Monday, February 25, 2008

From my essay on Aase Berg

So I've been working on this essay on Aase Berg for a book on international women poets. Here are a couple of early paragraphs. It's basically about D+G's "BWO", the grotesque, and Per Backstrom's notion (developed in a book on Michaux) of "the language grotesque." If anybody has any advice etc, please feel free to let me know. I'm kind of in the middle of writing it feverishly:

“I become nauseous and almost seasick when I read her texts. It is as if there was no sorting over-I in the poems,” writes Swedish critic Åsa Beckman in her essay “The Shimmering Insides of Tunnels – Aase Berg and the Horrors of Motherhood.” In this paper I will analyze the source of that nausea and sea-sickness in Berg’s poetry. But rather than find “horror” I will find subversive ecstasy in the “tunnels” that run through her poems, through bodies and underground spaces. In this essay, I will show how Berg’s poems enact crises; events in which, or through which, the ontological order, traditional subjectivities and standardized language break down, allowing new figurations of the body and language. I will analyze these breakdown, refigurations and permutations of language and bodies by bringing together Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of “minor literature” with the concept of the grotesque. In the grotesque bodies – as in Mikhail Bakthin’s “grotesque realism” - Berg finds a state of “becoming,” an unfinished, nomadic state of flux. Berg is constantly undermining or “minoritizing’ the stable notion of language, resulting is something close to what Per Bäckström has called “språkgrotesk” (“language grotesque”). Rather than the ontologically stable subject, Berg creates bodies that are connected to the world, something closer to Deleuze and Guattari’s “Body without Organs,” a body crisscrossed by a flux of forces and lines of flight. That which is supposed to be outside, become inside, that which is natural becomes unnatural. Berg’s poems take place in breakdowns and wreckages, moments when order gives way to confusion; thus, the speakers of the poems – in the sense that they at all can be called “speakers” in the traditional sense – speak from positions of confusion. This is not a poetry of mastery but mishap, a poetry that resists those important hallmarks of a national (and monoglossic) literature – the stable I and the stable language.


If the grotesque body breaks against the compulsory ablebodiedness of modern society, the grotesque language breaks against the compulsory closure of the monoglossic notion of language. In his study of French poet Henri Michaux, Swedish scholar Per Bäckström merges Bakthin’s with Wolfgang Kayser’s concept of the grotesque. Like Bakhtin, Kayser saw in the grotesque the destruction of borders, but Kayser felt this was a result of an alienation in a scary world. Joining these two theories, Bäckström comes up with an idea of the grotesque which includes: the distortion of commonly held views of reality (through the so-called “alogical” merging of images), the splintering of the I into a multiplicity, and the fragmented/unfinished nature of the texts. Bäckström points out that the grotesque has often been viewed as the opposite of poetry; while the grotesque has served as a critique of interiority, poetry has upheld this idealized notion of self. Applying the grotesque to poetry, Bäckström proposes a “language-grotesque,” “the aggressive hacking apart of the language-body and the upside-down-turning of the lingual hegemony” (75). However, he revises this claim slightly a few pages later, widening this designation to include Octavio Paz’s description of Michaux’s aesthetics: “Dissolvings, connectings, fragmentations, reunitings. Brokeapart words, spellingconnections, meaning intercourse. The destruction of language” (79).


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