Lenguas como calcetines, socks that stink and tongues that stick

Elena Lespes Muñoz

  • U+1F441-002


  • 👁️ OPTIQUE de la GARE


  • w.n.

    Black print, 4 × 1,5 cm

  • Annuaire de l’Essonne, p.341


Lenguas como calcetines,
socks that stink and tongues that stick

For several weeks now, I’ve had this orphaned sock wandering around my drawer. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to find its other half. We all have an orphaned sock—or even several—lying around somewhere. And we’ve all wondered where its double could have got to. Personally, I always find it hard to give up on these lonely socks: I keep hoping that, one day, I’ll be able to bring a pair back together so that my feet can once again slip and sweat into them and continue to wear them out. Whenever that does happen, I get a feeling of satisfaction, of completion and a return to order. Despite what people might think, the mystery of the orphaned sock is far from universal, not everybody is paralysed by the idea of dépareillement, mismatching, on the contrary. What is it about my desire to get things right—to pair up—when it comes to socks?

When I think of Mercedes Azpilicueta’s words “lenguas como calcetines” (tongues like socks)—featured in CAC Brétigny’s 2021 exhibition “Bestiario de Lengüitas” (Bestiary of Tonguelets) and taken from Argentinian Nestor Perlongher’s poem Tuyú[1]—I can’t help also thinking about the orphaned socks. Yet what draws me to this expression is precisely the idea of feeling free to change between and combine different tongues, languages, in my speech and writing, just like someone who is at ease with mismatching. In other words, everything I can’t seem to do with my socks. It’s the idea of being able to simply switch to another language in the middle of a sentence if I can’t find the right word—del buen calcetin—in the first language: changing tongues like we would change socks. In short, what I like is the acceptance of a certain amount of disorder, to make of my hesitation—between two languages—a space in which lack and the incomplete are embraced. To not choose, is a choice in itself. While I haven’t yet come to love my odd socks, I can finally say that I love my stuttering, hesitant, sloppy language(s).[2] It took me a long time to learn to love them, to accept the confusion of words. As we hear in Mercedes Azpilicueta’s play, shown as part of the exhibition: “It's not just about tolerating the chaos, but recognising that there's something rotten (maloliente) in everything we do and say. Not everything can be pure and clean, transparent and translucent.”[3] Our socks can’t always be immaculate and orderly, any more than our tongues can.

In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks evokes this transition from one language to another. This back and forth could be perceived as academic disenchantment, but says more about a desire to resist legitimised frameworks of knowledge production and the need to change our ways of thinking with language:

“[...] it is evident that we must change conventional ways of thinking about language, creating spaces where diverse voices can speak in words other than English or in broken, vernacular speech. This means that at a lecture or even in a written work there will be fragments of speech that may or may not be accessible to every individual. Shifting how we think about language and how we use it necessarily alters how we know what we know. At a lecture where I might use Southern black vernacular, [...] I suggest that we do not necessarily need to hear and know what is stated in its entirety, that we do not need to “master” or conquer the narrative as a whole, that we may know in fragments. I suggest that we may learn from spaces of silence as well as spaces of speech, that in the patient act of listening to another tongue we may subvert that culture of capitalist frenzy and consumption that demands all desire must be satisfied immediately [...]”[4]

Perhaps accepting that we may “know in fragments” is exactly what I need to learn to do with my socks. And if this line, “lenguas como calcetines”, affects me so much, it is, I believe, because it connects my desire for disorder with my inability to handle it. “Bestiario de Lengüitas” is a space from which this desire can be nurtured—whether it concerns socks, odours, bodies or tongues. It’s a place where we can learn from silences and where patience and chaos go hand in hand. This bestiary of little tongues—inherited, invented and regurgitated—is set forth from the outset as the foul lair of damaged and antagonistic characters. In the script, the languages of Zapam-Zucum, of the ruda leaf, La Llorona, Néstor Perlongher, the Porcupine, a Choir of corpses, Las Yarará-Warrah, Crochet Vagabond intermingle in a kind of “breviary male dito”. We aren’t looking to say it right, but feel it right. From this cacophony, emerges like a dense and hot fog the image of a home with blurred and shifting contours, but which is nonetheless enveloping—“lenguas como calcetines”, mismatched perhaps, but comfortable. We can find in “Bestiario de Lengüitas” as much an attempt to “rethink our relationship to place, home, or dwelling”[5] as a search for a language of one’s own, or to be more precise, a language of one’s own in relation to others.[6] It's about finding somewhere as comfortable as an old sock. That is to say, a place in which to slip, find your bearings, rest or be agitated, feel and make felt, but also a place to deform, wear out and change out of.

