Vital Vocabulary

By Eliana Otta

Vital Vocabulary comes out of necessity, as we acknowledge the insufficiency of available language to address what is meaningful in times of extreme uncertainty . . . times when we seem to lack words to properly express the depth of our confusion and pain, as well as to articulate what dares to appear as hope, even dreams. Vital Vocabulary considers how these times reinforce our intuitions regarding the need for sweeping change. Even if sometimes all we can do is transform a letter, an intonation, or an agreement on what a word can do.

What words can do becomes tangible when you deal with translation on a daily basis. Coming from a country with 48 languages, Peru, but speaking only one of them (Spanish, the colonial and official one), I moved to start a new life which occurs mostly in English, while trying to learn Greek and basic German. My recent immigration to Europe kindled my interest in the relationship between words, naming and world-making. Diving into my current academic research, while coming from such a strongly oral background and context, I constantly struggle: how can theory approach the richness of embodied knowledge and lived experience that is not in books? While feeling that I inhabit several places at the same time, constantly translating and code-switching, I wonder: which adaptive and empathic tools can be recognized and nurtured within the mestiza, decolonial position that can be helpful for intercultural dialogue and inter-species conviviality?

How do we put our different languages and tools at the service of life? How can we use them for learning to live differently? What is the entanglement between art, imagination and responsibility in the midst of a planetary crisis? These concerns heightened because of the pandemic, and how it exacerbates the global injustice that characterizes the reproduction of life under neoliberalism. Now, more than ever, the kind of pedagogical, artistic and political projects we need should challenge us with bigger questions about life, the conditions for its existence and reproduction outside of capitalism…


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