How can non-verbal communication and gestures by those “living outside language” help us understand the uses and limitations of linguistic translation? This is the overriding question for me after our PHF seminar discussion prompted by Leon Hilton’s paper, “Deligny’s Traces,” based on the efforts of Fernand Deligny (1913–1996) to create viable communities for those generally labelled as “autistic.”
Among Deligny’s many efforts were the “traces” recording the spatial movements of the community’s inhabitants. They are reminiscent of a choreographic notation, collapsing four dimensions into two. Time and spatial depth are minimized, sometimes even eliminated. In this way, they become identifying markers for the community member associated with the tracings. While “living outside language” might be enough to prevent these members from achieving identity and subject formation, these tracings of non-verbal gestures suggest just the opposite: more than fingerprints or DNA, which the individual inherits without any contribution to their shape, these traces are created by the individuals and they encode embodied practices and preferences.
These gestural translations of self—these traces of repetitive, purposeful, even expressive movement—correspond (it seems to me) to the literary translations that engage with the non-verbal elements of a source text, its structure and form at the root of the text’s identity. Deligny’s tracings remind us that non-verbal elements are integral to creating the subject, and the tracings remind us that the identity of a text is so wrapped up in the non-verbal elements that they cannot be easily shed, even in translation.