A Guardian piece by Nancy Groves focuses on Caroline Bergvall’s multilingual performance Raga Dawn, a part of Estuary, “a 16-day festival celebrating the distinct character of the Essex ‘edgelands’ between Tilbury and Southend”:
Not only is Bergvall duetting her poetry with classical singer Peyee Chen, to a score by Gavin Bryars, the pair are accompanied by the recorded voices of the Punjabi-speaking community of Southend and a group of Romansh speakers from Switzerland. […]
Blame the polyphony of Raga Dawn on Bergvall’s “bilingual brain” – her description, incidentally, though “multilingual” might be more accurate. Born in Germany to French and Norwegian parents, she moved to London in 1989, drawn by art and love (namely, her then girlfriend), and became energised by the queer arts scene of the Vauxhall underground.
As interesting as all that is, what prompted me to post was this passage:
Bergvall’s thoughts on these issues are set out in a thought-provoking 2010 essay, Middling English, in which she attempts to break down the development of modern English into four elements: midden, middle, middling and meddle. As she puts it, the “midden” is the soils of the English language, originated in multiple cultures. The “middle” is the historical Middle English period where the language settled into the one we recognise today. “Middling” is any attempt to standardise English, too often in prejudicial ways. This is something we see playing out in current political and social debate. Should new immigrants learn English as standard? And if so, what English do we mean? As Bergvall says, every new generation brings their own words to the mix: “Pop music and rap and even slam poetry all disturb the language.”
So what about the “meddle”? “The meddle is the artist or writer who messes things up and shows up the language’s complexity and richness,” says Bergvall. “The meddle is wanting to tackle issues, to bring other areas of awareness to the work you make.” Audiences can meddle, too, she adds. “We’re simply jumping in and activating it.”
Good for her: more meddling, less middling! (Thanks go to Trevor for the link.)