Besetzung

MOTHERs by Rachel Zucker

-the body of my mother is everywhere-

Last spring I fell in love with Bluets, this spring MOTHERs have become the most disturbing & sacred book in my possession. There is a kinship between the two, an affinity in form: both being hybrids, part memoirs and part poetry, and both soaked in quotes. Like choirs.

I’m reading carefully, letting words and sentences sink into me. Spending an hour on a page without noticing time passing.

I guess my interest for these books also have to do with the uncertainty I have about the shape & form of my own writing. – What am I writing?!

In a conversation with Michael Kimball, Zucker says:

–        The form of it was always a central concern. “What is this?” I kept wondering, as I wrote. Is it an essay? Is it prose? Is it a journal? Is it poetry? Is it a “lyric essay”? Is it hybrid? Who is it for? Who in the whole world would ever read this mutant thing?

–        Who do you imagine the reader might be, of your poems?

Megan O’Rourke asks Jorie Graham in a video segment called “Balancing Parenthood and Poetry”. Graham answers:

–        I am addressing something which sort of feels like a merging of a disapproving mother and a god who has heard everything, who is bored, who has heard everything humanity have to say, who is no longer interested in their problems. …

   Mother: a source of origin, viewed affectionately.

Rachel Zucker:

–        Why did I think that a good mother had to be a woman who had a conventional life? Why did I confuse conventionality and stability?

Adrienne Rich:

–        This cathexis between mother and daughter – essential, distorted, misused – is the great unwritten story.

“What if it were possible to tell you everything about myself by quoting others?”


cathexis, charge (noun) 

(psychoanalysis) cathexis is defined as the process of investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea. The Greek term cathexis (κάθεξις) was chosen by James Strachey to render the German term Besetzung in his translation of Sigmund Freud‘s complete works. (The German word Besetzung (Norwegian: besettelse) is actually a simple, ordinary, everyday word. Why did Strachey want to make things complicated?).

4 comments on “Besetzung

  1. Just a theory. Strachey was a military objector. It’s hardly likely that he’d translate Freud’s military term (Besetzung), when it wasn’t necessary. And, besides, after the Great War all things German were in the process of being sanitized (to say the least). The loss is still with us.I wouldn’t think English audiences would read “occupation” very well (in the sense of a military administration), either. Translations aren’t of words, after all, but of cultures. A poet might have found a different solution than a journey to the classical, but, typically, a return to the classics has been a time-honoured approach to healing after war — a search for foundations more universal and “pure” than those tainted by the cultural strains viewed as having led to the recent conflict. (Hitler put an end to all that by turning a return to the classics into a purified form of repression). Three further thoughts. First, Bertrand Russell was also a conscientious objector, and dominant, intellectually, at the time. Note his work “On Denotiong” <>, which can be taken as an argument that the process of “Besetzung”, or at least the use of the military term as a form of linguistic projection, was logically false (at least to an English way of thinking). If that kind of thing was in the air at the time (British philosophy has always been rather dry), then it would also be no surprise that Strachey attempted to find something less definite (British philosophy of the 20s wasn’t exactly enamoured of ‘the definite”). Second, Robert Graves was just so sick of the imprecision and hypocrisy of post-war Britain that he, as a front line soldier of the Great War, experienced back in an England trying, in vain, to carry on as if nothing had happened that he wrote his “Good-bye to All That” and moved to Mallorca to take up a life as poet, classicist and lover (and more than a bit of a right wing hard-head). Third, it was Freud who opened up the classical can of worms with his essay on Wilhelm Jensen’s “Gradiva”. The novel is here: <> The essay is here: <> After that, the leading energy of psychology had passed from narrative simplicity and transparency to analytic precision and distance. Personally, I think Jensen was occupying the Gradiva in longing for the lost homeland (Denmark), as he stared over the Fehmarn Belt from Heiligenhafen. That’s a hunch. Note, however, just how very different Jensen’s approach was to Freud’s. In comparison, Strachey is very close to Freud. He simply used a different form of distance. There was, of course, another way, but it hadn’t developed a language with which to counter the dominant cultural trend (and perhaps still hasn’t).

  2. “What if it were possible to tell you everything about myself by quoting others?”

    That might take a great deal of work,but would be fascinating as a project (for awhile, anyway). I will quote my own mother about herself, which also applies to me in some ways:

    “I think of myself as quietly unconventional.”

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