Words of the Train Journey
12th March @ 5.00pm
Dans l’air se mélangent trois conversations en deux langues que vous ne cherchez pas à démêler, au travers desquelles émerge l’inintelligible voix du haut-parleur qui annonce le prochain départ.
– Michel Butor, La Modification (1)
For his novel La Modification, Michel Butor chose the train journey between Paris and Roma to narrate, in the second person, the story of a man travelling from his wife to his mistress. If every novel is, in his own words, ‘un voyage’(2), La Modification epitomises his reading of a new type of space: a ‘traveled space’, which is made of moments, past, present and future, and ‘lived’ distances as well as measured ones. This may be seen as a shift in perception of space, where travel becomes the entry point, the filter through which every spatial experience is to be read, for every space is transitory, for you stay there for some time only. Here I want to argue that this shift is also taking place in the perception of language; that one actually travels through language.
Whilst Butor makes little case of the bilingual nature of the train journey experienced by the main character between Paris and Roma, his dynamic and oriented depiction of space will serve to interpret the piece of text I collected during another bilingual train journey between Paris and London. Random fragments of conversations, in French and English, words I could hear and recorded on paper, will become snippets of decontextualized language, which only the direction of the train and the space of the carriage will allow us to interpret. I will show that shifts, translations between frames of reference, or projections between ‘you’ and ‘me’ allow us to make sense of the journey.
(1) “Three conversations in two languages are intermingling in the air, which you do not attempt to untangle, and through which emerges the indecipherable voice of the loud speaker, announcing the next departure.” Quotation from Michel Butor, La Modification (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1957, p139) translated by Caroline Rabourdin.
(2) Michel Butor, L’Espace du Roman, in Repertoire II: Etudes et conférences 1959-1963, Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1964
Caroline Rabourdin is a French architect, writer and educator living in London. She graduated from the ENSAIS in Strasbourg, and holds a Master in Architectural Design with distinction from the Bartlett, UCL. Having practiced in various architectural offices in Paris and London, she is currently a Visiting Lecturer at Greenwich University, Department of Architecture, Design and Construction, and a PhD candidate at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL. Her practice-based and multidisciplinary research is concerned with the relationship between space and language, where language is considered as an embodied and spatial practice. The research borrows from art practices as well as architectural theory, linguistics, and also scientific disciplines such as geometry and neuroscience. In pulling together theories and practices about Space, Language and the Body, she is developing a notion of Embodied Bilingualism. Her PhD working title is ‘Spatial Translations between Paris and London: On Direction, Perception and Embodied Bilingualism’.