I don’t quite know how to describe Renee Gladman’s novel Event Factory, but it is fascinating, especially for those of us interested in language.
The protagonist travels to Ravicka, a city-state (that I somehow imagined looking a bit like San Marino) where the language is a combination of words and movements. For example, at one point she wants to apologize, but has trouble “recalling the “turns” I needed to perform my apology…I went through pareis several times, but always tripped up on the same move and had to start over again. You cannot skip ahead, or you’ll be saying something entirely different. I wanted to say, “When you are a visitor to a place, especially one such as Ravicka, it is difficult to remain stationary. The landmarks call out.” But I could not get my body to say “landmark” versus the “shipyard” it kept performing.” (p. 29) Her inability at times to communicate echoes the confusion many travelers feel when in a new place, where a different language is spoken and a different culture is the background.
As the main character says, “If only travelling were about showing off your language skills, if only it did not also demand a certain commitment of body communication, of outright singing or dancing—I think I would be absolutely global by now. In Ravicka, I was barely urban.” (p. 42) I think many of us forget that language does involve a certain amount of facial expressions and movements and we tend to focus on the meaning of words, although obviously Ravicka is an extreme (and made-up) example.
It is worth reading Gladman’s novel not only for her poetic turns of phrase but also for her philosophical ideas about communication.