 This example is representative of Weiner’s tendency to rearrange the order of events, and to add and subtract narrative details, suggesting that the apparent immediacy of her text is actually part of its aesthetic.

Weiner’s tendency to reinvent, embellish, or otherwise alter events is also exemplified in the thread about digestive problems that runs throughout the typescript, where – halfway down one page – Weiner types, “Her stomach hurts, much gas REST. MORE NOW,” and then returns to this digestive issue towards the end of the page, stating that guru Satchinanda’s “presence heals her, she is sitting close and much of the gas / goes away” before concluding this thread two lines down with “HEALING / says stomach. INTELLIGENT  FOOD WRONG.”44 In contrast, the handwritten version of what ultimately becomes the August 14 entry of the typescript (which spans two and half notebook pages) does not mention gas or that she was healed by Satchinanda. Instead it is simply written: “Her stomach hurts / REST. MORE NOW,” and then later, “HEALING says stomach / INTELLIGENT  FOOD WRONG.”45 Especially considered in light of the fact that the vast majority of the dates on the typescript are missing from the handwritten journal entries (suggesting that Weiner invented/estimated many of the dates in the typescript), these examples lead me to conclude that when moving from the notebook to the typescript, the trajectory of Weiner’s typescripts sometimes are similar to the manuscripts. But overall, these examples suggest that she uses the manuscript more as a jumping-off point for creating an aesthetic that preserves the illusion of immediacy, rather than as a record of events whose mimetic value must be preserved – and that there are other styles of perception (such as clairvoyance) beyond those that can be captured by conventional concepts of mimesis that she is engaging with during her typewriting process.

In addition to inserting diagonal seen words and making large-scale changes when she moves between typescript and manuscript, Weiner also engages psychiatric disability as poetic constraint by adding new seen words in red ink when she types her second drafts. This visual technique turns the typewriter page into a palimpsest; it points both backward to the manuscript and forward toward endless possible variations, as additional seen words appear to her with each new rereading/retyping.46 For example, the portion of the manuscript that correlates with the August 2 entry of the “Big Words” typescript reads:

Figure 2. Text reads “Her father's typewriter F  flashes /   R / CONFUSION. I It makes / E / her stomach  N  upset / D / CAN'T HANDLE IT / CRIES / CRISES “You can't take it” / Father voice. Don't write anymore. / SEND IT BACK. TELL mother / MOTH” (Moth is crossed out).

Fig. 2: Excerpts of two pages from Hannah Weiner’s Notebook #74, July 31, 1973. Used with permission from Charles Bernstein for Hannah Weiner in Trust.

Figure 3. Text reads “this is CONFIDENTIAL your / mother's age MONEY / Father's typewriter / TAKE A / CHANCE, THIS IS IT, DO IT / NOW. Best Sept Oct /  V / GET A JOB EMERGENCY @ /GET IT NOW / FRIENDLY / My typewriter flashes” (“Best Sept Oct” is circled).

Fig. 3: Excerpts of two pages from Hannah Weiner’s Notebook #74, July 31, 1973. Used with permission from Charles Bernstein for Hannah Weiner in Trust.47

In the context of a page that documents Weiner’s anxiety about disappointing her “perfectionist,” aging father and seeing words and auras on her father’s typewriter (with an interlude about what to eat and drink that night), the insertion of the seen words “JOB JANUARY” into the typescript in red ink directly below “EMERGENCY @” could suggest that these new seen words provide more up-to-date advice that she should wait until January to find a job, and that the sense of “EMERGENCY” that she felt about getting a job has dissipated to some extent.48 Or, the insertion of “JOB JANUARY” could be a prediction that she will find a job in January, or even (depending on when she wrote the typescript) an indication that Weiner did eventually find a job in January, rather than in September or October as initially predicted. Regardless of exactly how the reader – or Weiner herself – chooses to interpret “JOB JANUARY,” these additional seen words convey different reflexive positions of the self at once and over time. In addition, considering that Weiner herself had a fraught, quite intense relationship with her father, and that she was relatively new to writing full-time when she wrote this manuscript in 1973 (the same year that she lost her job as a lingerie designer), it is arguable that the experience of typing her journals under the influence of her clairvoyance may have helped – at least in this instance – to ease her distress about finding a job and pleasing her father.49

