Vaginas, Maelstrom Wounds and Evil Eyes: Aase Berg and JG Ballard

by on Nov.30, 2010

[I got this link from someone while searching for an image of Aase Berg. Forgot where, but I’ll try to find it again to give the proper credit.]

I’m going to write a quick post and add to it as I go along because I’m a little bit of a hurry.

In some ways this is a sequel to mine and Lucas’s comments on the wounded bodies of Ronaldo Wilson’s poetry, bodies that seem to not just leak, but leak media, like the surveillance footage of the BP well pouring media (turning poems into photographs, movies into fantasies etc).

It’s also a prequel of sorts to these posts, and to some of Joyelle’s posts, as Aase Berg’s poetry has had a huge influence on mine and Joyelle’s thinking about art and poetry – the titles dark matter, tranfer fat in fact are like key phrases around our proverbial dinner table, and of course Joyelle’s talk about “unnatural motherhood.”

I was in an airplane yesterday re-reading JG Ballard’s brilliant and silly novel “Crash” while around me two nutso children were leaping around, shouting, crapping, grabbing my book etc. I realized this experience of trying to read Ballard’s novel on an airplane with smelly kids mucking around was like an installation version of Aase Berg’s poetry. Ha ha, I laughed. And then I thought about this a little….

The thing that’s striking me incredibly powerfully this time on reading this book is how powerful the vaginas are. This book has more vaginas than even the most graphic of porno books (are there still such things? If so I want to write one!). And like Joyelle’s idea of the “evil eye”, the vaginas move outwards; they aren’t receptive, they cast outwards. Just as the “evil eye” is not the “window to the soul” (receptive), but something that transforms things into art, so the vaginas move outward, turning everything into art, including car-crashes and other technologies. It seems parallel to that other primary aperture of the novel: Vaugh’s camera that turns everything into documentations of a performance art (but it’s already performance art!).

On some level this is reflected in the powerful women (doctors, nurses etc, constantly controlling Ballard’s body, especially his penis). But it’s better enacted in the prose in passages like this one, in which the car becomes a kind of vagina:

“This small space was crowded with angular control surfaces and rounded sections of human bodies interacting in unfamiliar junctions, like the first acts of homosexual intercourse inside an Apollo capsule. The volumes of Helen’s thighs pressing against my hips, her left fist buried in my shoulder, her mouth grasping at my own, the shape and moisture of huer anus as I stroked it with my ring finger, were each overlaid by the inventories of a benevolent technology – the moulded binnacle of the instrument dials, the jutting carapace of the steering column shroud, the extravagant piston grip of the hand brake. I felt the warm vinyl of the seat beside me, and then stroked the damp aisle of Helen’s prineum. Her hand pressed against my right testicle. The plastic laminates around me, the colour of washed anthracite, were the same tones as her pubic hairs parted at the vestibule of her vulva. The passenger compartment enclosed us like a machine generating from our sexual act an homunculus of blood, semen and engine coolant. My finger moved into Helen’s rectum, feeeling the shaft of my penis within her vagina. These slender membranes, like the mucous septum of her nose which I touched with my tongue, were reflected in the glass dials of the instrument panel, teh unbroken curve of the windshield.”

Not only is it noteworthy that in this odd vagina-car, homosexuality is invoked (as it is throughout in Ballard’s relationship to Vaughn, the wound-loving maniac), and that the description to me feels a bit like the fluid coming out of the wound, feels a little like the fluid that covers everything in Matthew Barney’s exhibits (Joyelle has written an essay about this that no journal appears ready to publish), the fluid that makes art of the world.

I already posted this quote by Baudrillard on invagination and Crash in my piece about Ronaldo Wilson, but here it is again:

“Every gash, every mark, every… scar left on the body is an artificaion invagination… and the few natural orifices that we are accustomed to associating with sex are nothing compared to all these wounds. to all these openings, through which the body turns itself inside-out, like certain topographies, no longer possesses an outside or an inside.”

A lot of the same dynamics of vaginas and technology, translated bodies/texts, and evil eyes happens in Aase Berg’s poetry. Here’s a piece from Forsla fett (Transfer Fat):


I mittencirkelhålet
hårt suger harespåret
i inåtcirkelvirveln
av det spända

Klar kula rusar kabel
Stum stämma rinner sträng
Stram strämja rusar fett
i malströmsåret

[In my translation:]

Umbilical String

In the middlecirclehole
hard sucks the hare track
in the inwardcircle whirl
of the strung

Clear cold rushes cable
Mute voice runs strung
Strained struggle rushes fat
in the maelstrom wound

Swedes always ask me: “How can you translate Aase Berg’s poetry? It seems untranslatable.” As I’ve noted in many essays before (and in the introduction to Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg), these are “hard” in the sense that they are already “translations” or in the process of some kind of impossible translation. Her use of neologism, her “translations” (homophonic, transmuted etc) of “non-poetic” texts (string theory, sci-fi novels, horror movies etc) and strange lullabye language makes her Swedish both feel ultra-swedish and swedish as a foreigner might conceive of it. I can’t write a “Ventrakl” of Berg’s work (Venberg?), because it’s already furiously mashed up in translations and transmutations. The text is itself a highly mobile text.

A good example of this is the final word of this poem – “malströmsåret.” A weird neologism that – depending on where you spot the “cut” in it – could mean “maelstrom wound” or “maelstrom year” or even (if you’re a translator and you’ve really had your Swedish foreignized by translating Berg) “moth-stream-wound.”

The key is of course here that the vagina serves as an “evil eye,” transforming the Swedish language, foregrounding the mediumicity (not materiality!) of language.

Another thing I find interesting about this piece is the way it’s hard to tell if everything (the machines, bodies, string theory, fairytale hares) are moving into the maelstrom wound or out of it. Is it sucking in technology’s cables and the hares of nature into it, or is it all coming out of this whirly wound?

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Also, I didn’t mention the oddness of my comparison: one describes a sexual act and one the act of being pregnant. I’ll try to post about that later.


  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Johannes, great current of associations here, and, yes, this is just the sort of ‘Evil Eye’ I’ve been working out. Specifically, in Bolano’s Prefiguraiton of Lalo Cura, you have the narrator who watches his pregnant mother in porn films, and develops/imagines a kind of fetal vision that allows him to see the cock of her fellow porn actor from inside the womb (but really, inside the vagina, it seems). Similarly, there’s a passage where he describes what it sounds like from inside the hurricane– in the Eye of hte hurricane, as it were. The hurricane is a meaty womb, the eye of art’s insideness is always hurling Art out of itself, like the magic ‘vibration’ Parajito Gomez is elsewhere described on deploying through his image in porn work. When the narrator goes to visit Parajito Gomez, he’s once again moving into the eye of the hurricane, into Art.

    I think the ambivalence re. what goes in/comes out of Art’s evil eye is important to recognize because it maintains a kind of subsidence/erosion rather than a fixed allegorical system and acknowledges that something is in motion, changing places, moving, so that Art is in motion rather than occupying a fixed location… That’s why Art’s Evil Eye can collapse– why it’s a solar anus, not a sun…