Palliative Care Conversations: Clinical and Applied Linguistic Perspectives

Gramlingnewstoolstoryde Gruyter 2018, series Language and Social Life, co-authored with Robert Gramling MD, DSc (University of Vermont). Pre-order here.


An excerpt from the first page of the book:

“Palliative Care Conversations arose from the interactional work of hundreds of people speaking with one another about life-and-death issues ranging from the profound to the minute—often under conditions of great duress, suffering, and distraction. On one level, the “work” these people do—for and with one another—is the work of emotion, understanding, spirituality, empathy, morality, comfort, expertise, logistics, nourishment, community, care, and imagination. But this work is always also the work of conversation, where participants—ranging from physicians and nurse practitioners to medical students, family friends, and seriously ill persons themselves—spontaneously co-create a complex and diverse fabric of conversational speech acts among them, which help them accomplish certain interactional goals and meanings in certain moments. Sometimes these goals are vague and diffuse to the observer, sometimes they are stunningly overt and precise. Sometimes participants’ contributions to conversations have to do with concrete clinical realities, and sometimes they have nothing to do with hospitals or illness whatsoever. Sometimes various participants’ goals coincide with one another; often they do not. We titled this book Palliative Care Conversations in the plural, so as to emphasize that we do not believe in a single exemplary, model conversation that ought to be followed in contexts of serious, life-limiting illness—contexts often called End-of-Life conversations—when multiple curative interventions have proven ineffective over time. There are many such models, and many of these are presented in this book, thanks to the efforts of the patients, families, and clinicians featured in the forthcoming chapters.”


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Monash-PratoI travel to Prato, Italy, this week to talk with colleagues from the #Transcollaborate working group about the ins and outs of collaborative translating in 2017. My talk description is below.

Seven Stadia Long:
On the Disorderly Social Sojourn of TransCollaboration

This talk takes a wide-angle look at the politics, political economy, ethics, linguistics, historical grounds and contemporary worldviews that compel us in 2017 to recommit to the ancient norm of translating and translanguaging collaboratively—particularly in times of for-profit war, linguaphobia, social death, reactionary monolingualism, and the radical acceleration of the “translation machine of global credit-debt” (Lezra 2015: 175). Drawing on various traditions of theory within and without of Translation Studies, this talk however focuses ultimately on the practical and social experience of collaborating subjects, in an era when automated, individuated, algorithmic, and crowd-sourced cross-linguistic big-data management platforms are presumed to ensure optimal reliability. In this light, collaborative translation is re-envisioned as a counter-practice of resistance, one in which new tools for mutual recognition, social defamiliarization, historical kinship, and metalinguistic reflection may be seen to dwell. Accordingly, the talk offers some initial recommendations for practitioners on how to get ready for translingual collaboration, both for those who already love “group work” and for those who may treasure the solitary journey most.

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Steganographic Cover art


My book The Invention of Monolingualism has been out for a few months now, and I’ve enjoyed seeing it in the hands of friends, strangers, colleagues, teachers, and researchers. One particular aspect of the process I’ve been pleased about is the cover photo by Matt Thorsen. I’ve met Matt a few times through friends in Burlington, Vermont, and I’ve enjoyed my conversations with him immensely. The night we first met, back around 2001, Matt was projecting his photographs from the second-floor window of a house on Saint Louis Street in Burlington’s Old North End. His artwork  was landing on the clapboard side of the house across the street; the materials of the house and of the images were scraping curiously at each other.

The image on the cover of The Invention of Monolingualism is Matt’s photo “The Family Organ.” It was given to me as a gift by a mutual friend, Don Eggert, Associate Publisher of the Vermont alternative news-weekly Seven Days. The photo came to me in 5×7 format, glued onto a stiff brown tackboard, with some cut-out print letters glued to it below in yellow. I don’t remember what the letters spelled out, and I’ve never quite felt entitled to ask Matt or Don to tell me what they think about the photo themselves.

The photo itself has always warmed me with its quizzical, cozy, haunting haphazardness—something along the lines of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Filling Station.” The focus is a bit off, which is something I hardly notice when looking at it, because of my congenital ocular albinism. (Images that appear passably clear to me are often jarring to others.) I was surprised and delighted to learn that Bloomsbury were allowing me to use it as is—without sharpening or otherwise adulterating the blur, and even without a negative available.

Generally, the delivery of a “family organ” in mid-2oth century America signaled a household’s arrival into affluence and leisure. Like monolingualism, the household organ was a hard-won prize, after centuries of industrialization. Also, like monolingualism, the technology of the electronic organ itself relied on the hyperrationalization of meaning-making materials and their division into manageable, transposable parts. The organ was a particular oddity of political economy—evocative and performative at once.

