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with/in languages - a pretty pathetic - Annie Abrahams

Preparations for a talk, Languages INTER Networks conference, Lancaster University



pathetic: Meriam Webster:

1 : having a capacity to move one to either compassionate or contemptuous pity

2 : marked by sorrow or melancholy : sad

3 : pitifully inferior or inadequate

4 : absurd, laughable  


pathetic: dictionary.com:

- causing or evoking pity, sympathetic sadness, sorrow, etc.

- affecting or moving the emotions.

- pertaining to or caused by the emotions.

- miserably or contemptibly inadequate


pathetic: Cambridge dictionary:

causing feelings of sadness, sympathy, or sometimes lack of respect, especially because a person or an animal is suffering.


play sound

presented in the exhibition Mie lahkoo pomagate ? (can you help me ?) 21/10 – 7/11 2014, Aksioma Project Space, Ljubljana. Production CONA.





“No, I have not experienced it. 3X

I said: They say. I said: They say. Your people speak English with you.

… speaking Slovenian.

And they killed me (a few times).

…. Now I understand, this one is not the same.

Avast. Virus database has been updated. And they killed me.


I have all the time in conversation with a child in Slovenian.

This is very foreign …

When the Dutch with their children and friends children … that have me …

I feel like an idiot.

… that I wilI … something very different.

In particular, I feel like an idiot when I’m joking and no one understands me in the language.

Culture …

Jan, kids … when I speak Slovenian with them as if they were from another planet.

I also feel like an idiot. When I’m mad at someone, especially someone I not do know very well, who must express his discontent in the Slovenian language.

It’s hard to follow this conversation … I’m confused. Children …

Sometimes I am confused between the two … languages .. brain I became happy unless I do

not believe except quietly.

Sometimes I am confused between two foreign languages … brain I became words, except I do not believe, except quiet.

I will … end with a pretty pathetic.

… strong position I was trying to assert my power in the situation and because the believing well enough that … quite strong.

I’m sorry, that for some things are so bizarre set to anything but …”


show photos

The sound, text and images come from a performance Kaj misliš s tem? / What do you mean? April 17th 2014, 7.30pm, Kult3000, Metelkova, Ljubljana. Public preparation for an exhibition / Improprovoc 30 min + 1 hour of discussion afterwards. With Annie Abrahams, Martina Rusham, Jana Wilcoxen and Chantal van Mourik. Alpineon’s TTS software made by Proteus. Recording Brane Zorman, CONA. Transcription Milena Gros, translation Google.

Translations of mothertongues to Slovenian by google, voiced by Alpineon's Slovenian TSS software, transcribed by Milena Gros, translated to English by Google.




show book

Most of this talk is coming from or related to my ongoing e-strangerresearch started in 2014 in residency at CONA, Ljubljana. A book from estranger to e-stranger - Living in between languages (2014, ISBN 9781291965117, Editions +++plus+++) was made at the occasion of my exhibition Mie lahkoo pomagate? (can you help me ?) at Aksioma in Ljubljana. Free .pdf or print



Ik ben mijn moedertong verloren, toen ik, 12 jaar oud voor het eerst naar de school in de grote stad ging. Ze spraken “anders” en drie dagen heb ik niks gezegd totdat ik eindelijk mijn eerste woorden in hoog Nederlands, ABN, Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands durfde spreken. In drie dagen werd ik geciviliseerd - en verlegen. Ik volgde de regels en aangezien mijn vader een strikte strenge man was, werd mijn moedertong een koude veeleisende vadertong.

Mijn vader was niet koud.

Nederlands is niet mijn taal

What am I talking about? What is this voice? Was sage ich?

Nederlands is niet mijn taal


“Les mots qui définissent les sentiments sont très vagues; il vaut mieux éviter leur emploi et s’en tenir à la description des objets, des êtres humains, et de soi-même, c’est-à-dire à la description fidèle des faits.” (Agota Kristof, Le grand cahier, 1986)



Andrea Timar in The Murder of the Mother Tongue: Agota Kristof’s The Notebook, Bicultural Literature and Film in French and English, Routledge, 2016, tells how for Agotha Kristof, an Hongarian exile, French also appears to embody the name of the Father, or the Law. ... In Kristof's autobiography, suggestively entitled L’analphabète(2004), she calls French ‘une langue ennemie,’ which is ‘en train de tuer [sa] langue maternelle’....” Still, Agota has written the acclaimed and much translated La Trilogie des jumeaux in French. She flees sentimental writing and keeps to a factual language.



Hannah Arendt interviewed by Günter Gaus (28.10.1964)  8:50 – 10:15



I don’t agree, I don’t agree. “Wen man abgeschnitten ist von seinen Muttersprache, wen man die vergessen hat, dann bekommt man eine neue Sprache wo ein cliché das andere jagt.” I don’t agree, Nein nein nein.

We leerden ook frans, duits en engels ook via regels (en lijstjes).

I am not this voice that speaks – je ne suis pas la voix qui vous parle - Ich bin nicht diese Stimme die hier spricht. Ik ben niet diegene die hier spreekt.

