Voicing on the borders of language

Imogen Stidworthy

Forskningsoutput: AvhandlingDoktorsavhandling (konstnärlig)

781 Nedladdningar (Pure)


My research engages with the varieties of relationship between verbal and non-verbal forms of language and communication. I approach the issue through three people who live or work with non-verbal people on the autistic spectrum: Phoebe Caldwell, Fernand Deligny and Iris Johansson. Their practices bring singular perspectives to my core question: How can we (re)conceive and engage with non-verbal forms of language and communication in our verbal being?

There are diverse experiences of language and a multiplicity of registers through which it is voiced. In non-verbal communication voicing mainly manifests through non-vocal registers, such as body language, rhythm, vibration, gesture and spatial relationship – and ‘sonic utterances’ beyond exchange centred on words and speech. Voicings at the ends of the spectrum of coherent ‘normal’ speech tend to be ignored as senseless babble or not recognised as voicing at all. The practices I focus on have developed methods and ‘technologies’ to open (us) to a wider scope of listening and voicing, so that we can engage with non-verbal forms of language in and as communication.

Fernand Deligny (France, 1913 - 1996) was an educationalist, writer and film-maker. Between 1967 and 1991 he elaborated an experimental living space with non-verbal autistic children, outside institutional and therapeutic frameworks. Phoebe Caldwell (UK) is a therapist and writer who specialises in non-verbal communication, working with non-verbal autistic people individually in contexts of state-run care. Iris Johansson (Sweden) is a therapist and writer, who is autistic. She was non-verbal until the age of twelve and lives in both non-verbal and verbal modes of being. All three practices describe non-verbal autism both in clinical terms as a developmental condition and as a mode of being - as an alternative, ‘other’ way of living.

Caldwell, Deligny and Johansson emerge as ‘go-betweens’ between verbal and non-verbal being. My research – as recording situations or film shoots—has developed through personal encounters with them, with non-verbal people close to them and by immersion in their community life. These situations have brought me into closer contact and involvement with non-verbal being and the experience of the ‘rub-up’ between our different forms of language. The rub-up is the productive friction that arises in grappling with unfamiliar, often ‘untranslatable’ terms. The go-betweens engage in the rub-up through their practices of Intensive Interaction (‘mirroring behaviour’; Caldwell); using the mirror and cinema screen technologies to connect with a sense of self (Johansson); tracér - ‘mapping’, and using the film-camera as a tool to produce a non-subjective gaze (Deligny). These technologies produce different forms of relationship, gather traces of communication in recordings or pencil marks, and sensitise us to registers of voicing which elude verbal listening and word-centred interaction. Cinematic thinking plays a key role for Fernand Deligny and Iris Johansson. They use films and film-making in a metacinematic mode, as channels for shaping exchange between verbal and non-verbal people. In my practice my method is to use cinematic apparatus to shape relationships in a rub-up with different forms of language in the recording situation and between the work and the visitor. I have formulated this as a metacinematic modality of artistic practice.

Through an examination of the practices of the go-betweens and my artistic work with them, we come into a more intimate grappling with non-verbal voicing. The process produces fresh, challenging listening positions that we have to learn to attend to and wrestle with. Mirroring, indirect attention, dual awareness and multidimensional sensing are amongst some of the array of modes through which this happens and to which these new positions correspond.

I see the research as contributing towards attempts to widen our understanding of the normal, everyday verbal-non-verbal divide and to go beyond its rigidities: it contributes to the search for a more inclusive, expanded experience of exchange and voicing at the borders of language.¬
  • Maharaj, Sarat, handledare
  • Sandqvist, Gertrud, handledare
ISBN (tryckt)978-91-7895-628-9
StatusPublished - 2020 sep. 2

Bibliografisk information

Defense details
Date: 2020-09-25
Time: 10:00
Place: NB! This dissertation defense will be conducted online only. https://lu-se.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ywSJDUCsQMucSdX_JszOmw
External reviewer(s)
Name: Lerm Hayes, Christa –Maria
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Amsterdam university

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

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