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La Région Île-de-France
Le Département de la
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La Ville de Paris
La Mairie du 20è
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VidéoFestival Relectures

Luca Babel

Studying the work of Ghérasim Luca

Ghérasim Luca was born in Bucarest in 1913 and moved to Paris in 1952. He chose to write his poetry in French. In his solitude and his quest for a philosopher’s stone or a ‘key’, Luca, troubled by the rise of racist and antisemitic currents, committed suicide in January, 1994.

Luca Babel regroups a selection of Ghérasim Luca’s poems, recorded over a period of time. These poems have been studied since 2007 by a group of people learning ‘French as a Foreign language’ in an artistic workshop, ‘Lecture(s) de bouche(s)’, at the Atelier Formation de Base, organized by the Emmaüs association in Paris.

Lecture(s) de bouche(s) is a reading workshop where poetry is read aloud and recorded, where the French language is worked on ceaselessly. It is an affair of language and mouths, filtered through poetry (Baudelaire, Pavese, Prévert…), literature (Becket, Duras, Vittorini, Rosa Luxembourg, Racine, Dany Laferrière…) and, in particular, the texts of Ghérasim Luca. The workshop explores French in all its complexity in a time when, constrained and reduced, language is placed at the heart of laws on immigration and becomes a tool in the witch hunt for the vulnerable and precarious that hides its name.

Reading aloud implies a doubled sense of work: one is no longer talking to oneself, but also to another. The experience becomes an adventure in language, which allows a participant to hear the sound of his own music in a new language. Everything takes place in a joyous environment, where the difficulties of each participant are shared and listening, perhaps for the first time, allows people to conceive of another ‘possibility of the self’ in another language. This workshop was originally intended to last one year. It incited such enthusiasm that it has been renewed each year since.

And so Luca Babel is the memory of five years of rich and unexpected collaborations with these participants and is a formidable manifesto for the apprenticeship of a poetic and living French language. It also shows my attachment to the poetry of Luca, which I have read and worked on for almost 20 years, including public readings, recordings for the radio France Culture and a sound and visual installation.

Reading aloud Ghérasim Luca’s poetry has proved to be an incredible tool for learning French, revealing itself to be a way to seize on the language viscerally. This poetry continues to inspire in the women and men who follow the workshop a strong desire to master words. It unites, then scatters the language, so as to deliberately disperse meaning. It catches words through movements of recomposition and reconstruction and belches them out. Belching is a strong sign of life: catch the word, spit out the meaning, spit out the sound.

While preparing the radio program L’Amour Noir (2008) for France Culture, which consisted of a montage of Luca’s poems directed by Marguerite Gateau, I discovered in the INA archives this unique passage by Luca, which echoes strongly with this workshop for learning French as a foreign language :

As a word thrown into space, I don’t feel the need to decode it or justify it, even if I could shed light on its origin or apparition. The way in which I see…I feel that if I speak of the poem, I weaken it. For me it is an attempt at pronouncing a word and if you pronounce a word with your body, if you pronounce viscerally instead of pronouncing it simply from the lips in the function of a word, in a sentence where the word has a subordinate function because it is there as a means to formulate a thought, an idea. Whereas this word is smoothed into its material existence and the passage from syllable to syllable opens up labyrinths. I am convinced that if you truly and fully pronounce a word, you speak the world, you say all words. If you try to embody the word, you embody the world, and you serve its entire power of explosion and the word becomes, finally, a solidified vibration. By definition it is in a state of slavery, because it is crystallized in a concept. But if we remove it from its form and condition as word, its limited condition of what it is, the word is like a being that is locked into its human condition and is what it is. Ghérasim Luca, France Culture, 1977.

I wish to express my sincere thanks to Madame Micheline Catti Luca, Fabienne Raphoz and Bertrand Fillaudeau of José Corti publications, who have followed this work since the creation of the workshop.

Patrick Fontana, mars 2013