In Matt Thorsen’s image, the organ is unplugged and is covered up. Perhaps it is about to be moved somewhere else, having ceded its once celebrated functionality and social prestige to more advanced technologies? Maybe, though, the placement of the cord (for easy reach) and the inviting distance between bench and organ signal that it is actually in quite frequent use, despite appearances. What kind of room is this anyway—with so little else on the walls, and no particular floor covering? Maybe the glowing throw-blanket atop it is more talismanic than disattentive? Maybe the family loves this organ more than it thinks it does—more than its other, more conspicuous possessions?

One strong personal motivation for sharing Matt’s photo on the cover of the book was the simple likelihood that, if copies of The Invention of Monolingualism were to be floating around bookstores, offices, and libraries, I’d never face the prospect of losing—in a fire, a move, or an overeager decluttering—this beautiful gift that was given to me decades ago. So I suppose I’ve just hidden one of my most treasured images in plain sight.

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Fisch out of Water — à la carte!

The German Studies Department and the Deutscher Studenten Club celebrated the sixth year of Fisch out of Water on October 27, at Cafe Passé. With performances and readings in Spanish, Turkish, German, Hebrew, and French, around fifty members of the Tucson community took part in the experience of multilingual being and accented language. In this installment of Fisch, performers circulated to the various tables at the Cafe, performing the piece that the table had ordered. Appetizers and deserts came in the form of original music in Spanish from the stage, and cover performances in German. Please join us for the next Fisch on December 8!dsc09121

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New essay on Pina Bausch


A new essay, entitled “Seven Types of Multilingualism, or Wim Wenders Enfilms Pina Bausch” appeared in Lisa Patti and Tijana Mamula’s wonderful new collection The Multilingual Screen, published by Bloomsbury. Dance is a notoriously difficult topic to write about because, even more than language, it is a form of expression and competence that does not succumb to singular meanings and interpretations. I welcome feedback on the essay and look forward to discussing it with you, especially if you’ve watched, enjoyed, or disliked Wenders’ Pina film. You can find the essay here.

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Keynote Lecture: Disinventing Monolingualism in Modern Languages Research


The Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8NX
Friday 2 and Saturday 3 December 2016

Teaching and research in Modern Languages are conventionally structured in ways which appear to insist on national or linguistic specificity. Work on the transnational inevitably poses questions on the nature of the underlying framework of Modern Languages: whether the discipline should be construed and practised as the inquiry into separate national traditions or as the study of cultures and their interactions. These structures seem inadequate at a time when the study of cultures delimited by the concept of the nation/national identities is becoming more difficult to justify in a world increasingly defined by the transnational and translingual, and by the material and non-material pressures of globalization. Challenging the assumption that cultures are self-contained units that correspond to sharply defined national boundaries must become an essential part of all disciplinary fields and sub-fields that make up Modern Languages, as they seek to avoid the risk of methodological nationalism and of participating in the very structures that it is their purpose to critique. At the same time, how might the transnational acknowledge the residual pull of the nation as a potent, albeit porous, container of cultural identity, and broker of citizenship?

A great deal of research within Modern Languages is already, albeit often implicitly, concerned with the transnational dimension of culture. In so doing, it poses questions about language, translation and multi-lingualism; about the set of practices that make up a sense of location and of belonging to a geographically determined site; about the notions of temporality that obtain within cultures; about modes of understanding subjectivity and alterity. All these questions are of fundamental importance for the study not only of the contemporary world, and its likely future, but for the study of the past.

The aim of the conference is to explore how the ‘cultural’ and the ‘transcultural’ cannot be studied in isolation but rather need to be seen as part of a complex system of circulation which goes beyond national boundaries, canons or linguistic discreteness. The conference aims to bring together researchers who are working on the transnational across Modern Languages and whose work poses questions both on how we study culture and how we produce a version of Modern Languages that is fully respondent to practices of human mobility and cultural exchange.


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New book on multilingual cinema

multilingualscreenFrom Bloomsbury’s publicity blurb: “The Multilingual Screen is the first edited volume to offer a wide-ranging exploration of the place of multilingualism in cinema, investigating the ways in which linguistic difference and exchange have shaped, and continue to shape, the medium’s history. Moving across a vast array of geographical, historical, and theoretical contexts-from Japanese colonial filmmaking to the French New Wave to contemporary artists’ moving image-the essays collected here address the aesthetic, political, and industrial significance of multilingualism in film production and reception. In grouping these works together, The Multilingual Screen discerns and emphasizes the areas of study most crucial to forging a renewed understanding of the relationship between cinema and language diversity. In particular, it reassesses the methodologies and frameworks that have influenced the study of filmic multilingualism to propose that its force is also, and perhaps counterintuitively, a silent one. While most studies of the subject have explored linguistic difference as a largely audible phenomenon-manifested through polyglot dialogues, or through the translation of monolingual dialogues for international audiences-The Multilingual Screen traces some of its unheard histories, contributing to a new field of inquiry based on an attentiveness to multilingualism’s work beyond the soundtrack.”

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