Hackers by Aase Berg. Black Ocean, 2017.
Johannes Göransson’s translations of Swedish poet Aase Berg’s writings have always been entrancing not only for their grotesque physicality and incantatory tonal dislocation, but for their commitment to what Lawrence Venuti would call “foreignizing” as opposed to “domesticating” translation. That is, rather than limit the translation’s verbiage to words already accepted and normalized as English mainstays, Göransson intentionally stretches the target tongue to reflect the source language’s go-to methods of neologistic invention, resulting in such agglutinative kennings as “stiffeyeshut,”speedwind” “slop-fleshed,” and “slack-cock.”
These examples are drawn from Hackers (Black Ocean 2017), the newest release from the Swedish-to-English duo, in which the effects of foreignization are both as profoundly disruptive as ever and pointedly resonant with the book’s central imagery of invasion, parasitism, and the interpenetration of opposing forces. There is a sense in which all such agglutinative neologisms are “chimeric” creations, bringing their individual delineations and associations with them to create a new morphological monster that can be seen as both a violent Frankensteinian abomination and as an uneasy peace-making between the disparate body parts that constitute them.
Notably, the chimeric mode also appears central to Berg’s rendering of female bodies, especially in the context of contemporary human civilization. In the opening poem of Hackers, for example, it is precisely “the woman trap” that Berg calls a “hostess animal, hooked up to parasites, such as lazy men and…spoiled morons who act like pets” (3). In other words, the female body is made multifarious, alien, enlarged by housing other (male) animal bodies that live within and enjoined to it, turning the host into a monstrous chimera of greed and disenfranchisement feeding off each other ad infinitum.
There is an entitlement to invasion in this imagery that feels eerily familiar given the last half-century of American wars, and Berg’s language does not shy away from this resonance. In fact, only a few poems later, Berg imagines the female body as having to be partially hacked away to accommodate prosthetic masculocentric weaponry, an “unseen terminator” who “would never…cut off her right breast / to make it easier to carry arms” (11).
And Hackers’ chimeric critique of “spoiled” masculine entitlement doesn’t end there. Later in the book, Berg further elaborates on the ironic implication that parasitic masculinity reveals the invader as “weak” (43) — and indeed, perhaps even weaker than the invaded — in its “unreasonable” need to leech off of another to thrive and avoid the “anxiety” of not “immediately get[ting] what [it] wants” (37).
Naturally, the chimeric monsters of Hackers are aligned not only with the entitlement of male to female bodies, but also with the parasitism of late capitalism’s cult of consumer extravagance: “Amphetamine & spice / corny hits & christmas candles / Wonderbread / & a damned fat Lexus” (25). Here, the fatted calf of the Lexus, like the image of the “weak” male invader above, is at once feeding and feeding on the “fuck-addict” consumer masses (43, 3), fueling its host body’s continual demand for the very parasite that drains and “abuses” it (21).
It would be apt here to think of the “Stockholm syndrome” so common in abusive regimes and relationships as a type of addictive cycle whereby the oppressor/drug appears benign and even merciful by relieving the very pain or hardship it itself caused. And Hackers seems to reference this incongruous phenomenon in the opening to its second section, “The Art of Sex and the Art of Riding”: “And I began to feel grateful to my captor…I am very, very happy. / So please, hit me” (49, 51). However, there’s an important way in which the metaphor of addiction and Stockholm syndrome admittedly fails here, for the chimeric body is precisely one that does not merely swallow, snort, or shoot an insidious outside force, but is rather sewn into and thoroughly fused with its very own “predator” (47). Thus, a stanza like “Lets get wasted / and refuse / our feet” depicts addiction more as a means to forgetting the oppressor — now as indispensable as a limb — than as the oppressor himself (41).
In the poetic imaginary of Aase Berg, which Göransson voices as wildly and gorgeously as ever in Hackers, humanity finds itself within the madhouse of an animal kingdom that once spawned us, but now feels painfully estranged and suffers needlessly at our oil-streaked mechanized hands. The chimera of capitalism, the parasite of patriarchy, here becomes all the more alien by way of Göransson’s foreignized neologisms and unapologetic bodily oddities, all of which seem to point toward a post-globalized future replete with ex-pat transplant terms and creatures leaking out of homelands now too amalgamated and intermingled to hack up into commodified categories or clear cultural lines. And in a political climate of heightened dissension about what being a global citizen ethically entails, that future is now.
Dylan Krieger is a transistor radio picking up alien frequencies in south Louisiana. She lives in the back of a little brick house with a feline reincarnation of Catherine the Great and sunlights as a trade mag editor. She is the author of Giving Godhead (Delete Press, 2017) and dreamland trash (Saint Julian Press, forthcoming). Her more recent projects include an irreverent reimagining of philosophical thought experiments and an autobiographical meditation on the tenets of the Church of Euthanasia. Find more of her work at www.dylankrieger.com.