22 May 2012

Louis Wolfson and Schizophrenic Languages

Louis Wolfson's second book, the highly alliterative Ma mère, musicienne, est morte de maladie maligne à minuit, mardi à mercredi, au milieu du mois de mai mille977 au mouroir Memorial à Manhattan, which concerns his mother's death from ovarian cancer, has just been re-published in France after its first publication in 1984, and was re-edited by the author in 2010 with a very slightly different title.

Wolfson was born in New York in 1931 and has written two books, both in French, which is not his maternal language: a schizophrenic, after horrific youthful spells in psychiatric hospitals which included EST (ECT in British English), he came to detest English to such an extent that his existential survival depended on avoiding the language at all costs. Teaching himself Hebrew, German and Russian, but particularly French, he tried all possible means to shut out English words, notably those of his domineering mother, and for years strove to create an internal language that automatically bypassed received English words to create alternative foreign forms. 'Where', to give a straightforward example, is changed to the German 'woher', but other transformations involve highly elaborate linguistic convolutions via similar meanings and phonemes held in common, etc, sometimes through a series of different languages.

French publisher Gallimard published his first book, Le Schizo et les langues ('The Schizophhrenic and Languages') in 1970, with a Foreword by Gilles Deleuze. Raymond Queneau found it exceptional, and J.-B. Pontalis and Paul Auster have also shown great interest in Wolfson's work.

Ma mère, musicienne represents a kind of posthumous reconciliation of Wolfson with his mother, closely detailing his dying mother's state of health in her final year. There are some conflicting reports about the dates of events in Wolfson's life, although it seems certain that he later went to live in Montréal, and then Puerto Rico, where he won a lottery that made him a millionaire when he was in his seventies, although several years later he lost his money and unsuccessfully tried to file a suit against those responsible for his investment advice.

Inevitably, Rimbaud's expression 'Je est un autre' ('I is another') from 'Le Bateau ivre' has been referenced, and Le Nouvel Obs suggests that Wolfson's book makes Camus's L'Étranger (which of course also starts after a mother's death and for me is more accurately translated as 'The Stranger' or 'The Foreigner') look, well, of a far more superficial order.

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