Aase Berg on Motherhood and Authorship

by on Mar.07, 2011

[Here’s a couple of excerpts from Aase Berg’s essay “Language and Madness” which was published a few years ago in an anthology of Scandinavian, Baltic and Russian poets. I thought it might provide some kind of perspective on my observations about the New York Times and their myth of the virile man. Warning, I just translated this so it’s a bit of a rough translation.]

Language is a living being. I think that language came before humans, not the other way around. The cells of language hovered above earth looking for a host body. it tried to take over dinosaurs and fishes, but that didn’t work, they were stupid or the muscles in their speech organs were not developed enough. Then came humans. The invisible, potential words attacked her, like mosquitoes who know that they need blood and have waited for thousands of years for the first mammal to evolve.

It might not have been a particularly logical language; more likely, it was paradisical and timeless, a kind of happy babbling for the sake of babbling, a kind of music. But with time it became more descriptive instead of creative. It became an aid. It began to strive toward developing the future instead of standing with both feet in the joy (or angst) over the fact that the now can be expressed and come into existence through words. For some reason, language became both more stupid than it really is and more self conscious and anticipatory than was good for it. I don’t think it was the whole of humanity that was to blame for this development, but rather a very specific segment of humanity: those who benefitted most from the patriarchy, that is to say, the men. Since the patriarchy is all about power, they took control over language made language a means to maintain power. That is how the first war came to be and the first colonies, chronology and narrative structure, the social order we still have today.

But it’s not my intention to paint up a binary of evil and good here. Perhaps language needed to be tamed in order for us to become more than mayflies. It’s too bad language had to be transformed into a market-economical power apparatus for pleasure-opposed morons.

In language, the depressing, dark suffering has higher status than the nutty, pathetic and everyday-life-bizarre craziness. Great men write great tragedies or long epic depictions out of great universal psychological suffering. Great women write great tragedies or long epic depictions out of psychological suffering.

Then there are ridiculous women who write about their ridiculous babies, about their small duties here and there, but there are only a few of those. Books based on great existential madness is a kind of norm. When in more recent years, there have been some books about motherhood in Sweden, the critics have shoved them into a special little section and said that yes, yes we have seen this now, motherhood has become a trend and it’s been done. Why? It’s a subject matter that is worth just as much space and treatment as the great existential questions and the inferno crises of all kinds of old windbags. Motherhood is one of the most overlooked subjects of 20th century literature: the cute, paradisical madness. The mother’s relationship to the baby is the root of language, madness and complexity. None of the great serious works would have seen the light of day without the tracks that were inscribed in the early mother-and-child relationships. Life is based on the irrational and noisy language of this little crazy symbiosis.

The symbiosis is a positive psychosis between the mother and child (or father and child in the few instances where the dads dare to take time off to raise the kids). It’s a lesson in love. The world is no longer simply one devouring infant, it grows into an infant through interactions. In order for love to develop, there has to be distance. To feel love is only possible if one realizes that the symbiosis consists of two people. Love is an automatic split into you and me. You + me = we. If one is involved in the traditional, patriarchal psychosis there is no we, I am the world. In the great, self-righteous male despair there is no we, just one bloated I that swallows everything that moves….

6 comments for this entry:
  1. alex

    that’s it? i want to keep reading

  2. blast not from the past | mortal steaks

    […] this article, Aase Berg on Motherhood: “The mother’s relationship to the baby is the root of language, […]

  3. THE THEATRE OF GLITTER; OR, THE MOTHERSTAGE IS COVERED IN GLOW-IN-THE-DARK JIZZ: AN ANTIMANIFESTO OF THE ANIMATED TEXT AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE THEATRE OF CRUELTY (PT. I) « Blah Blah B*tCh3$zz

    […] Aase Berg: “The mother’s relationship to the baby is the root of language, madness and complexity.” : or, the paintings in the guinea pig cave are dancing! […]

  4. adam strauss

    I love this:

    “Language is a living being. I think that language came before humans, not the other way around. The cells of language hovered above earth looking for a host body. it tried to take over dinosaurs and fishes, but that didn’t work, they were stupid or the muscles in their speech organs were not developed enough. Then came humans. The invisible, potential words attacked her, like mosquitoes who know that they need blood and have waited for thousands of years for the first mammal to evolve.”

    The only thing that throws me is the privileging of humans: I tend to think of non-human-animal communication as language–but I suppose Berg means something closer to written language, language as severed from a body as opposed to the language of being a body: birds calling to another, whale song, dikdik warning barks, all forms of “language” which are thoroughly dependent on embodiedness, language which cannot be inscribed into the surface of another medium (air aside!), which cannot exist apart from the body producing the articulation. Or another way of wording could be the language of writing versus “real time” language.

    Note: I do not understand Berg as exemplifying a “cerebral” stance, a disembodied sense of knowledge. If anything, With deer, for example, could be called utterly earthy. (And of course other dynamics apply too!).

  5. &now I shall post my notes from the no future panel - Montevidayo

    […] I’d like to refer a translated passage of Aase Berg’s (her prose), a Swedish poet, by Johannes Gorranson. “Language is a living being. [. . . ] The cells of language hovered above earth looking for a host… […]

  6. hunter

    eye want more! anywhere i can find english translations for any of her essays? thanks!