Ik hield niet van talen ...

totdat ik naar het buitenland ging.

In Frankrijk duurde het tien lange jaren, tien jaren vonden mensen mij dom en stom. Vaak letterlijk stom, en dus ook oninteressant, ...


turning my back to the audience. read.
I'm invisible, I'm exotic, unidentifiable, blurry, fuzzy, shifty, rude, vulgar, uncouth, rough, crude, insolent, naive and alienated,

I am queer, I am hybrid, complex, malleable, pliable, often alone, silent, distorted, deformed, subversive, lonely.

Sometimes I am also abject, offensive, often incomprehensible and impolite.

I speak a broken tongue, my tongue is bastard, wobbly, twisted, turned, tortoise, torte, tortuous.

An e-stranger lives between cultures, is nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

We are complex, translated (woe)men, we know a silent period, our literature is a minor literature, we have mother- and father tongues, we like the post-monolingual, we practice a third language, we are een vreemde in eigen land, we are lost in translation, we are the fractured, the disrupted, the in-betweens .....

we are harder and more fragile at the same time, we do not have a single language, we are more resilient, more inventive, we know how to protect ourselves, are good observers,  ... we belong to nothing and to no one. Nobody can demand anything from us, no one can claim us.

Our tongue is free.



Dumb and stupid and .... until, …. one day there were no more taboo's, maybe it was when I discovered the internet, and started translating between French and English (and Dutch) in my hypertext works …. and, received appreciation for that in both camps. I learned that to translate one's own texts is to re-think them and that literal translation doesn't exist.


“Is code a language? Of course. A non-sensuous one? One can use it without understanding - copy-paste and watch it performing. Just like maths, if you know the rules, you don’t have to understand it.”



Or was it when I wanted to learn code and started a masters in programming in 1999. After four months, despite A grades, I stopped. I could perform but didn't understand. I knew how to follow the rules and how to produce the unexpected with code, which can be very inspiring, but was not what interested me. I turned out to be more analog than digital, more interested in how languages move the world than to move language.



Virgina Woolf 29 04 1937 BBC series Words fail me
1:36In order to use new words properly you would have to invent a new language…

3:28 It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things.

6:34 In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die7:38?


“For Murakami, the shift to writing in English instead of Japanese was straight-forward. He had just completed his first kitchen-table novel and found the final result to be lacklustre. As he describes it, his thoughts were simply too complex and when he tried to put them on paper ‘the system crashed.’ For this reason, Murakami chose to rewrite the opening of his novel in English, despite his limited abilities in English composition. But it was precisely the limitations of writing in a foreign language that removed the obstacles he faced trying to write in his native one; unable to pen complex thoughts in English, he discovered that his language became more simplified and free of unnecessary components. He began to find his rhythm and learned that trying to impress in his native tongue by forcing himself to write a beautiful phrase was actually making him a worse writer instead of a better one.”



I became more flexible, my ears hear more, my brain is more sensible. No longer bounded by one language area, I could move in several. No(t) more borders, no(t) more nations, no one could claim me anymore. I started to enjoy multi-linguism and didn't consider myself handicapped anymore. Even “not knowing a language perfectly” became something positive. Even stuttering was allowed.


ask someone from the audience who likes to read to read this text if possibly very rhythmical. i dance.

“This is the template for the language I would like to communicate in, a language that is not policed by formerly imperial, newly global corporations, nor by national statistics—a language that takes on and confronts issues of circulation, labour, and privilege (or at least manages to say something at all), a language that is not a luxury commodity nor a national birth right, but a gift, a theft, an excess or waste, made between Skopje and Saigon by interns and non-resident aliens on Emoji keyboards. To opt for International Disco Latin also means committing to a different form of learning, since disco also means “I learn,” “I learn to know,” “I become acquainted with”—preferably with music that includes heaps of accents. And for free. And in this language, I will always prefer anus over bonus, oral over moral, Satin over Latin, shag over shack. You’re welcome to call this pornographic, discographic, alienating, or simply weird and foreign. But I suggest: Let’s take a very fucking English lesson!” Hito Steyerl in International Disco Latin 


“If we carry on speaking the same language to each other, we are going to end up repeating the same history.” Lucie Irigaray 1976.



Being, accepting, living a multilingualism is a political feminist stand. Nowadays I am very much interested in and intrigued by the feminist scholar Karen Barad, who uses quantum physics to articulate a feminist view on the philosophy of science. I don't really understand her, but I learned to prefer diffractive thinking, reading and even writing above reflexive (reflexion only displaces/mirrors, never brings a radical new viewpoint – Barad is building on Donna Haraway(1)). I prefer to talk about intra-action instead of interaction, and moved from a being in the world to an entangled worlding(2). I hope have time to tell you more about this at the end of my talk.


Everyone speaks English, so you can easily travel and communicate without learning other languages. In a democracy, language has the function to let people participate in political life. Language is an instrument of public thinking …. In a democracy, non-understanding is not tolerable. (Trabant 2002)

There is a discrepancy between Europe’s language policy and politics, which support a trilingual policy, whereas not even half of the European population claims to speak English (Kruse 2012).

