Intimate Words
Bárbara Malavoglia

“all disorders that disturb us in our practice are in their roots linguistic disorders, and we have to linguistically transform them” – Navtej Johar

I need to untangle a few words.

Words were planted in my body a long time ago. Planted and replanted. They’re seed words, bud words, seedling words. They have created deep roots that run through my spine, spread through all my limbs, pass through the soles of my feet and then through another body, and another, and another, lining up bodies like beads on a necklace. These are bodies that have lived in the past and have kept words with their lives.

All the words were inherited. My body endures words from many lineages: from my ancestors, from the people of this land where I was born, from the mother tongue that licks me, and also from those who, like me, have chosen to ruminate the word dance (that luck, that mess: the dance). The word ‘woman’, the word ‘human’, the word ‘earth’, they all pass through me.

I am simultaneously inhabited by contradictory words: where one exists, the other cannot exist, they say. But there they are, imbricated, entangled, entwined in each other. Sometimes in love, flirting, and overlapping softly and constantly. Sometimes strangled, forcing me to take long analyses, pruning, long untangling of entrails, and roots.

Some words are welcome in the world. Sooner or later you learn to spell them, with your existence. Articulate, choose, and present them. Strengthened and fertilized by general approval, they become full of themselves, and the body full of them. They spread like a plague, rooted in every corner, and one has little choice but to pass through them wherever is going. For me, the worst is the word ‘achieve’. I’m always stumbling over it, even in matters that should have nothing to do with it. The other is ‘duty’. Maybe they’re a wicked pair, they walk together, and the more they occupy the interstices of other words, the more they gain strength, they’re like parasites who strangle the tree they’re coiled up in.    

For example, when they take the word “love”, they become “achieve love” Or, “must dance.” These are the absurd combinations that constantly hinder me. To get rid of them, I have to stop everything, dedicate time to silence, to the life of mysteries, and to everything that is not attainable, that is by no means a duty – and that, if it is, tends to empty itself of its sense. I need to dedicate time and sharpen my ears to listen to another kind of call, from a place closer and further away. Much of my time is this: untie, unhook, and untangle words.

That’s because if we don’t remember the ancient art of paying attention, strong words kill others. Not really kill, because even if it sleeps for centuries a word seed can always sprout unexpectedly, in favorable conditions. But the presence of some more imposing, vigilant words can cause others to spend their lives in a dormant state. For example, ‘achieving’ is in the way of ‘drift’. ‘Duty’ stands in the way of ‘experimentation’. And other less obvious combinations you may find for yourself since this duo of ‘achievement’ and ‘duty’ are like horrors that surround me everywhere.

That’s why some words I keep in a secret garden. They are rare flowers that demand an intimate pulse, like the words ‘subtlety’, ‘nuance’, ‘delight’. I don’t always know the way for the garden, but the word ‘delicacy’ lives at the gate, and I can start by calling it. There are other words which to feel in your mouth and find its everlasting flavor, you have to open ways, cross woods. They are wildflowers like the word ‘freedom’. Some words I cultivate in invisible rites and prefer not to pronounce so that they are not misunderstood, not even by me (secretly, imagine: ‘depths’, ‘luminous’). I also cultivate words from other languages, whose escaping pronunciation keeps secrets that surround me just by imagining them, ‘Anahata’, ‘YY’. Others I ruminate in solitary spaces until slowly their sap and my saliva become one, and bubble together until we drool, like the word ‘sense’.

To think is to choose words to live with. They’re alive. Some so fleeting, mysterious, you have to sharpen your senses to perceive them. To lick them is not easy, even when they seem to be on the tip of your tongue. And when you finally have them inside your mouth, it’s strange how it feels like they’ve always been there. Sometimes to be close to one word you have to take another, which calls it. Or to go through many, one by one, until you get to the one you were looking for. It’s like that with quiet words.

Quiet words are those that live near the unspeakable. To get closer to them you have to think lower. Try to keep a millimeter between each word, here, while you read. Breathe. Quiet words help us to listen. Quiet words, when truly found, can lead us to silence.


Bárbara Malavoglia is a dancer, who works with contemporary dance and Bharatanatyam. She also practices yoga. She was one of the participants of the course Taming the Sensory Body: Memory, Text, Idea. This paper was originally written as an assignment for the course.

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