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After Babel, translate


from 14 December 2016 to 20 March 2017


Mucem J4,

Level 2 (800 sq.m)



Exhibition Curator: Barbara Cassin, Research Director at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), philologist and philosopher


Executive Curator: Sophie Bernillon, Library Conservationist at Mucem


Scientific Committee: Annie Berthier, Jean-Marie Borzeix, Patricia Falguières, Thierry Grillet, Alain de Libera, Jacques Leenhardt, Charles Malamoud, Charles Mela, Xavier North, Carlo Ossola, Roland Schaer, Danièle Wozny


Exhibition Designer: Jacques Sbriglio, architect


With warm thanks to George Steiner who gave us his permission to use the title After Babel.


“The language of Europe is translation”
Umberto Eco


The After Babel, Translate exhibition is running at the Mucem from 14 December 2016 to 20 March 2017. Babel, a Hebrew word meaning 'confusion', is in reference to the Tower of Babel, the origin of language diversity, but is this diversity a curse or an opportunity? Answer: an opportunity, provided there is translation.


Translation is one of the great cultural and social challenges of our globalised world. To translate is to prefer the costly and sometimes tricky task of tackling differences between languages, cultures and world views to compare and reconcile them over accepting fast, basic communication in more or less artificial languages ('global English’ or Globish today).


First and foremost translation is a historical event. The translation routes, via Greek, Latin and Arabic, are the routes along which knowledge and power were transferred. ‘The language of Europe is translation' said Umberto Eco. The civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean were built on this paradoxical practice of saying 'almost' the same thing and inventing as you went along, at the juncture of knowledge and languages.


It is also a contemporary challenge. Language diversity might often seem to be an obstacle to the emergence of a united society and a common political space, but the After Babel, Translate exhibition turns this proposition on its head and shows how translation, this bridging of differences, is a good model for today’s citizenship.


With an abstract idea – the crossover from one language to another – as its premise, the exhibition invites visitors to see, think and explore this ‘in between’ space. From the myth of the Tower of Babel to the Rosetta Stone, from Aristotle to Tintin and from the Divine Word to sign languages, the exhibition presents nearly 200 hundred artworks, objects, manuscripts, documents and installations, from the simple to the spectacular, that demonstrate the challenges and stakes of translation.


Sponsored by the Fondation PwC France & Afrique Francophone, a founding sponsor.


With the support of ADT International.


Une exposition du 40e anniversaire du Centre Pompidou


Exhibition organised with the exceptional support of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.






Place: J4 | 2ème étage du J4

Type of audience:


Opening days and hours:

J4 | from 14 December 2016 to 20 March 2017
Dans le sillage de l’exposition Après Babel, traduire, le Mucem propose un temps fort conçu autour de cinq grands...
Du Mercredi 25 Janvier au dimanche 5 Février 2017
Du 26 décembre au 1er janvier 2017, à l’occasion de l’exposition Après Babel, traduire, les mots se mettent en...
Jeune public
Du 26 décembre 2016 au 01 janvier 2017
En amont de l’ouverture de l’exposition « Après Babel, traduire », le Mucem a lancé, dans plusieurs...
Occasional meeting
Samedi 21 janvier 2017 à partir de 11h
Avec : Barbara Cassin (CNRS, LabexTransfers et commissaire de l’exposition Après Babel, Traduire, Souleymane...
Scientific and professional meetings
Le vendredi 16 décembre 2016 à partir de 18h


Practical Information


+33 (0)4 84 35 13 13 from 9 am to 8 pm, 7 days a week

reservation@mucem.org / mucem.org




• Mucem tickets

> Permanent and temporary exhibitions €9.5/€5 (valid for the whole day)

• Family tickets

> Permanent and temporary exhibitions €14

• Guided tours €12/€9/€5 (under 18s)

• Audio-guide €2


> Access to the Mucem’s outdoor areas and gardens is free of charge during the museum’s opening hours.

Free admission to exhibitions for all visitors the first Sunday of every month.


> Exhibition admission is free of charge for under 18s, job seekers, people claiming basic welfare, people with disabilities and accompanying support people, and professionals.