All 24 official languages have equal status; nevertheless, the language used in most situations in EU institutions is English (Kruse/Ammon 2013)

English as a foreign language is commonly spoken by the elite(s). (Kruse 2012, 2014)

Foreign language knowledge today is regionally and socially highly inhomogeneous. The Euroregions make efforts towards an equal treatment of the member languages and use practically no English in negotiations. (Kruse 2014)



I met Jan Kruse in December 2015 during a residency called unaussprechbarlich in Villa Waldberta in Feldafing. He is a linguist and philosopher interested in the language policy of the European Union. He told me that in some cantons in Switzerland all institutional meetings have to be prepared in German, French and Italian (sometimes also in Romansh). Research showed, that when all participants continue to use their mothertongue (translated when necessary), the resulting work done is of higher quality than when only one language is used. (No article available) When we use only one tongue, the ones with little experience can't participate at all.

(Space Pidgin, Space Creole exist. In common space missions English native speakers speak Russian and the Russian speakers speak English. The idea is, if you speak your native language, maybe you’re speaking too fast or maybe you’re not sure if the other person’s really understanding you. Whereas if you both speak the language you’re not as fluent in, then you arrive at a level where people can be sure that the other person’s understanding.)


“English is not an international language and it is wrong that scholars use it as if it is.”

“Describing diversity is impossible if you use English, you need a metalanguage.”

“Depression is an English concept. NSM (Natural semantic metalanguage) makes it possible to talk about it.”

Anna Wierzbicka cited from an interview with her by Prof. James Underhill. https://youtu.be/jCw3dfmgP-0  



Prof. Wierzbicka opposes scholars thoughtless use of English. They explain universal knowledge in English while a lot of the concepts used don't exist in their own language. For instance “bleu” is not a word in Polish. Some languages have no word for “brother”, some not for “right” and “wrong”. She proposes NSM (Natural Semantic Metalanguage) See: Imprisoned in English: The Hazards of English as a Default Language. There are 65 concepts in Wierzbicka's universal conceptual vocabulary, among which good and bad.


Look at

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_semantic_metalanguage and or https://e-stranger.tumblr.com/post/177344059551/minimal-english-metalanguage



When I analyse my own mostly collaborative work it is not really clear what is causing what, where the agency exactly is – not between clearly distinguishable entities, but coming from within a whole, where interface characteristics, server conditions, individual computers, keyboards, webcams and sound devices, as well as the text, voices and images of the co-performers, local light conditions and family situations are all entangled in what Karen Barad would call the phenomenon. As I said before, it is not easy to understand her. If you want to know why, how, listen to her talk On Touching: The Alterity Within from 2018, made at an art academy, and supposed to be for lay(wo)man. So, I was happy to find this video that seemed quit clear on one of her concepts.



3:18min Three Minute Theory: What is Intra-Action? Video written and created by: Stacey Kerr, Erin Adams, & Beth Pittard. And or ... 



“Thinking with intra-actions means giving up cause and effect relationships, individual agency and subject-object economies. We gain new understandings of ethics and justice as not things that are predetermined but always changing and unfolding. Intra-action calls into question steadfast boundaries and borders and linear time and in turn helps us think in terms of simultaneity. It tears down the walls that contain the disciplined thoughts and actions to reveal artificial boundaries we forgot we invented.”


“Entanglements are not unities. They do not erase differences; on the contrary, entanglings entail differentiatings, differentiatings entail entanglings. One move – cutting together-apart.” Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart, Karen Barad, parallax, 2014 Vol. 20, No. 3, 168–187, P176, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13534645.2014.927623.

“The diffractive moment is when such interpellations or affections happen. The surprise of an interpellation or of affect is taken to be a moment of insight that is of importance for the production of knowledge.” Posthuman Glossary, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc London New York, Editors Rosi Braidotti, Maria Hlavajova, p100. Diffraction by Iris van der Tuin.



I am not done with her ideas (also need to read Whitehead and more Erin Manning), but so far they helped me to formulate what I want my artistic projects to do. I want them to permit the appearance of creative and unexpected “outcomes”, that can be called in the words of Barad a cutting together-apart (3) of new knowledge. Participants are part of an apparatus, and become co-creators of a piece. They assists in an event that allows for diffractive moments – i.e. “a mapping of interference”, which take them out of self reflexivity, out of systemised subjectivity, out of a world that only reproduces what it knows already into an intra-active diffractive worlding (2).



A universal language? When you are not allowed to use anything else, you can talk with laughter.


3 min. https://soundcloud.com/annie-abrahams/lepuisement-vient-du-fake




(1) “Diffraction does not produce 'the same' displaced, as reflection and refraction do.

Diffraction is a mapping of interference, not of replication, reflection, or reproduction.” The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others, Donna Jeanne Haraway, Routledge, 1992.

(2) “What is a worlding? What is an –ing? Does the addition of a suffix –ing denoting the verbal noun phrase shift the world from a being to a doing; to a gerundive and generative process?“ http://newmaterialism.eu/almanac/w/worlding Helen Palmer and Vicky Hunter 16 03 2018.