One hour, one book: Simon Brown

Le schizo et les langues, by Louis Wolfson

May 30, 2014 - 6 PM

This spring  Artexte launches a new series entitled One Hour, One Book. Artists and researchers from many disciplines are invited to present a book of their choice. These presentations may take the form of readings, talks, screenings or performances and offer opportunities for discussion. Books may be chosen from Artexte’s collection or may belong to the presenter. Books from outside the collection will be acquired to enrich Artexte’s holdings. A reception follows each presentation.

In 1963, Les éditions Gallimard received a strange manuscript entitled Le schizo et les langues ou la Phonétique chez le psychotique (Esquisses d’un étudiant de langues schizophrénique). The several hundred typewritten pages, written in a learned but very awkward French, are the work of a young mentally-ill New Yorker (and later Montrealer) by the name of Louis Wolfson.

In Le schizo et les langues, Wolfson describes, in the third person and with great detail, the strange procedure by which he is able to “erase” from his mind all words heard or read in his mother tongue, the presence of English being very distressing for him and often triggering psychotic attacks. As soon as a word in English “penetrates” into him, Wolfson “neutralizes” it by replacing it immediately with a homonym or near-homonym from one of the four languages he studies. The chosen words must have a meaning close to the English words they are replacing, so that he can afterwards use these multilingual fragments to reconstruct the meaning of the original sentence.

This presentation will take the form of an informal discussion wherein I will explain and demonstrate Wolfson’s translatory process. I will also attempt to formulate a question: in the end, isn’t all language-based understanding perhaps a sort of personalized and compulsive (or even psychotic) decoding process? SB

Simon Brown has worked with language, sound and the non-gesture since the 1990s. His texts and interventions have been presented in a variety of forms and contexts: performance festivals, poetry books, billboards, newspapers, conferences and others. He lives and works in Saint-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville, Québec.