Regurgitated by the sea, I lie on the foreshore. Hovering above me, a tongue, apparently that of the Rolling Stones, is licking a cloud which, suddenly, gulps it down, just like a cartoon. Voices surround me but their language is something I cannot integrate. I cry out — Où es-tu, Mamy blue?

My phone alarm jolts me out of my daydreaming. I remember and I have forgotten. It is time to start cooking for my little sister. Sorry, I mean my sister.

On tonight’s menu: words, sentences and texts, cooked up as a response to the last version of her mémoire — her thesis in progress.

Anna is early. Breathless, she sits at the kitchen table. Can I help? she asks. Bent over the counter, I am cutting and refining my thoughts. Not for now, I answer. We then pick up where we left off last time. She points out that her work is now punctuated by lyrics, notably from the songs our grandmother used to tirelessly hum around her kitchen, like a broken record. She frets about remembering only the choruses, yet hopes that she will be able to nail the verses soon — convinced that they must contain cryptic messages our grand-mother had purposefully instilled in the hope that we would decode them.

In a pan, I drop Bryn Mawr Commencement address 1 1 Ursula K. Le Guin, Bryn Mawr Commencement address - in Space Crone, Silver Press, 2023, pp. 27-45 , a text by Ursula K. Le Guin that I have recently read — as I ceaselessly circle back to her halo for personal enlightenment. She resorts to a neologism — father tongue — to refer to the language one learns at university, a language of social power. This is a dichotomous tongue “spoken from above”. One “that goes one way. No answer is expected, or heard.”

This is a language in which the mother tongue will exclusively be mentioned in order to distance oneself from it — “to exclude it”.

The mother tongue, conversely, is repetitive. “It is primitive: inaccurate, unclear, coarse, limited, trivial, banal”. It reflects what Le Guin calls “women’s work” — “earthbound, housebound”. These are words or sentences which, when they have been uttered one time, have been repeated a hundred more times. I love you. Can you pass the soy sauce? Come play with me! Don’t cry. Etc. “The mother tongue is language not as mere communication but as relation, relationship. It connects.” Often underrated as familiar and banal, “colloquial, low, ordinary, plebeian”, it is generally forgotten as one grows older because it is limited and inexact. “It is a language always on the verge of silence and often on the verge of song.”

This is the kind of bread we eat, my sister and I, when we get together; this language becomes food, carpeting the bottom of our guts. The food of our grandmother, who sings the silence and teeters on the edge of oblivion.

I’m about to serve her a variety of words. Fresh ones, but also others which have been fermenting for a while. It is said that bodies remember — that they have a memory. I notice that it has been exactly a year since Thomas Conchou commissioned this text for the editorial platform The Master’s Clock. I recall instinctively answering that I wanted to produce a text about cycles and rhythms, from a literary and somatic perspective. I realised afterwards that it was redundant — since one always writes with a body.

365 days later, in hindsight, and just as the same period suddenly strikes me with full force, I know why I told him that. Let’s say that I now recognise the machinery at play in my body when December comes. I have no idea whether it is the tipping point of the year that gets me most anxious, the usual Christmas frills, or the fact that my birthday is just around the corner in January.

In any case, if rhythm is a matter of returns, of landmarks, I observe that, every winter, my internal clock becomes somewhat unhinged. I wonder if I also just cling onto this cycle idea so I can ignore the passing of time, deny the Christian concept of a time from which everything is introduced, historicised, and then unequivocally conducted towards a fateful end.

I tell my sister that over the course of my research, I dived into an ocean of literary, scientific and philosophic texts permeated by the question of the time of experience, and that I floated for most of the year around these waters, illuminated by the beacon that were the thoughts of Le Guin and Virgina Woolf.

In a letter to her friend Vita Sackville-West, Woolf writes that it is rhythm that lends a text its style, and not the mot juste — the right word. This rhythm runs deeper than words. She describes it as a wave that crests within the mind and the body, a sound wave that one has to tune into, and from which — solely — words emerge 2 2 Vita Sackville-West & Virginia Woolf, Correspondance 1923 - 1941, LGF Le Livre de Poche, 2013 . In Where do you get your ideas from?, Ursula K. Le Guin admits that she has never found anything more profound nor more useful than Woolf’s metaphor to apprehend the source of storytelling and ideas. She also adds:

“Prose and poetry— all art, music, dance — rise from and move with the profound rhythms of our body, our being, and the body and being of the world. Physicists read the universe as a great range of vibrations, of rhythms. Art follows and expresses those rhythms.” 3 3 From Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?”, published in 1987

Among the myriad of voices encountered in that ocean, I indeed identified that of a physicist, Wolfgang Pauli. Together with Carl Gustav Jung, he was seeking to uncover the underlying unit of matter and the psyche — between quantum physics and depth psychology 4 4 Bruno Traversi & Alexandre Mercier, L’arrière-Monde ou l’inconscient neutre, Editions du Cénable de France, 2018 . Much like Le Guin and Woolf, they read what Henri Bergson had written about subjective time in the 1920s, which he called “duration” and defined as the “lived time of consciousness”.

