On Mother Tongue and MotherlandAn Essay by Simone; May 2010
The Thracian Maidens have always been fascinated by creating something like their own MOTHERLAND. Would it be a land in geographic terms? Unlikely. But what then?
Having learned to always keep eyes and ears open in the quest for alternative ways of living, last year I coincidentally came across an audio book titled MUTTER SPRACHE in a branch library of the Vienna Public Libraries. It turned out to be a collection of poems by Rose Ausländer read by the poetess herself. Most curious I took this CD home and there I soon found myself listening spellbound over and over to the CD’s titular poem Mutter Sprache (Mother Tongue):
Ich habe mich
in mich verwandelt
von Augenblick zu Augenblick
in Stücke zersplittert
auf dem Wortweg
setzt mich zusammen
Admittedly, it took quite a while before I could answer why these verses fascinated me so much.
Meanwhile, with some efforts I could find out something about Rose’s life and poetry which would – as in so many other cases of these days – give many reasons to start the feminists’ well-known laments. To please also this kind of readers let me give just one example, before I move on to the more pleasant issues:
Back in 1939, Rose’s first volume of poems, Der Regenbogen (The Rainbow) was published, containing a poem
Nur aus der Trauer Mutterinnigkeit
strömt mir das Vollmaß des Erlebens ein.
Sie spiest mich eine lange, trübe Zeit
mit schwarzer Milch und schwerem Wermutwein
with the remarkable expression “schwarzer Milch”. Though it is hard to say whether Paul Celan simply copied this oxymoron “black milk” into his famous Death Fuge (1948), it remains a fact that she had created it almost 10 years before him and only seldom anyone takes notice of this fact.
Of course, we could go on crying over the loss of some of Rose’s essays due to to the WWII and so on and so forth, but, as promised, I do not want to join in the feminists’ laments but rather show what we could recall reading Rose’s poetry. Since Motherland and Mother Tongue seem to be THE keywords in Rose Ausländer’s poetry, I will in the following concentrate only on these two poems.
To start with Mutter Sprache, the perhaps most remarkable things in the poem on the language level are the neologisms “Wortweg” and “Menschmosaik”. Wondering how these and the poem as a whole would sound in English, I tried to translate it. Quite a challenge were of course just the mentioned neologisms:
If “auf dem Heimweg” is to be translated as “homebound”
then “auf dem Wortweg” simply is to be translated as “wordbound”
That was not that difficult, but what about
“Mensch” may be translated as “man” or “human”. While “man” especially for a woman is misleading, “human” doesn’t sound that nice in combination with “mosaic”. So I decided to try it with “anthropos” stemming from the Greek, and I think the combination “anthroposaic” works quite well. So, the poem finally reads like this:
I’ve transformed myself
From moment to moment
Broken into pieces
Since one of the Thracian Maidens’ concerns is involving all of the senses in their philosophy, we have prepared a small piece of audio/video artwork offering the original poem along with my translation. As mentioned, the original poem is read by Rose herself. It has been embedded into the acoustic arrangement of the Thracian Maidens’ philosophical performance group called “The Creatrix”.
Hoping you have enjoyed our small performance, we may continue now:
As to “Motherland”, I think it has become quite evident that all of the “fatherlands” on our planet are mainly motivated by greed and consequently their basic skills are rape, robbery and murder. Now, according to Rose herself, one “could give herself away in deep distress, or she can alternatively move to a different reality” which she expressed in ingenious verses:
Mein Vaterland ist tot
sie haben es begraben
Ich lebe in meinem Mutterland
Now what is so fascinating about all these verses?
I think they do contain no less than an approach to factually and not just fictionally “move to a different reality”!
While in “Mutterland” she quite self-confidently states to have found her Motherland in the word, contrasting the vital Motherland with the now dead fatherland, thus sketching the favorable final state, from “Mother Tongue” we may take that on the way there – Wordbound – we will often be broken into pieces. This only becomes bearable considering the formative and transformative power of language in this never ending process.
As a result we sadly cannot simply “move to a different reality”, but have to continuously “transform ourselves into ourselves” which turns out to be quite hard work after all. But we may at least rely on Mother Tongue in this process. By the way, in the German language, Rose had to apply some magic to make the “mother” explicit, since “mother tongue” had been in use only as a composite word “Muttersprache” so far. This decomposing transformed the former composite word having its stress on the inanimate principal part “-sprache” into a vital mother named “Sprache”!
So we will have to become active if we really want to “move to a different reality” and it will of course be of no use to hope for help from fatherland. From this point of view we may perhaps apply Wittgenstein’s “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” (Tractatus 5.6) to the current situation of our world like this: As long as the fathers’ language is one of murderers, you cannot expect anything to happen but murder!
But what then is “Mother Tongue”?
First of all, it must be based on some other motivation than accumulating wealth. Perhaps it is just the opposite idea of SHARING which by the way is one of our mothers’ primary requirements in giving birth to and nurturing her baby. Metaphorically, we of course also share thoughts which we do by means of languages.
Of course we should not repeat the same mistake as the feminists have done so far, since they have – using the same terms as the murderers – if anything, made women only participate in fatherlands, as they have by no means broke open the limits of the fathers’ language.
Thus, I think “Mother Tongue” should – if we do not want to invent a total artificial language – be quite close to the language we all learn in our mothers’ arms before we are forced into the abstract male world at school. Close to just the language men call primitive! Even if mother’s language verifiably apart from “words” contains bodily, rhythmic and melodic elements, while the “sophisticated” male language is made up of nothing but piles of bewildering terms bare of any bodily, rhythmic and melodic elements! In fact, the men’s language sounds just like an old mad angry dog barking.
There is even one more issue: Our mothers’ languages definitely have a connective power, while in the world of competitive thinking even language must be separating.
If we want a rich connective “Mother Tongue” including bodily, rhythmic and melodic elements rather than the mad angry dog barking, we will last but not least have to invent some new words to break open the limits of the men’s world, i. e. the chains of so called rationality.
Well, for now I hope I could show the huge philosophical range hidden in Rose’s short and seemingly harmless verses and I do hope that some of us become active, since we are still so very far away from Motherland!