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Eden in Translation

By Mia Kirsi Stageberg October 23, 2009

This article appears in Talking Cure Fall 2009.

So long as a man writes poetry or fiction, his dream of Eden is his own business, but the moment he starts writing literary criticism, honesty demands that he describe it to his readers, so that they may be in the position to judge his judgments. Accordingly, I must now give my answers to a questionnaire I once made up which provides the kind of information I should like to have myself when reading other critics – W. H. Auden from The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays

In an essay on literary criticism Auden created and filled in the following survey for understanding a critic’s personal agenda. For the present issue of Talking Cure many of the contributors were asked to answer it as well. Their completed "EDENS" were then given to artists to respond to with an artwork. This, aside from being an inversion of the process of traditional art criticism, allows us to visualize the operation of art writing differently. - JE



Everyone intimately sees sea, sky, desert and volcano, along with their dark mutations in space.


Temperate and lively, but seasons will change for those who need snow and sweat. Clouds and water for me.

Ethnic origin of inhabitants

In heaven, because ethnic origins had been so complex, their identities are largely archived and storied as fascinating and treasured memories. Now come ancient and new songs, sagas, smells. Herbal and spirit healing are still practiced.


Everything spoken now continues, but Sami, Chicano and Mongolian dialects, code-switching and thousands of other vital forms (once considered obscure) are known, respected, celebrated, and even avidly studied.

Weights & Measures

No need in heaven.


Spirituality will be private. Institutionalized religions are recalled as poignantly immature constructions that resulted from the longings of orphans.

Size of Capital

Capital is the place where inspiration commands dance, art, writing, music, theater and puppetry, joyous beyond compare.

Form of Government

We’re in accord. If anyone falls from grace, let the Mama speak to it.

Sources of Natural Power

Are we still earthbound? If so, we use with forethought. Sun and windmills.

Economic activities

Barter, crafts, do-it-yourself, resuscitating the discarded. The past industries of processed food, malls, identical housing have been replaced by sustainable agriculture, home gardens, hand-built homes from safe materials. We take care of each other. We actually enjoy listening to each other and practicing kindness. Money may well be regarded with hysterical laughter. There’s enough because no one lives to steal.

Means of transport

Walking is favored. For those who need more, other realms are reachable; but if the world is no longer corrupted, are other realms more astounding than what’s at hand?


Rounded forms, rooftop flowers and vegetables, arched doors, minarets.

(Personal note from a brief stint at SUNY Buffalo art department in the 60s: my models of buildings, resembling elephants with courtyards, were indignantly dismissed. Today Frank Gehry, Herzog and de Meuron, and the Chinese do it, and the future will be wilder and more playful than ever.)

Domestic Furniture and Equipment

Spare, beautiful, and individual. For me, 1940’s-influenced décor, my Norwegian-American grandmother’s 1913 sewing machine, one wall of pictures of my children, a small image of each of my parents when they were young and eager, a simple desk. I already have them. The kind of light coming through a window is crucial.

Formal Dress

Embroidery’s rampant, and we spend whole evenings at it. We revel in brilliant colors and textures – a tangerine swath here, a close-fitted vest there. Inspirations might be Japanese court drama, Mongolian ceremonials, Sami reindeer-herding caps.

Sources of Public Information

In my kind of world we dream and therefore we know.

Public Statues

D.H. Lawrence and my onetime kung fu teacher? Actually, do we need statues? We’re equal and in love with our mutual possibilities. Trees are better.


Fish, berries, and spicy stews. For dessert, rose geranium leaves.

Public Entertainments

Like gypsies we spend many evenings making music and dancing to it. The whirl of this transcendent circle overcomes obstacles, and we’re compelled to laugh with the joy of being alive at all.


Mia Kirsi Stageberg is a Norwegian-American fiction writer who first published with the New Directions annuals of the 1960s and 70s. Based in San Francisco, she has worked as an art writer, editor, oral historian, researcher, nonprofit fundraiser and cloth sculptress.

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