The “dirty translations” that swarm Mercedes Azpilicueta’s work, therefore, are not so much an admission of laziness or impatience as a desire for change, contamination and transformation. A preoccupation with ​​equivocation, a need to find bodies in both the interlacing of and friction and antagonism of tongues.[7] Be satisfied with shortcomings, invent around and from them—make of this mismatch a philosophy. In the end, intertwinement is already an act of translation, a fragile exchange that favours juxtaposition and a back-and-forth to equivalence. Hay que ser capaz de poner sabor e irresolución en lo que se dice[8], the Aymara[9] sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui tells us. Thus, the poorly quoted, the poorly translated, the poorly said coexist  in “Bestiario de Lengüitas”—so many bloodlines from Néstor Perlongher's neobarroso, where mud caresses baroque embellishments and language nurtures mismatched combinations. The neobarroso—a fusion-manifesto of the barroco and the barro/mud—represents “la lepra creadora que corroe los estilos oficiales del bien decir[10], “esa lengua amputada deslizando la baba”.[11] In other words, it’s a tongue freed from its mouth, which slobbers, marks and transforms everything it finds in its path. These solitary socks that will never be found and which, having become tongues, write their own stories. Slobbering—and salivating—rather than speaking properly. If Mercedes Azpilicueta’s bestiary allows us to see, hear and feel the disorder of bodies, ​​prosthetics and tongues, it’s because desire—like in Perlongher's work—is a driving force that breaks down rules and classifications. It brings together and combines opposites, welcoming them “with open arms”.[12] The borders of things and beings find themselves weakened, vulnerable, porous, open to contamination. It drools, it sticks, it smells. It’s a mess. Lenguas como calcetines.

Putting on mismatches, speaking in-between languages, are similar—and day-to-day—ways of doing and not doing, of speaking and not speaking, of making things and our relationships with the world indefinite. It means learning to live among contradictions and to grow with and through them—as well as against them. For Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, ch’ixi is a metaphor for this liminal space where the clash of opposites creates a zone of incertitude, a space of friction that refuses pacification and unity.[13]

“Ch’ixi simplemente designa en aymara a un tipo de tonalidad gris. Se trata de un color que por efecto de la distancia se ve gris, pero al acercarnos nos percatamos de que esta hecho de punto de color puro y agonico: manchas blancas y negras entreveradas. Un gris jaspeado que, como tejido o marca corporal, distingue a ciertas figurasel k’usillu—o a ciertas entidadesla serpienteen las cuales se manifiesta la potencia de atravesar fronteras y encarnar polos opuestos de manera reverberante.[14]

It’s a grey that comes from an imperceptible mix of white and black where the optical illusion takes precedence over, but never overpowers totally, the real. It’s a matter of perspective: a ch’ixi sock as opposed to a dirty one. A sort of word-talisman, the idea of ch'ixi coheres with the Aymara belief that something simultaneously is and is not. It is the remedy that is a poison, and vice versa, a contradiction that remains unresolved, which offers and retains difference as its contentious character.

If I come back to this story of the orphaned sock—because, after all, we have to tie things up—I can see that what I referred to as “dépareillement”, mismatching, is in the end just a question of perspective. And that my inability to see ch’ixi is precisely because I only see the black dots and the white dots—only the sock and the absence of its partner. The synthesis that I want to find at all costs simply does not exist. Ch'ixi is precisely that: acknowledging and making one's own the permanent, internal and subjective struggle of elements, those which we inherit in spite of ourselves, those that are present or absent, those we continue to build step by step. It means accepting a world in which “life is a balance between what is and what is not”.[15] Bestiario ch’ixi. Lenguas ch’ixi. Cuerpos ch’ixi. Calcetines ch’ixi. And if “Bestiario de Lengüitas”—and the old socks—have taught me anything, it’s to be open to and feel these possibilities and the conflicting forces that bear them. Precisely because, in them, anything can happen. And in fact, in them, everything does happen, everything is shaken and unsettled, in permanent chaos. The tongues and bodies in “Bestiario de Lengüitas” clump together and contaminate each other, in a spontaneous and everyday hacer(se)[16], to form a world with a “baroque ethos”.[17] The ecology of knowledge woven there, made up of many questions unanswered questions, encourages knowledge that is both cautious and unbridled, that is aware of its inability to grasp the complexity of the world and its permanent need to (dis)place itself. In Mercedes Azpilicueta’s work, this ecology of knowledge is also an ecology of languages from which to re-politicise daily life. Where everything, tongues and the spaces between them, remains to be seen as ch'ixi.

Elena Lespes Muñoz

Publication made on the occasion of the exhibition “Bestiario de Lengüitas”.


