The practice of conversation-as-material — conceived as a way of writing without writing — was tested further within The Italic I, a collaboration with artist Clare Thornton which explores the event of surrendering to a repeated fall, slowed and extended through the use of both language and the lens. Becoming diagonal – the italic I: to let go, a commitment is made to the event of falling in and of itself, to putting the diagonal under pressure. A body falls, over and over, again and again: falling as investigative action. Parallel to capturing the event of a repeated fall through performance and its documents, our collaborative activity has involved the production of a textual lexicon for reflecting on the different episodes within falling, generated through the ‘free-fall’ of our conversations. Over a period of years, thousands of transcribed words from hours of recorded conversation have been gradually distilled towards our working vocabulary.
We asked: How can we develop a poetic mode of linguistic expression that embodies rather than describes the live experience that it seeks to articulate? We recognised that it can be difficult to shape experience into words, language can sometimes seem too stiff or rigid; like the body it also needs to be stretched and flexed. How might language be exercised akin to lungs and limbs? What happens if talking about practice is no longer an event of explication, but instead performed in the same key as doing? Breathless — ventilating the idea: to temper, to tune, to make tones available to different keys. Repeat the heating and cooling, softening and solidifying of language: molten flex.
Like our staging of the fall, our conversations were framed, undertaken as a specific exercise within a time-bound period — usually between one and three hours — allocated only for this purpose. Together in conversation we seek to practice linguistic or even cognitive falls, searching for a language adequate to the task of articulating the experience of falling through falling. Akin to the body repeatedly falling, language can be generated from within fall-like circumstances, words pressured until they begin to arc and fold. In the live-ness of conversation, words can often slip and spill into existence; thought conjured in the event of its utterance, verbalised at the point of thinking leaning into the unknown. Reflecting on the ‘vitality affects’ within unscripted spontaneous conversation, psychologist Daniel Stern argues in the "imprecise, messy, hit-and-miss work to find the ‘right words’ to communicate what one wishes […] Emergent properties form. New linkages are created, tentatively accepted, revised, rejected, reintroduced in a different form, and moved with all the other creative products of the intention-unfolding process […] It is a process that can rush forward, hesitate, stop, restart gently. (2010:122 — 124)
Over and over, turned up and inside out, language can be rolled around in the mouth until it starts to yield or give. Indeed, Stern observes how speech production is an embodied practice that ‘requires physical (as well as mental) movement.’ (2010: 121-122)
Bodily lettering: the tasting of words, language caress of the tongue, phonemes felt against lips, exhaled on the breath. As LaBelle asserts, ‘As the space of (not only) voice’s reverberations, the mouth may be said to be ringed by language; it lingers in the mouth.’ (2014: 3) LaBelle argues that to "theorize the performativity of the spoken is to confront the tongue, the teeth, the lips and the throat; it is to feel the mouth as a fleshy, wet lining around each syllable, as well as a texturing orifice that marks the voice with specificity, not only in terms of accent or dialect, but also by the depth of expression so central to the body. (2014: 1)
Drawing on the etymological relation between reflexivity and regurgitation — and between the oral exertions of speaking and chewing, consider the word ruminant: from the Latin ruminare — one given to meditation or contemplation, but also a mammal that chews the ‘cud’ regurgitated from its rumen (the first chamber of its alimentary canal). To ruminate, thus: to ponder, to turn over in the mind, and ‘to chew over again’. For LaBelle "grabbing words in its wet cavity, biting down onto the consonantal, sounding out the resonance of the vowel, it is by way of the mouth that we might supplement the foundational narrative of proper speech with an oral poetics.(2014: 9 — 10)
Certainly, the specific rhythm of conversation produces a different shape and texture of textual articulation compared to that of conventional writing. Significantly, the cadence or rhythmic pacing of conversation — its pitch and intonation, the tempo of speech — can often be of rising and falling, dipping and peaking. Excited acceleration. Hesitation. Deliberation. Syncopation. Abbreviation. Words dropped. Omissions. Repetitions. Sentence incompletion. Disregard for punctuation. Hurried utterance. Syllabic glides and slurs.
Our shared intent was to strive for a condition of exhaustion and elasticity in word and thought, stepping off or away from the stability of fixed subject positions towards the fluid process of co-production, intermingling of one another’s word and thought. An intersubjective — even infrasubjective vocabulary — emerges only after what one wanted to say has been exhausted or used up. Here, as Massumi observes "The conversational form begins to exhaust itself … you can no longer just draw on your own resources — you’ve already exhausted them ... That’s where it begins to get inventive. It becomes truly improvisational. It is no longer you who are speaking, or some other individual. The conversation passes between. It truly becomes a collective enunciation – a subject-group as Guattari would say … the whole thing gets most intense at those moments, where you’re no longer speaking in your own voice, or performing your individual point of view. (2017: 94 — 95)
Stretching — muscular, bodily. Pushing at the edges or the limits. This achieving and letting go — a reaching towards. The body makes phrases, exploratory gestures, bypassing the mind. Feeling its limitations, its irritating blockages, wrestling with ways to articulate. Light precise — the I dissolves. Conversational sparring enables a form of thinking and articulation beyond what is often conceivable on one’s own. As phenomenologist philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty states in The Visible and the Invisible, ‘A genuine conversation gives me access to thoughts that I did not know myself capable of, that I was not capable of, and sometimes I feel myself followed in a route unknown to myself which my words, cast back by the other, are in the process of tracing out for me.’ (1968: 13) Or else as philosopher and educator Martin Buber claims:
"In a real conversation (that is, not one whose individual parts have been preconcerted, but one which is completely spontaneous, in which each speaks directly to his (or her) partner and calls forth his (or her) unpredictable reply), […] what is essential does not take place in each of the participants or in a neutral world which includes the two and all other things but it takes place between them in the most precise sense, as it were in a dimension which is accessible only to them. In the most powerful moments of the dialogic, where in truth “deep calls unto deep”, it becomes unmistakably clear that it is not the wand of the individual or of the social, but of a third which draws the circle of the happening. On the far side of the subjective, on this side of the objective, on the narrow ridge, where I and Thou meet, there is the realm of the “between”." (2002: 241)