I view Weiner’s formal innovation as the result of an embodied mental state that she is engaging creatively, alongside a variety of other social, material, and aesthetic factors. One of these aesthetic factors is conceptual art, which Weiner associates with the “idea in the late 60s and early 70s to document everything. Or to make documents of things. And so that’s what I did. And then I edited out.”50 So, along with the ways that her insertion of newly seen words in red ink (not to mention the more large-scale changes that she was making to her manuscripts when she rewrote them on the typewriter) is legible as Weiner’s engagement with psychiatric disability, I also see this as her way of responding to the concept of “document[ing] everything.” By performing the process of self through the substantial revision of these “documents of things,” Weiner creates an aesthetic of immediacy.

Rather than simply being symptomatic of schizophrenia, the origins of Hannah Weiner’s poetic innovations are complex and interactive, and the resulting text is a negotiation not only of her psychiatric disability, but also of her sociohistorical context, material conditions, and aesthetic affiliations.51 Weiner’s typewriter-based formal innovations enact her open-ended, processual approach to identity and psychiatric disability, thereby extending her interrogation of categorical, normalizing ways of thinking about health and embodied difference and engaging psychiatric disability through visual documentation of her experiences. More broadly, her diaristic typewriter pages serve as a striking example of the complexity, indeterminacy, and interactivity of the process of engaging with disability as poetic constraint.

  1. Judith Goldman, “Hannah=hannaH: Politics, Ethics, and Clairvoyance in the Work of Hannah Weiner,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies vol. 12, no. 2 (2001), 122. Hannah Weiner, “Big Words,” Special Collections & Archives, University of California San Diego, (2004): 1. 

  2. Hannah Weiner and Charles Bernstein, “Charles Bernstein & Hannah Weiner Interview for LINEbreak,” LINEbreak, (1995), 148. 

  3. Charles Bernstein, “Hannah Weiner,” Jacket 2, (July 2000), par. 3. 

  4. Goldman, “Hannah=hannaH.” 121. Hannah Weiner, Clairvoyant Journal, (Angel Hair Books, 1974): cover copy. Ron Silliman, “Thursday, September 13, 2007,” Silliman Blog, (2007), par. 6. 

  5. Tobin Siebers, “Disability and the Theory of Complex Embodiment,” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard Davis (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013), 283. Susan Wendell, The Rejected Body (London: Routledge, 1996), 68. 

  6. Eli Clare, “Stolen Bodies, Reclaimed Bodies,” Public Culture 13.3 (2001), 359. Ana Mollow, “When Black Women Start Going on Prozac,” The Disability Studies Reader, edited by Lennard Davis (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013), 416. This turn towards the embodied, material aspects of living with disability parallels new materialism’s argument with deconstruction, such as The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures by Susan Hekman and  “Introducing the New Materialism” by Diana Coole and Samantha Frost. 

  7. This formulation of Weiner’s view of clairvoyance as uncontainable develops from my 2016 conversations with Judith Goldman. 

  8. Wendell, The Rejected Body, 68, 8. Wendell’s “interactive” model is based on the premise “that disability has biological, social, and experiential components” (22). 

  9. Hannah Weiner, “Mostly About the Sentence,” Hannah Weiner’s Open House, edited by Patrick Durgin, Kenning Editions, ProQuest,, (2007), 122-123. 

  10. Hannah Weiner, “Clairvoyant Journal,” Special Collections & Archives, University of California San Diego, (2004): 12. 

