It was always a mystery to me why the churches of Ireland were filled with women, and empty of men. I looked up at the crucifix and thought it was a bizarre thing for women to worship a man in a church run by men. As far as I was concerned being a Catholic was silly, and being a Jew meant so much more washing-up. What all religions do, however, is what most political systems fail to do — they prize and praise the figure of the mother.
She is the machine, the hidden power. She is the ideal, the revered one, the truly loved. Which makes up, in a way, for being skipped in shop queues and looking like a heap.
And more. On the third night of my child’s life I looked into her eyes and realised that nothing I believed could explain this. It was an embarrassing moment. I think I saw her soul. I suffered from the conviction that a part of her was ancient; and that part chose to be there with me at the beginning of something new. I had a wise child.
Carrying her out of the hospital and into the noise of the traffic; driving her home in second gear; feeding her in the middle of the night, and at the beginning of the night, and at dawn — so precious — I found myself shrinking in the face of her vast and unknowable future. How would she turn out? What would she do? When would she die? Not for many, many years, I hoped; not for the longest time. The mechanisms of fate, the grinding of her days that would lead to one end or another, became urgently opaque to me. There were a thousand things that could hurt this child, or even estrange her from me. What could I do? Nothing. My best.
These are all feelings that religion understands.
I had, I thought, become human in a different and perhaps more radical way. I had let something slip into the stream of time. What else can you do, but trust the river — put it all into the hands of a higher power?
Oh, all right.
And who else, but the suffering Christ, could know the suffering that motherhood brings?
Actually, I will resist the tug of it, if you don’t mind. Still, I will resist.
Anne Enright, ‘God’ in Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 111-12.
Children are actually a form of brainwashing. They are a cult, a perfectly legal cult. Think about it. When you join a cult you are undernourished, you are denied sleep, you are forced to do repetitive and pointless tasks at random hours of the day and night, then you stare deep into your despotic leader’s eyes, repeating meaningless phrases, or mantras, like Ooh da gorgeous. Yes, you are! Cult members, like parents, are overwhelmed by spiritual feelings and often burst into tears. Cult members, like parents, spout nonsense with a happy, blank look in their eyes. They know they’re sort of mad, but they can’t help it. They call it love.
From ‘Baby-Talk’ in Anne Enright, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 138.
Det framstod alltid som en gåta för mig hur det kom sig att Irlands kyrkor var fulla med kvinnor men tomma på män. Jag blickade upp mot krucifixet och tänkte att det var bisarrt att kvinnor tillbad en man i en kyrka styrd av män. Som jag ser det så var det löjligt att vara katolik, och att vara judisk betydde så mycket mer disk. Vad alla religioner gör är vad de flesta politiska system misslyckas med — de hyllar och sätter stort värde på modersgestalten.
Hon är maskinen, den dolda kraften. Hon är idealet, den aktade, den verkligen älskade. Vilket i någon mån kompenserar för att bli undanträngd i butiksköer och att se ut som en skräphög.
Dessutom. På den tredje natten av mitt barns liv såg jag in i hennes ögon och insåg att ingenting som jag trodde på kunde förklara det här. Det var ett besvärande ögonblick. Jag tror att jag såg hennes själ. Jag led av övertygelsen att en del av henne var uråldrig, och denna del valde att vara där med mig vid början av något nytt. Jag hade ett vist barn.
När jag bar henne ut ur sjukhuset och in i trafikens larm; när jag körde henne hem på tvåans växel; när jag matade henne mitt i natten, och i början av natten, och i gryningen — så dyrbart och värdefullt — jag fann mig själv krympa i hennes väldiga och okända framtid. Vad skulle det bli av henne? Vad skulle hon ta sig för? När skulle hon dö? Inte på många, många år, hoppades jag, inte på lång tid. Ödets mekanismer, hennes dagars malande som skulle leda till det ena slutet eller det andra, blev påträngande dunkelt för mig. Det fanns tusentals saker som kunde göra detta barn illa, eller till och med fjärma henne från mig. Vad kunde jag göra? Ingenting. Mitt bästa.
Dessa är alla känslor som religionen förstår.
Jag hade, trodde jag, blivit mänsklig på ett annorlunda och kanske mer radikalt vis. Jag hade låtit något glida ner i tidens ström. Vad annat kan man göra, annat än att sätta sin lit till floden — att lägga allt i händerna på en högre makt?
Och vem annars, om inte den lidande Kristus, skulle kunna känna till det lidande som moderskapet för med sig?
Faktum är att jag kommer att motstå dess dragningskraft, om du inte misstycker. Jag kommer att fortsätta att göra motstånd.
To translate is like trying to move around leisurely at a cocktail party dressed in a straitjacket. One desperately tries to act as if one were free but is constantly reminded of the fact that this is not the case. I sent my first draft of the translation of “God” to my colleague Britta Olinder and it was obvious that she wanted to loosen a few straps in the straitjacket to help me. One problem that was dealt with was the verb in “church run by men”. To run something in Swedish could be “driva”, somewhat related to the English “drive”, but in the context it does not “sound good”. That is one aspect of translation that has got to do with Fingerspitzengefühl to bring in some German and make everything even more complicated. However, this area is a bit blurred, since it has got to do with sound and more connotative levels of meaning, the poetry within the prose, so to speak. Eventually I settled for Britta’s suggestion with the church as “styrd”, which connotes “steering” that in turn covers the meaning that there are largely men “at the wheel”.
It is a philosophical task to translate. To dig into the more esoteric levels of language means that one has to make clear decisions on altitudes where one normally is just allowing oneself to glide along through the pleasures of reading or writing, the pleasures of language and what we a bit carelessly call “life”. Within the activity of translation, a seemingly trivial little sentence fragment that just opens a paragraph, a topic, can cause peculiar translation problems. For instance, “And more”. The direct Swedish translation sounds very unidiomatic: “Och mer”. No one writes in that way. This might be yet another dimension of the challenges the activity of translation sets up. When the author is creative in her native language, the translator may have problems finding a suitable equivalent. I tried “Och mer därtill”, which roughly covers the meaning, but somehow that semantic configuration carries a waft of archaic language use in Swedish. Not meant to be there of course in the English version. So I had to settle for “Dessutom” which really in English is more like “Furthermore” or “Moreover”, standard transitional indicators, which “And more” is not. Well, well, the reader of the Swedish text will not notice. It is nothing that would become remembered as a grave mistranslation. Still, it constitutes a problem that has to be solved.
The rewarding aspects of translation is of course that one is forced to read slowly and carefully. This is the philological skill that seems to be threatened for everyone except the few experts that are still needed, at least until our AIs have been developed even more. Even a straightforward sentence like “I think I saw her soul”, has to be thought through by the translator. So even if the translation does not present any problems, the translator will have to think about what it means. And truly, what does it mean?