> Free admission to the Galerie de la Méditerranée only for teachers holding a Pass Éducation and visitors aged 18-25.


Fast track admission

Buy your tickets on line at mucem.org, fnac.com, ticketmaster.fr, digitick.com






Open daily except Tuesdays


From 11 am to 6 pm: December-March


Last admission 45 minutes before the site closes for the day.

Visitors will be asked to vacate exhibition rooms 15 minutes before the site closes.





> Group visits (7 visitors or more) of the exhibition areas and outdoor areas on the site must be booked at least two weeks in advance for guided tours and one week in advance for non-guided tours.


> Visiting hours for groups: 9-11 am

Groups must book in advance.




Basse fort Saint-Jean entrance: 201, quai du Port.

Panier entrance: Parvis de l’église Saint-Laurent.                      

J4 entrance: 1, esplanade du J4.

Metro Vieux-Port or Joliette stations.

Tram T2 République / Dames or Joliette stops.

82, 82s, 60 bus routes, Fort Saint-Jean stop / 582 night bus routes.

49 bus route Église Saint-Laurent stop.

Paid parking

Esplanade du J4 / Vieux-Port / Fort Saint-Jean and Hôtel de Ville.






  • Learning facilities provided weekends and school holidays / Audio guides / Visit pamphlet


  • In the entrance hall

‘Before Babel’: a multimedia installation imagined by Pierre Giner, from 14 December, takes visitors on a world tour of languages, accompanied by the exhibition’s curator Barbara Cassin.


  • Guided tours


- A tour of the exhibition for adults


- A visit of the exhibition for middle and secondary schools (90 minutes for school years 6-12)
"Bom dia, salam, hello, dobar dan, kalimera, shalom! A multilingual guide welcomes you to talk all things language: anyone who teaches languages knows that every translation has its pitfalls, its problems of comprehension. The exhibition shows how translation is the art of bridging differences, a good model for citizenship today and how young students should engage their curiosity in others.’


- Quésaco tour/workshop for middle and secondary schools (90 minutes for school years 9-12)

Option to pair the tour with the Quèsaco workshop, sponsored by the translation company A.D.T. International.

‘After an interactive tour of the exhibition, delve further into the subject of translation by attending a workshop on etymology. Taking words in the French vocabulary such as kif-kif, quèsaco and week-end, we trace these words back to their roots and weave a story from these rich linguistic threads.’


  • Christmas holidays: Jeux de mots  (Word Games)

From 26 December 2016 to 1 January 2017 from 3 pm – Auditorium and forum

Jeux de mots – Stories, performances and films echoing the themes of the After Babel, Translate exhibition

During the second week of the Christmas holidays, the big stars of the After Babel, Translate exhibition will be offering a word to the wise: through stories, performances and film, words take centre stage at Mucem!

Be they wise, gentle or veiled, words will be exchanged and entertain, from the auditorium to the forum, where the whole family is invited to decorate an eloquent ‘Christmas word tree’… Who will have the last word?


  • Babel mix

Babel mix brings together: La Castellane, Saint-Just, La Capelette, Mer et Colline and Olivier Bleu social centres; Collège Jacques Prévert, the association C’est la faute à Voltaire; Baumettes Prison, and the EPFF training centre.

The project consists of collecting words labelled untranslatable and the context of their usage:

What word in French or another language have you had most difficulty understanding and translating? And why?

The words collected with partners will be mapped out and displayed in the exhibition, as an audiovisual installation.

The project consists of three steps:

  • Explore the exhibition and take part in a collaborative project.
  • Assemble outside the Mucem’s walls to promote the project to users of St Charles station on 1 December.
  • See the results and the exhibition at a big open day at Mucem on Saturday 21 January (museum open to the general public).
  • After Babel Late Night

10 February 2017 – 7 pm-midnight – Free admission – J4 – Special open night

In partnership with Borderline and students from Aix-Marseille University

At Mucem, a private view is an excuse for a party! At this late-night opening, students will be your guides for the evening as they provide their fun and original take on the exhibition. When your brain needs a break, get yourself down to the forum for a back-to-back DJ set, a collective mash-up of languages, groove, funk, soul and electro.

