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Motherhood Provokes Neologism: Aase Berg’s Transfer Fat Reviewed at BOMBLOG
In an essay on “Language and Madness” translated by Johannes Göransson, Berg observes,
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.
By creating an entirely new language to more accurately enact the “madness” and “complexity” stemming from the “symbiosis” between mother and child, Berg finds daring, odd, beautiful, and altogether innovative ways to represent the reality of motherhood for a twenty-first century literature.
As for Transfer Fat itself:
Archaisms, imports, and neologisms also help renovate and overhaul the language (with significant implications for how to translate or re-translate the text into English). Words like “stalagstomite,” “quillering,” “uneons,” “vibribrates,” and “strame” induce feelings of ever so slight disorientation, foreignness, and defamiliarization. They remind the reader that words from every register will be deployed, and still new words will need to be invented in order to adequately render certain experiences that, like birth and breastfeeding and motherhood, seem to defy typical modes of representation and defy the possibility of organizing certain kinds of consciousness in language at all. [Translator Johannes] Göransson’s [sic] goes on to write,
Berg further disorients the reader with archaic Swedish terms and foreign-language words. For example, according to old Swedish folk beliefs, a myling—the word derives from myrding, or “murdered one”—is the ghost of a child who, when killed at birth by its mother, reveals the crime by singing from the site of its murder (usually a well or a basement). The word römme is Norwegian for a kind of dairy cream, but in the ambience of the book (as Berg pointed out to me), it also invokes rom (“roe”), rymma (“escape”), and rymd (“space”). You can see the same set of associations in the made-up word Tymd, which contains tömma (“empty”) and rymd (“space”).
There is a kind of violence towards any of the ordinary modes of representing the experience of motherhood evident throughout the collection, violence that Göransson invokes in an interview about his own poetry with HTMLGiant’s Blake Butler:
My feeling is that I want the text to function like a conduit of violence . . . I am interested in art that is invested in its own Art-ness—with all of its crass devices and costumes, all of its kitschy metaphors and pageantry, all of its infected toys. On the other hand I’m not interested in creating a kind of refined space of contemplative art either, I don’t want art as an escape. I suppose in all of these what I object to is a kind of stability, a kind of space that art depicts or documents or provides. I’m more interested in art as violence, art as a haunting, as a spirit photograph, as what Aase Berg calls a “deformation zone . . .”
Violence towards ordinary modes of representing the reality of motherhood does not, however, keep Berg from treating features of the “mother-and-child” relationship with remarkable tenderness.
Read the full review. “[I]t is difficult not to admire the result of the process.”