[1] Poem published in the 2nd issue of the journal XUL, edited by Jorge Santiago Perednik, in September 1981. The original quote is “lenguas manguadas como medias”, which means “tongues rotting like socks”. Molly Weigel's English translation of the poem can be read on the XULdigital website: https://www.bc.edu/research/xul/xul_reader/eng_024.html. In Argentina, the word medias could refer to either socks or tights. In Spain, calcetines is the word for socks and medias for tights. In the back-and-forth between languages and continents that characterises Mercedes Azpilicueta's life, medias could just as well become calcetines.

[2] I grew up between two languages, my mother’s Spanish and my father’s French, and within these languages, there is Andalusian, Castilian, the slang of my teenage years, the school French, the academic argument, etc.

[3] Mercedes Azpilicueta, Bestiario de Lengüitas: An Audio Play, 2020, 1 min 17 sec, a CAC Brétigny production, translated from Spanish to French by Annabela Tournon.

[4] bell hooks, Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom, Routledge, (1994), p. 173-174.

[5] Virginie Bobin, in the CAC Brétigny exhibition booklet.

[6] Marie Legros M, in How to become irrésistibles, EBABX—École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux and How to become, 2022, p. 5.

[7] Myriam Suchet discusses the heterolingual universe to refer to this questioning of language as unified and indivisible, preferring a porosity of encounters and contradictions that make the language at the same time as undoing it over a fetishization of unilingualism. To find out more, read L’imaginaire hétérolingue. Ce que nous apprennent les textes à la croisée des langues, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2014, or hear her speak on the podcast lenguas vivas / langues vivantes / living tongues recorded with *Duuu radio during the exhibition “Bestiario de Lengüitas” at CAC Brétigny: https://www.cacbretigny.com/en/agenda/518-lenguas-vivas-langues-vivantes-living-tongues

[8] We have to be “capable of putting salt and irresolution in what we say,” from Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Un mundo ch’ixi es posible, Ensayos desde un presente en crisis, Buenos-Aires, Tinta Limón, 2018, p. 8. Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’s text has yet to be translated from Spanish into French. A translation into English by Nicolás Salazar Sutil is set to be published by Bloomsbury in July 2023. In the meantime, the translations given here have been made from Spanish into French by Elena Lespes Muñoz, and from that French into English by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn.

[9] Aymara refers to people from the Lake Titicaca area who were first conquered by the Incas and then by the Spanish in the 16th century, and who integrated various elements into their culture in order to survive. It also refers to a vernacular language spoken today by about two million people, mostly in Bolivia.

[10] “[...] the creative leprosy corrodes the official styles of proper speech [...]”, translation from Spanish into French by Elena Lespes Muñoz, and from that French into English by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn. From Néstor Perlongher, Prosa Plebeya, Buenos Aires, Colihue, 2008 (1996), p. 94.

[11] “this amputated tongue that spills its drool”, translation from Spanish into French by Elena Lespes Muñoz, and from that French into English by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn. From “Moreira”, in Néstor Perlongher, Poemas completos (1980-1992), Buenos Aires, Seix Barral Biblioteca Breve, 1997, p. 72.

[12] Mercedes Azpilicueta, Bestiario de Lengüitas: An Audio Play, op. cit.

[13] For Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, ch’ixi is a tool for thinking about a kind of cultural hybridity that does not try to synthesise, but acknowledges the conflicting movements between the European and the indigenous South American.

[14] “In Aymara, “ch’ixi” refers simply to a shade of grey. It is a colour that, seen from afar, appears to be grey, but which when we get closer, we see is made up of a struggle between dots of pure colour: black and white spots intertwined. A marbled grey which, like fabric or marks on the body, distinguishes certain figures—el k’usillu—or certain entities—the snake—which stand out for their ability to cross borders and embody polar opposites in a way that reverberates.” Translation from Spanish into French by Elena Lespes Muñoz, and from that French into English by Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn. In Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Un mundo ch’ixi es posible, op. cit., p. 79.

[15] Mercedes Azpilicueta, Bestiario de Lengüitas: An Audio Play, op. cit.

[16] Hacer in the sense “do”, hacerse in the sense “doing oneself”, “to do to oneself”.

[17] For the Equatorian Marxist philosopher Bolívar Echeverría, the “baroque ethos” describes precisely the active disguising of culture and identity that the indigenous South Americans undertook in order to survive after being moved to the city by the colonial authorities: agreeing to be devoured by forms of social reproduction and social constructions that literally came from “another world”. The concept of “codigofagia” is at the heart of what Echeverría describes as a cultural hybridisation, where the so-called conquered transform the code from within, and transcend it through excess. See “El ethos barroco y los indios”, Review Sophia, Quito-Equateur, no 2, 2008, accessed online January 2023: https://www.flacsoandes.edu.ec/sites/default/files/agora/files/1260220574.elethos_barroco_y_los_indios_0.pdf