"A cursory tracing of infection patterns": Jeremy Behreandt on Aase Berg's Dark Matter and "American kitschy-grotesque aesthetic"

by on Mar.13, 2013

Jeremy Behreandt has an excellent review of Dark Matter by Aase Berg up on Heavy Feather Review.In it he makes some really interesting comments about the matter-mind conflict in the poem and how this might relate to the deformative language:

In Berg’s language, which deploys neologism and bizarre grammar, one is invited to practice new logics or analogies. If the ghost is born of the dark material machine, does it inherit the machine’s characteristics in its genes? If yes, and the dark matter is opaque and inscrutable, then the consciousness can learn nothing of itself by studying its parent empirically. If no, then the consciousness is an orphan, a “deformity, an aberration…a slit in the structure.” It is lost in the hostile world and to itself. Rather than accepting Descartes’ comfortable Cogito ergo sum, Berg explodes the disjunct between mind and body into grotesque, unforeseen conclusions. An architectural or geological formation may have a face or faces, a name or names, corruptible bodily organs or erupting limbs as much as a human may not. Flesh is machine, mineral is flesh, figure is indistinguishable from ground. This yields powerful imagery in Dark Matter, such as “Here runs a visible underground border, a fistulation toward Mare Imbrium. I thrust the muscle latch toward the machines that throb there in the wound” from “In Dovre Slate Mill.” Or “Here the tendons weave a cathedral of signs from Pangea’s hidden core. Here the cranium glows in the memory of the machine’s facial features” from “Cryptogram.”

It has always struck me about this book how “figure is indistinguishable from ground” and this review brings this issue into an interesting conversation about matter.

Behreandt also raises the question of how I/Black Ocean have framed this translation:

Of course, one must remain mindful that the American audience receives Dark Matter through the interpretive framing of Johannes Görannson. If Berg writes, “Come Leatherface, my love, glide into the face of the secret’s bestial longing” and never again makes mention of Leatherface, both Gorannson’s introduction and the copy on the back cover, while acknowledging numerous sources, emphasize Berg’s allusion to and alteration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It makes this reviewer wonder if the American kitschy-grotesque aesthetic, as it codifies its discourse and forms its canon, is promoting an edgy, hip Dark Matter that is in constellation with Bataille while keeping mum on the Dark Matter in constellation with Novalis (whose verse serves as an epigraph for the book), the Dark Matter which frequently addresses traditional philosophic questions on idealism vs. materialism, artificial vs. natural, reason vs. will, being vs. becoming, unity vs. strife.

I think that’s a fair question. I have always loved that poem (4.5 In Reactor) and the line about Leatherface has always stuck out to me, not just because she only uses this word once, but because for me that word (leather+face) invokes a lot of motifs from the text: the neologism, the foreignesese, the way identity is both a mask and very matter-y (made of fake skin); but also because one of Berg’s main inspirations is b-movies of various kinds (like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which she has written about, or that horror movie with Nicole Kidman who kills her kids, which she re-wrote of sorts for her fifth book). Berg is also very much interested in kitsch – but like me, she has an expansive view of it. For example, she raised some eyebrows when she said she could appreciate Tranströmer “as kitsch”; but she did not mean that snidely. Although she has poems about guinea pigs, they are never merely ridiculous (as the term “kitsch” might suggest), they are quite horrifying, intensive.

And in this regard I have to go back to Daniel Tiffany’s observation that kitsch as “excessive beauty” and largely coming out of Romanticism. So that for me, Novalis is not the opposite of kitsch, but in conversation with kitsch (It might also be noteworthy that German Romanticism, and Novalis in particular, was a big influence on Breton and the French Surrealists, as well as the Stockholm Surrealists). And as for “traditional philosophic questions on idealism vs. materialism, artificial vs. natural, reason vs. will, being vs. becoming, unity vs. strife” – I hope I have not obscured these; I think both “kitsch” and Bataille contain interesting ways of framing such questions.

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