Back to Bryn Mawr Commencement address, as I wrap up my referential wanderings. After defining what she means by father tongue and mother tongue, Le Guin mentions her encounter with the composer and musician Pauline Oliveros — who originated the concept of Deep Listening — at a women’s discussion group. On that specific occasion, Oliveros made the following point, which left a deep impression on Le Guin: “Offer your experience as your truth.”

My sister agrees. She already senses what I am getting at. I explain that, at that moment, I felt that everything was falling into place, and that I got to the conclusion that the narrative mode which still most probably communicates time as a human experience is singing.

Can you help me now? It’s heavy, I say. My sister and I decant into the pan part of the thoughts left to ferment for a year. They swiftly merge with the whole concoction. My sister is unaware that, though Le Guin, Woolf, Pauli and Oliveros spurred the first impetus for the writing of this text, our evening together will breathe a rhythm into it.

When she sent me her thesis a week earlier, I discovered that she had integrated lyrics of songs which had imbued our shared imaginary — including Mamy Blue — and I got it confirmed that our practices were uncannily confluent, manifesting peculiarly similar experiences. We had first noticed it a few months ago, at the end of the summer, as we were having lunch on a sunbathed terrace. We became aware that we were each, in our own way, clearing the same field of secrets lain fallow. While we talked and ate, our mutual hunger to share these experiences — at once respective and relatable — whetted. We then decided to join forces to defy the brambles cluttering the path/voice, prompted by the intention to discover some kind of treasure. Anna subsequently started quoting me in her texts, and vice versa. Our voices began entangling to decipher this life score we share. Clearing. Clarifying.

Looping back to tonight’s recipe, I pour the voice of Zara-Louise Stubbs into the mix without skimping on her words, because of the nutritious properties they infuse our subject matter with, and precisely because she identifies what bridges the gap between story and soma: food, of course. This is what she writes in the introduction to The Uncanny Gastronomic, Strange Tales of the Edible Weird:

“I noted the residual traces of food left in genre fiction and I began considering how these breadcrumbs of oral storytelling could be working to connect the written text through a dual orality: that of speaking, and of eating. Texts and food both require bodies. In this sense, soma and storytelling are naturally paired, with food acting as the bridge between the two. (…)

In this way, strange gustatory interactions become a site for expressing interiority; of turning the self inside-out and exposing the soft underbelly of the psyche by examining the contents of the stomach. Through the consideration of food as an identity builder, I began to think in a skew on Descartes’s maxim; instead of ‘I think, therefore I am’, rather, ‘I eat, therefore I am’”. 5 5 Zara-Louise Stubbs (ed.), The Uncanny Gastronomic, Strange Tales of the edible Weird, The British Library, 2023

Cooking and eating together is a palliative ritual between my sister and me. This treasure we are hunting holds many unsaid words. Words that explain, relieve and heal.

It simmers. My sister leans over me and inhales the aromas wafting from the pot. Dinner is ready. We start eating.

The only issue is that eating and speaking do not necessarily go hand in hand in Protestant education. Without realising it, we are picking up the pace a bit, as if we were performing an art that we haven’t entirely mastered yet. In order to alleviate the stinginess and asceticism of the dishes and words we were served during our childhood, we eat/chat a tad too fast and somewhat too much.

Once my sister has left, I put the now empty pan in the sink and turn on the tap to fill it up with hot water. It will soak all night long, and so will I.

I am sitting next to my sister in my grandmother’s kitchen. Her back turned to us, she is busy frying some Kärili. We can hear a dance track, Rhythm is a Dancer by SNAP!, playing from the small radio on the windowsill, resounding through the room. Mamy, we’re hungry! Patience, it’s coming, she says. And listen up because…

My phone alarm goes off again. Those dreams steered me to the morning. I remember and I have forgotten. As I sit down in front of my computer, I think of my sister, who is probably doing the exact same thing. She has to hand out her thesis to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy before Christmas. I had set myself the same deadline for Eat your own tongue. Two texts, due on the same date. Is the very same story being told or are there two distinct ones? Conversation is the food we share. Writing, the digestive liqueur we each sip later on our own.