The Late Nights offer a fresh way to experience the museum. Expect unusual tours, music performances and events with a difference.



2) Scientific round table

Three monotheisms and their untranslatables: God, the book, the non-believer

16 December 2016 – 6-8 pm – i2mp

Free admission subject to available places, register at i2mp@mucem.org


This round table organised in association with the After Babel, Translate exhibition invites participants to explore several key terms picked out in Hebrew and Aramaic from the Torah, in Greek and Latin from the Bible, and in Arabic from the Quran. These will form the basis of a discussion on the way in which each book is named in its language or languages, how ‘God’ is named, and how we share one inside and one outside. This angle of approach, i.e. languages, seemed obvious given that each of the three books is said, in one way or another, to have been ‘revealed’ through an organic connection with a language and would be spread (or not) in its translated version. In a global society where different forms of fundamentalism are clashing, complexifying the universal is crucial. Performing a comparative reading of the sacred texts in the languages in which they were written would seem an effective way to do so.

This round table will close the two days of the international workshop “The untranslatables of the three monotheisms” and the results presented to the public.

Key participants: Barbara Cassin (CNRS, Labex Transfers and curator of the After Babel, Translate exhibition; Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University); Philippe Borgeaud (University of Geneva), and Adi Ophir (Brown/Tel Aviv universities), in partnership with Labex TransferS (CNRS – ENS – Collège de France) and Université Paris-Sciences-Lettres.



3) Highlights of After Babel, Translate


In the wake of the After Babel, Translate exhibition, Mucem is organising a number of highlights including talks and discussions and a programme of film screenings.

Two major themes have been chosen, to echo those of the exhibition:

- Translating the word of God (25, 26 and 27 January 2017)

- Bridging differences (2 and 3 February 2017)

- A film programme: ‘Cinema, a universal language?’ (4 and 5 February 2017)


In the current climate in France and the rest of Europe, where tensions, introverted assertions of identity and political-religious debates are rife, the Mucem is wholly embracing its role as a ‘bridge’ between cultures and civilisations. The After Babel, Translate exhibition is a perfect opportunity to explore these inflammatory issues and to discuss, through the medium of languages and translation between cultures, this increasing lack of understanding. What goes on ‘in between’? How can we create a common world? What place does a religious dimension and, more specifically, monotheisms have in a city? What tools can translation provide us with to learn more about the Other?

Passing through languages and translation opens new perspectives which need to be explored, even when obstacles, interpretations set in stone and sacred words can stymie the act of sharing.


Translating the Divine Word around the three monotheisms at the heart of the Mediterranean: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


Three distinguished guests, the cinematographer Nurith Aviv, the writer Frédéric Boyer and the philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne, will lead the three evening events to be held on 25, 26 and 27 January.

The Mucem has devised an original format for these evenings, involving the participation of students from Aix-en-Provence University’s Political Studies Institute and students from secondary schools in Marseille.

Studying the texts, films and books produced by the guests in advance, the students will prepare the round table and be the ones to ask the questions on stage. They are not mere spectators at this evening of talk and discussion, but the actors of the event, in conversation with the special guests first and then the public afterwards.

This original format, which shifts the perspective and involves the younger generations in the discussion, has been experimented on two previous occasions by the Mucem. Once around the theme of ‘Happiness, what happiness?’ with guests including Pierre Rabhi and Edgar Morin, in January 2015, and then around the theme of ‘So where is France going?’, in January 2016 when guests included Patrick Boucheron, Sudhir Hazareesing and Marie José Mondzain.

Translating the Divine Word will be tackling a sensitive subject on the political agenda which is igniting intense societal debate across Europe.


  • Wednesday 25 January 2017 – 7 pm – Auditorium Germaine Tillion

Translating the Divine Word: from the perspective of Judaism with Nurith Aviv, cinematographer, who has made a film for the After Babel, Translate exhibition. From her film-maker’s point of view, she constantly delves into questions relating to languages, translation and multiple memories that emerge in the city. What does it mean to translate the word of God in images?

