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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2016

Estranging the Mother Tongue


In this paper I offer to examine, in a comparative perspective, the status of the powerful image of the “mother tongue” in contemporary artistic creation, especially in literary texts, and how the artists manage to generate an experience of estrangement towards it – following Derrida’s fundamental statement that one cannot “own” a language. Thus contemporary artists explicitly address the issue of the conference, asking what can be salvaged of the notion of “mother tongue” (and even if it should be salvaged at all), problematizing in particular the affective and aesthetic dimensions of an expression that is all too familiar, powerfully resounding, and yet neither evident nor transparent. The expression indeed does not so much denominate a concept as it functions as a common expression that condenses various linguistic, ideological and emotional imaginaires, ranging from relations of longing or adulation to intense hatred and the desire to rupture logics and mechanisms of social, familial, national and political belonging. In poetical and aesthetically challenging creations, the artists thus reinvest the notion, working with its very texture and its associations – affective, ideological, gendered. Against a principle of idealized and essentialised notion of mother tongue, invalid in a globalized and post-colonial context, the creations offer a set of defamiliarising scripts, examining aesthetically the notion in its diffraction and multiplicity, its intensities and elasticity, its non-dits and excesses. Thus the powerful and resilient expression itself, crossroad of metaphors – reflected in the diversity of its meanings: first language, language of the mother, native language, “umbilical language” (Barthes), language learned in the “nursery”, national language, etc. –, becomes the means for artistic creation. The artists problematize and interrogate the (conscious as well as unconscious) associations and implications of the notion and its representations, modulating it (from “mother tongue” to “stepmother tongue” (Skinner), to “Großvaterzunge” (Özdamar), to “tongue of the mother” vs. “tongue of the father”, to impossible mother tongue, etc.), definitely making it strange, as an effective device for keeping us from taking it for granted


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Dates et versions

hal-01426615 , version 1 (04-01-2017)


  • HAL Id : hal-01426615 , version 1


Anne Isabelle François. Estranging the Mother Tongue. Untying the Mother Tongue. On Language, Affect, and the Unconscious, ICI Berlin Kulturlabor/Institute for Cultural Inquiry, May 2016, Berlin, Germany. ⟨hal-01426615⟩
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