My stomach aches as I muse about the metaphor of digestion — although somehow less poetic than Woolf’s wave — which aptly illustrates the various clocks that regulate us, what penetrates us on different levels, in different places, and, at last, what we generate — in this case through writing. I am sure Anna’s stomach also aches since our microbion — this choir of voices confined to their kitchen and mother tongue who learnt to (digest)handle without naming — is not used to verbal logorrhoea. I am torn between feelings of shame and guilt, as if we were breaking a rule and succumbing to a form of sin. Although our stomachs may beg for it, it is still a lot to take in.

Besides, unlike what we were hoping for, or — at least — what we were expecting, I have the feeling that, after discovering the contents of yesterday’s cooking pot, we even ingested new ideas, without really clarifying much of the nebula that we are currently probing. We know there is a high probability that we will never elucidate what we are looking for, and, yesterday, we both agreed that what we would not unearth, we would then dream up — following Monique Wittig’s recommendations 6 6 Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères, 1969 : “Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.” . This text, lulled by the rhythm of a sweet blend of memories and fiction, is the fruit of decisions taken on that night.

The mother tongue is the language in which stories — which all flow from the very same source, the vastest ocean — are told, writes Le Guin at last. If we must invent the verses of this song we are recomposing about our mothers, we will speak in this language. Inventing — is it ever anything else than remembering? If the song can entirely resurface while we thought it had been forgotten, it must be because we know it by heart — namely, that our heart knows it. At the beginning of this text, I was lying amorphous on the beach/page. I waited and listened. When I started remembering the language spoken by the voices around me, I stood up and made my way inland. The voices guiding me were singing:

Have you swallowed your tongue? Have you lost your tongue? Have you offered your tongue to the cat? 7 7 literal translations of French idioms : “why won’t you speak out?” Turn your tongue seven times inside of your mouth before you speak. 8 8 id. : “think twice before you speak” But keep talking about us and in our language. About these idioms one cannot really understand, whose origin cannot be traced — are you dead? Are you silent? Integrate us to make us alive and audible. No matter how many Frenglish or French Swiss words you use. Talk about what you have lost track of, like the Kärili, this local desert you used to love, even though its recipe and spelling remain a mystery, and which — according to Google — does not even exist, you must write it down, no matter how, because you know how it tastes and therefore it must be real.

Relate how today you are coming back to us, how you have travelled back along the path, that had driven you so far 9 9 “aujourd’hui tu nous reviens / que tu as refait tout le chemin / qui t’avait entraînée si loin / (oh mamy mamy)” Mamy Blue, 1970, song written and composed by Hubert Giraud . Describe the genealogies which, for you, comprise past or present voices, fictitious or real, each one more or less voluntarily invited to take part in your/our life/lives. Tell yourself that if you manage to shed a bit of light on them, and on what they sometimes endow you with in the silence and obscurity, they could turn into lucky stars.

Bodies who record, who stock and store up, recover through silences. If you can read sheet music, you know that pauses and rests preside over the moments of silence. Ursula K. Le Guin taught you that punctuation signs hold precisely the same function. If you know as well that two quarter notes together make a half note, you know that sentences, when they are crammed full and have no space to move, come to a halt, to transform and resume. The same goes with stories. There was a time when stories — recounted in spoken form and later in writing — included choruses, just like songs. Then, times changed, evolved and other tools were conceived to lend rhythm to the narrative. You see? It is up to you to play your own instruments in order to tell your stories.

Once again, my phone alarm interrupts my thread of thought and, for the last time, this text. I fell asleep on my desk. Now, I remember and I have forgotten.

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin, Bryn Mawr Commencement address - in Space Crone, Silver Press, 2023, pp. 27-45  []
  2. Vita Sackville-West & Virginia Woolf, Correspondance 1923 - 1941, LGF Le Livre de Poche, 2013  []
  3. From Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?”, published in 1987  []
  4. Bruno Traversi & Alexandre Mercier, L’arrière-Monde ou l’inconscient neutre, Editions du Cénable de France, 2018  []
  5. Zara-Louise Stubbs (ed.), The Uncanny Gastronomic, Strange Tales of the edible Weird, The British Library, 2023  []
  6. Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères, 1969 : “Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”  []
  7. literal translations of French idioms : “why won’t you speak out?”  []
  8. id. : “think twice before you speak”  []
  9. “aujourd’hui tu nous reviens / que tu as refait tout le chemin / qui t’avait entraînée si loin / (oh mamy mamy)” Mamy Blue, 1970, song written and composed by Hubert Giraud  []