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  • Towards a Poetics of Hacked Infrastructure and Leaky AgencyReading Global Capitalism Through Aase Berg
  • Marty Cain (bio)

Affiliated with the Stockholm Surrealists, a group active from 1986 to the early 2000s, contemporary Swedish poet AASE BERG's writing shares many of the tendencies long associated with global surrealist practices: a resistance to ontological stability; a desire to instrumentalize literary form for political aims; and especially, the employment of antirational aesthetics for the critique of hegemony.1 BERG's poetry in particular is known for its grotesque representations of the body and its blurring of the line between human and nonhuman entities. JOHANNES GÖRANSSON, the prominent translator with whom BERG works exclusively to translate her work into English, points out that these aesthetic characteristics place BERG in direct opposition to the ideologies embedded within Sweden's [End Page 145] social democratic economy. Following the establishment of the welfare state in the 1930s, GÖRANSSON notes, the Swedish government provided a variety of subsidized programs—emphasizing nutrition, sexual health, and sleek interior design, for example—to help codify a Swedish identity through neo-Romantic ideologies of purity, elegance, and a "natural" body. BERG's writing, in contrast, constructs what GÖRANSSON refers to as an "antibody," a term taken from a section title in BERG's book Dark Matter [Mörk materia] (1999; trans. 2013): "a body that works as an antidote to the disciplinary naturalness of the welfare state, damaging and fragmenting the illusion of the able, autonomous body, turning it from medicalized stability into fluid, obscure 'dark matter.'"2 In her writing, the body opposes stasis; it is, rather, "leaky," resisting wholeness, legibility, and normative forms of autonomy. In this refusal, BERG finds a version of agency that she specifically associates with femininity. Due to its pressure on gendered, Cartesian hierarchies, critics and reviewers have often aligned the work of BERG with the discourses of animal studies, ecofeminism, and posthumanism. For example, SOFIA ROBERG interprets BERG's work through TIMOTHY MORTON's critique of the binary categories of "human" and "nature," arguing that BERG foregrounds a complex, deeply material relationship between human and inhuman entities.3

Building off this emphasis on entangled, relational subjectivities, this essay seeks to consider the conceptual stakes of Berg's "leaky" feminist ethos within the context of contemporary global capitalism. Neoliberalism, as autonomist Marxist critics Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued, organizes sovereign power not through the nation-state but rather through transnational networks of capital flows and decentralized labor; an "immaterial" economy of "communication systems, information, and affective networks."4 Various Marxist feminists—including Silvia Federici, Kathi Weeks, and more recently, Johanna Oksala—have problematized the elision of women's labor (in particular, reproductive and domestic labor) from this formulation.5 Oksala, for example, calls for a foregrounding of the specific forms of gendered labor, both waged and unwaged, that women perform in both public and private spheres. Many [End Page 146] feminist avant-garde writers have situated this precarious, often invisible form of gendered labor in relation to systems of language and textuality. Berg's work, however, is unique in that it extends these textual and corporeal relationships to the technological imaginaries of the global capitalist network society, as well as its material infrastructures—its highways, airports, and fiber-optic cables. Infrastructure, as recent scholarly interventions have argued, points to a crucial schism of the neoliberal turn: the tension between private ownership and the public commons.6 Narrative realism, Caroline Levine suggests, can use description to "defamiliarize" infrastructure and its relationship to social forms—a powerful tool of critique, given the tendency of infrastructure to exist in the background of the cultural imagination.7 Berg, however, takes this intervention a step further. Rather than merely disclosing the presence of infrastructure, Berg's work is shaped by its cultural logics, imbricating a fluid, feminist, textual subjectivity with the structures, both social and material, that comprise global capitalist hegemony. Furthermore, reading her work in translation allows for an analysis of translation politics and the English language's relationship to global capitalism. Within Berg's poems, social structures and material infrastructures are coextensive with subjectivity and language itself; poetry functions as a vehicle...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2381-4721
Print ISSN
2381-4705
Pages
pp. 145-166
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-18
Open Access
No
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