  11. Goldman, “Hannah=hannaH,” 148. 

  12. Weiner, “Clairvoyant Journal.” Weiner and Bernstein, “Charles Bernstein & Hannah Weiner Interview,” 146. 

  13. Patrick Durgin, “Psychosocial Disability and Post-Ableist Poetics: The ‘Case’ of Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journals,” Index of Bernstein Syllabi Readings, (26 November 2007), 17. Durgin states that “The underlined/italicized words and phrases toy with the orders given by the capitals and question Weiner’s ‘own’ reactions to them – they provide a kind of comic relief, where the others often seem to scold. It is crucial to recognize that, by 1972, this comic, third ‘voice’ appears solely on the [typescript] page during the compositional/transcriptive process.” Weiner, “Big Words”: 63. Durgin’s observation above led me to do a comparative study of Weiner’s typescripts and manuscripts, where I found that the words in red ink in the typescript (such as the August 2, 1973 “Big Words” entry) does not appear in the manuscripts. Hannah Weiner papers. 

  14. Weiner, “Big Words,” 11, 190. Goldman, 133. As quoted by Goldman, Weiner states that “the words first began to appear in August 1972,” only ten months before she began writing “Big Words.” 

  15. Weiner, Clairvoyant Journal, back cover copy. 

  16. Bernstein, “Hannah Weiner,” par. 5. According to Bernstein, “Hannah did not accept any characterization of herself as mentally ill.” Weiner, Clairvoyant Journal: back cover copy. 

  17. Hannah Weiner papers: box 16, folder 9, “WHAT PEOPLE HAVE SAID ABOUT CLAIRVOYANT JOURNAL.” Weiner and Bernstein, “Charles Bernstein & Hannah Weiner Interview,” 146. 

  18. Bernstein, “Hannah Weiner,” par. 5. Charles Bernstein, “Re: Charles Meet Declan,” Message to the author. E-mail (23 June 2018). 

  19. Maria Damon, “Hannah Weiner Beside Herself: Clairvoyance After Shock or The Nice Jewish Girl Who Knew Too Much,” The East Village vol. 8, (1999), “Beginning with the End.” Damon emphasizes Weiner’s Jewish heritage, and argues that although “Some chroniclers or critics of Weiner’s life and work would point to mental illness” as the “trauma” that interrupts her “understanding or experience of normativity,” instead “the historical trauma of World War II” is actually the ‘millennial moment’ beyond which [Weiner’s] experience has to be reconfigured in unrecognizable terms.” 

  20. Bernstein, “Re: Charles Meet Declan.” 

  21. Goldman, “Hannah=hannaH,” 12. Bernstein, “Hannah Weiner,” par. 3. 

  22. Durgin, “Hannah Weiner’s Transversal Poetics.” Durgin, “Psychosocial Disability,” 18. 

  23. Andrew McEwan, “Seeing Words, Hearing Voices: Hannah Weiner, Dora García, and the Poetic Performance of Radical Dis/Humanism,” Literatures of Madness, edited by Elizabeth Donaldson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 146. 

  24. Linda Morrison, “From Sick Role to Social Movement,” Talking Back to Psychiatry (New York: Routledge, 2005), 22. Jennifer Russo, “YOU CAN TRANSCEND THIS STUPID bad girl REALITY”: A Study of Hannah Weiner’s “Clair-Style” [Unpublished doctoral dissertation], The City University of New York, PhD dissertation (2012): 175. 

  25. Despo Kritsotaki, Vicky Long, and Matthew Smith, “Introduction: Deinstitutionalisation and the Pathways of Post-War Psychiatry in the Western World,” Deinstitutionalisation and after: post-war psychiatry in the Western World, edited by Despo Kritsotaki, Vicky Long, and Matthew Smith (Palgrave, 2016), 21. 

  26. Kritsotaki, Long, and Smith, “Introduction,” 17-18, 23-24. 

  27. Maurice Finegold, Personal Interview (11 June 2018). According to Weiner’s brother, Maurice Finegold, after a period in 1970 during which Weiner was unreachable for weeks, he and a cousin found her in a very weak and disoriented state, thus ending the fast that the 1970 manuscript – eventually published as The Fast – was based on. It was apparent to Finegold that she had been taking hallucinogens and fasting during this period, which he believes triggered a “psychotic break.”  Finegold took Weiner to the hospital, where she stayed for about five nights and received much-needed nutrition, but refused to participate in group therapy. Finegold is unsure of what psychiatric diagnosis, if any, resulted from the hospital stay. 

