Monday, October 05, 2009

Christian Peet on Aase Berg

[As part of the Delerious Hem forum on male writes writing about feminism, Christian Peet wrote the following interesting analysis of Aase Berg's poetry (The interview is rather long and it has other interesting analyses, but I'll just post this part). This is one of the most interesting uses of eco-poetics I've read:]

resently my feminist icons tend to be living, are not always icons for other folks, and often include my friends. The following are but a few, off the top of my head (yet, strangely, alphabetized!): Dodie Bellamy, Aase Berg, Lisa Birman, Ana Bozicevic, Catherine Breillat, Jenny Boully, Rebecca Brown, Jan Clausen, Margaret Cho, Traci O Connor, Angela Davis, Ani DiFranco, Katherine Dunn, Danielle Dutton, kari edwards, Eve Ensler, Sandy Florian, Elena Georgiou, Renee Gladman, Kim Hyesoon, Brenda Iijima, Shelly Jackson, Elfriede Jelinek, Miranda July, Bhanu Kapil, Amy King, Joan Larkin, Joanna Lumley, Joyelle McSweeney, Harryette Mullen, Dolly Parton, Joanna Ruocco, Selah Saterstrom, Kim Gek Lin Short, Juliana Spahr, Annie Sprinkle, Heidi Lynn Staples, Shelly Taylor, Rosmarie Waldrop, Wendy S. Walters, Amanda Jo Williams.

Over the last few years, the work that I've studied the most, and that has had the most profound impact on me, has been work by women. The list is too long, so I'll stick to the living, focus on the most recent reads, exclude Rebecca Brown (whose latest book I just blogged, here), exclude TSky Press authors, exclude also my girlfriend, and from the remaining pick only a few: Aase Berg, Bhanu Kapil, and Selah Saterstrom.

I'm presently rereading Swedish poet Aase Berg's selected poems, Remainland (translated by Johannes Göransson, Action Books, 2005), and for months now I've been walking around with her first book, With Deer [Hos rådjur] (Black Ocean, 2008, also translated by Göransson). Berg's is a feminism of the dark and surreal variety. Think Artaud, Breton, Ernst, as performed by Nico, post-Velvet Underground, making public her spectacular decay. Berg's feminism also springs from images of "the natural world"--but in the case of With Deer, think: watching The Nature Channel on a bad tab of acid. Or even The Weather Channel: today and tonight, nightmares; tomorrow, nightmares with occasional clouds. Think When Animals Attack, think demonic, human-flesh-eating guinea pigs. Think bedtime fables to keep you from ever having children.

Berg's feminism is an ecopoetics, and her ecopoetics not only collapses distinctions between the "human world" and the Other, but also makes room for--how should we say it?--the less savory elements of the natural world. The first line of my notes for an unwritten review of With Deer: "Look up "putrefaction.'"

In Berg's feminist ecopoetics, there is no separation between disease in bodies and disease in cities, social structures, civilizations. No separation of blood and oil. Everywhere fucking and misery. Everywhere miscarriage and cancer. Everywhere, "The Gristle Day":

Black blood is coming. Out of that hole. Thick blood is coming. It looks like oil. And the squirrel screams in the tree.

Black blood is coming. Not very much blood, but undeniably out of that hole in the middle of the white. The hole has walls, swollen and flaccid, and doesn't dare bear down and push out. That's why the blood screams.

The hole doesn't dare open and push itself out of the hole. Black blood is coming. Out of that hole. Mechanisms have stopped, the flesh hangs pale on the hook and has ceased resisting. The squirrel screams all alone as the tumor plug drops into the hole. The blood screams in the tree; the blood screams black in the white.

We are born in the sewers, out of the horrifying dough beyond good and evil. It smells like ghosts, it smells of slop flesh, it smells of placenta and uranium. Black blood is coming. Marsh gas and diarrheas bubble. Out of the hole that screams and screams as gristle encloses the embryo like an eggshell and a jail, and the little squirrel in my little hand has broken all the small bones of its whole skeleton. It lies still and its eye is the hole; the hole spread open and tired. Blood is probably still coming out of the black intestine on the bottom of the flesh.

Black blood is coming. Out of that black old ole. Marsh blood and sludge blood and creamy gunk blood. It looks like oil. And when the squirrel screams one last time in the tree, a moan slowly rises out of the hole.

Berg's feminism collapses distinctions as it explores symbiotic relationships, explores the dynamics of dualities rather than the stasis of antipodes. Excerpted from "In the Horrifying Land of Clay":

There was an evil horse that galloped along the evil river in the horrifying land of clay. There was an evil horse that galloped with me on its back. Beneath the hair-strap his muscles moved and chafed against the muscles of my taut inner thighs which clamped down around his body. . . . There was an evil horse that galloped through the horrifying land, an evil and dark horse with manhood and musculature, and I was thrilled to have him as my enemy.

In Daniel Sjölin’s excellent introduction to Remainland, discussing With Deer, he could just as well be describing the work of Bhanu Kapil: "a bold style, in which water and earth--sorrow-death and the body--mix to form blood, clay, and tar. She detourns the theme of 'the girl in the woods' [a dangerous formula . . .]." As if speaking directly about Kapil's most recent book, Humanimal: A Project for Future Children (Kelsey Street Press, 2009), Sjölin describes "a hybrid between woman, language, and animal: a decomposition process at the same time as a creation process."

Go here for the full thing.


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