Copying without copying


S’entendre parler - speaking, hearing and understanding

In French there is a phrase S’entendre parler 1 that suggests the intimate relation between the words we utter and the meaning that animates them.  Entendre means to hear, but it also means to understand; so the implication is that hearing is in some way a privileged form of understanding.  So maybe you could translate S’entendre parler as: ‘hearing oneself speak and immediately grasping the sense of one’s own utterance’.  If speaking, hearing and understanding is a simple truth of our experience of language, what happens when we repeat the words of others?


Do you feel it’s possible to tell the story of someone else, without telling your own story?

If you want to understand a situation in the world or someone else’s experience of it, what do you do?  You could read a piece of journalism about it.  Maybe watch a documentary.  But another tactic might be to repeat what was spoken in that situation: to take the time to go through it word for word.  Would this process of re-speaking the words from a concrete, particular situation allow you to embody it, and maybe understand it a little better, or relate to it?


The truthful reproduction of typical characters in typical circumstances.

Engels famously said that realism’s principal task is “the truthful reproduction of typical characters in typical circumstances.” Could we come to understand the similarity of our situation with that of others by speaking, hearing and understanding the words of typical characters?  What can we learn by speaking/ hearing not the words a specific person in a specific situation (Fred Goodwin, Laurie Penny, Joyce Wieland) but the position adopted by a typical person, in a typical situation (‘banker’, ‘journalist’, ‘artist’)?               


Copying without copying

This weekend presents a series of events that each place different people in the position of speaking and understanding: artists, lawyers, activists, you (?).  Each event takes something from the world (a trial, personal recollections, typical situations) and restages them almost unaltered.  Because in the act of copying, of replication and repetition or re-presentation, you always do more than just copy, you reanimate.  The weekend is about what happens when we speak, or when we hear someone speak on our behalf, when we share a collective moment of hearing and maybe understanding.


  • 1. This is really a concept advanced by Jacques Derrida, (Cf.: Christopher Norris’s book on him for more on this…)