  28. Patrick Durgin, Personal Interview (8 March 2018). An advertisement for a talk by antipsychiatry advocate R.D. Laing was published alongside an advertisement for a Mac Low reading in the February 28, 1974 issue of the Village Voice. Two pages later, there is an advertisement for a Philip Glass performance that Weiner mentions in her “3/1” Clairvoyant Journal entry. This proximity suggests that Weiner likely had some degree of exposure to the movement. 

  29. Russo, “YOU CAN TRANSCEND THIS STUPID bad girl REALITY,”12-13. 

  30. Bernstein, “Re: Charles Meet Declan.” 

  31. Weiner, “Big Words,” 28, 200. 

  32. Kritsotaki, Long, and Smith, “Introduction,” 21. 

  33. Bernstein, “Hannah Weiner.” Finegold, Personal Interview, 2018. 

  34. Hannah Weiner, Letters to Bernadette Mayer, Bernadette Mayer papers, Special Collections & Archives, University of California San Diego (San Diego, CA). Weiner is referring to Native American (rather than South Asian) culture here. 

  35. Weiner, “Big Words,” 1. SHOULD BE CITED TO UCSD PAGE. 

  36. Weiner, “Big Words,” 1. 

  37. Michael Davidson, Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic (Oxford; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019): 3. 

  38. Weiner, “Big Words,” 192. 

  39. Weiner, “Big Words,” 192. 

  40. In contrast with the resistance enacted by the typewritten diagonals, the manuscript diagonals create a sense of play that is reinforced by Weiner’s tendency to use brightly colored markers to write in her composition notebooks. 

  41. Patrick Durgin, “BIG SENSIBLE, introductory remarks on Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal,Jacket 2, (23 July 2014), par. 10. 

  42. Weiner, “Big Words,” 75. Hannah Weiner papers. 

  43. Hannah Weiner papers. 

  44. Weiner, “Big Words,” 73. 

  45. Hannah Weiner papers. 

  46. Weiner, “Big Words”: 67, 75, 82, 84-85, 88-92, 94-95, 157-170. I was able to find an additional example of this technique by comparing the August 6 typescript to its corresponding pages in manuscript, but will need to revisit the archives in order to examine the September 1973 manuscripts, which were not written in a notebook. 

  47. Hannah Weiner papers. 

  48. Weiner, “Big Words”: 63. Aside from the line breaks, the only other difference between the typescript and this portion of the manuscript are the insertions of “it gets swollen” after “stomach upset” and “TRY” below “CANT HANDLE IT.” 

  49. Hannah Weiner, “Questionnaire for Members of the Class of 1950,” (1974), 2. Finegold, Personal Interview, 2018. According to Finegold, Weiner’s relationship with her father was almost “Oedipal” in its intensity. 

  50. Weiner and Bernstein, 148. 

  51. Siebers, “Disability and the Theory of Complex Embodiment,” 283. Wendell, The Rejected Body, 68. 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Judith Goldman for her invaluable feedback. I am also greatly in debt to the reviewers’ thoughtful suggestions. In addition, I would like to thank Michael Rembis, Myung Mi Kim, Michael Davidson, Brian Teare, James Maynard, and Jordan Burgis, who gave me the support needed for this project, as well as Maurice Finegold, who generously took the time to speak with me about his sister. Finally, I would like to thank the Riverrun Foundation for funding my archival research for this article, Charles Bernstein and Patrick Durgin, who provided helpful insight along the way, and Davy Knittle, Orchid Tierney, and Knar Gavin for including this article in the Disability Poetics: Media, Performance, Technology issue of Amodern.

Article: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Image: "stars," by bill bissett (2020).