Embracing the unintelligible / On silence, dance, and speech

by Lara Mimosa Montes

Note: As I was considering the question of Seeking it Outside Poetry, it occured to me that many of my beloved contemporaries were struggling with the same question. Lara Mimosa Montes’s recent move into dance has helped me to consider the questions of silence, movement, and their relation to the work of unlearning. 

I had questions about grammar, particularly the way certain bodies are surveilled as a result of said bodies’ inability to follow convention and speak “proper English.” The imperative that people observe a given set of linguistic conventions is as much about country, nation-state, and class as it is about language, belonging, and body. Therefore, I went to graduate school to do the thing. And learned: the more proficient I became, the more disorganized my thoughts. So unlanguaged I got. That was around the time I started to dance. Upon feeling and upon reckoning with what I was feeling: that interesting sentences are as elusive as they are unhinged because they constitute the border of what is either inelegant or (un)intelligible. That distinction is not relative, nor is it arbitrary. If so much composition is oriented towards teaching the Other how to communicate and subordinate what is “broken,” for something better, then why write? For the sake of clarity? Citizenship? Belonging? And at what cost? Some months ago, while working with a student on a revision of a term paper, I noted another professor’s comment: I can’t read this. The paper was about flogging. Imagine being so insecure about your capacity to speak English that you decide to pursue a doctoral degree in the subject. And still I pause at the preposition. In or On; On or In? What a waste of time. The expectation is such that you then transfer that burden — the gift of proper English — unto others. Give the savage language. Teach them that good grammar. But the longer I taught, the less I had, in the form of words, to give. When I thought about how much it cost to learn, I fell silent before that debt. Movement, for me, then became an expression of that silence, and this speech, in turn, a writing towards that movement.


Lara Mimosa Montes is the author of The Somnambulist. She is a 2018 McKnight Writing Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and senior editor of Triple Canopy.