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Meshes of Muteness: Maya Deren's Languages

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523–530
Issue number4
Early online date1 Dec 2018
Accepted/In press29 Sep 2018
E-pub ahead of print1 Dec 2018
Published19 Dec 2018

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Born Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine in 1917, the young girl who was later to rename herself Maya Deren emigrated to Syracuse, New York with her parents in 1922. As a schoolgirl and throughout her university years Deren was an aspiring poet, but she declared retrospectively that she was not a very good one because her mind worked in images, which she had been trying in vain to describe in verbal terms. When she began making films, she explains, she realized that she no longer had to translate images into words: ‘it was not like discovering a new medium so much as finally coming home into a world whose vocabulary, syntax, grammar was my mother tongue; which I understood and thought in, but, like a mute, had never spoken’.1 Her 1943 film, Meshes of the Afternoon, taught her to speak in this language, and she credits her collaborator, her then second husband the Czech emigre and avant-garde filmmaker Alexander Hammid, with contributing the mechanics of this speech. Deren transposes her mental images into her films, yet she still talks of film in terms of a language. The transitions and translations that she uses to define where she feels most at home – from word to image, poetry to film – hark back to her initial linguistic and cultural displacement, which lies beyond articulable memory but which is recuperated through the image-making of imagination, creating a bond to a mother tongue that is imagistic, a return home without regression to a pre-linguistic state.

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