Not speaking one’s’ mother tongue. Living with resonances and reasoning that are cut off from the body’s nocturnal memory, from the bittersweet slumber of childhood. Bearing within oneself like a secret vault, or like a handicapped child –cherished and useless-that language of the past that withers without ever leaving you, You improve your ability with another instrument, as one expresses oneself with algebra or the violin. You can become a virtuoso with this new device that moreover gives you a new body, just as artificial and sublimated-some say sublime. You have a feeling that the new language is a resurrection: new skin, new sex. But the illusion bursts when you hear, upon listening to a recording, for instance, that the melody of your voice comes back to you as a peculiar sound, out of nowhere, closer to the old spluttering than to today’s code. Your awkwardness has its charm, they say, it is even erotic, according to womanizers, not to be outdone. No one points out your mistakes, so as not to hurt your feelings, and then there are so many, and after all they don’t give a damn. One nevertheless lets you know that it is irritating just the same. Occasionally, raising the eyebrows or saying “I beg your pardon?” in quick succession lead you to understand that you will “never be a part of it”, that it” is not worth it,” that there, at least, one is “not taken in.” Being fooled is not what happens to you either. At the most, you are willing to go along, ready for all apprenticeships, at all ages, in order to reach-within that speech of others, imagined as being perfectly assimilated, some day-who knows what ideal, beyond the implicit acknowledgment of a disappointment caused by the origin that did not keep its promise.
Thus, between two languages, your realm is silence. By dint of saying things in various ways, one just as trite as the other, just as approximate, one ends up no longer saying them. An internationally known scholar was ironical about his famous polyglotism, saying that he spoke Russian in fifteen languages. As for me, I had the feeling that he rejected speech and his slack Toccata and Fugue for the Foreigner silence led him, at times, to sing and give rhythm to chanted poems, just in order to say something.
NB: This is an excerpt from Julia Kristeva’s 1991 poetic-critique of strangeness, otherness, “fanatic[ism] of absence”, that is characteristic of the foreigner, the alien. the metoikos, the immigrant, the refugee, the Bohemian etc., Strangers to Ourselves pp. 15-6.