Nurith Aviv: film director and director of photography, she has worked with such directors as René Allio, Jacques Doillon, Agnès Varda and Amos Gitaï. Film credits include D’une langue l’autre (2004); Langue sacrée, langue parlée (2008) and Traduire (2011).


  • Thursday, 26 January 2017 – 7 pm – Auditorium Germaine Tillion

Translating the Divine Word: from the perspective of Christianity with Frédéric Boyer, writer. He was the principal editor of Bayard’s publication of the famous Bible in 2011 with contributions from specialists, philologists and writers. What does translating the Bible mean today? What place should be attributed to literature and the contribution of writers in this editorial and translation feat? Is the Bible an ‘untranslatable’, i.e. as suggested by Barbara Cassin, the exhibition’s curator, a text which continues to be translated over and over and over again?

Frédéric Boyer: writer, translator and editor. He coordinated the translation of the Bible Nouvelle traduction (Bayard, 2001) and has produced new translations of St. Augustine’s Confessions (Les Aveux, POL, 2008). He was awarded the Inter book prize, in 1993, for Des choses idiotes et douces (POL) and also wrote La Bible notre exil (POL, 2002) and Bible, les récits fondateurs, (Bayard, 2016).

This evening is part of the Nuit des idées (Night of Ideas) organised by the Institut français.


  • Friday 27 January 2017 – 7 pm – Auditorium Germaine Tillion

Translating the Divine Word: from the perspective of Islam with Souleymane Bachir Diagne, philosopher. His publications include Comment philosopher en islam? (How to Philosophise in Islam?). Can the word of God, revealed in surahs and verses to the prophet Muhammad and ultimately forming a holy book, the Quran, be translated? his African background and taking the example of the Quran’s translation into Wolof, Souleymane Bachir Diagne leads a fascinating discussion and questions the ‘ambiguous feat’ of translating the word of God in Islam.

Souleymane Bachir Diagne: philosopher, and professor at Columbia University, New York. His published works include Islam and Open Society: Fidelity and Movement in the Philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal (Codesria, 2010); Comment philosopher en islam? (Le Panama, 2008) and Bergson post-colonial (CNRS, 2011).


The theme of the second event in this series of gatherings and discussions is: Bridging differences, 2 and 3 February 2017.

Sparked by language usage, literature and questions raised by translation, this talk discusses the problems faced by our contemporary societies in which issues such as the Other, differences, complementarity and incompatibility have ignited controversial arguments.

Passing from one language to another and translation, between cultures, open fresh perspectives and bridge differences. Two fascinating evenings of talk and discussion during which students from Aix-en-Provence University’s Political Studies Institute and students from partner middle and secondary schools will be putting questions to our guests.


  • Thursday 2 February 20177 pm – Auditorium Germaine Tillion

Bridging differences: thinking between languages, with Heinz Wismann and Marin Rueff.

Heinz Wismann: philosopher and philologist, Emeritus Research Director at the EHESS. His major publications include Penser entre les langues (Albin Michel, 2012) and, with Jean Noël Jeanneney, Une idée fausse est un fait vrai. Les stéréotypes nationaux en Europe (Odile Jacob, 2000).

Martin Rueff: philosopher, poet and translator, professor at the University of Geneva. He oversaw the publication of works by Cesare Pavese (Quarto, Gallimard, 2008) and Jean Starobinski (Quarto, Gallimard, 2016). He is the author of Différence et identité. Michel Deguy, situation d’un poète lyrique à l’apogée du capitalisme culturel, (Hermann, 2009).


  • Friday 3 February 20177 pm – Auditorium Germaine Tillion

Bridging differences: a part of me in the other, with Magyd Cherfi and Barbara Cassin.

If translating is the ultimate medium to bridge differences, how can translation serve as a good model for citizenship today? A talk between Barbara Cassin, the exhibition curator, and Magyd Cherfi, vocalist in the band Zebda and author of the recently published Ma part de Gaulois: at a time when discussions around national identity and integration are provoking controversial arguments, our guests will explain how translation – the process of transposing words from one language to another – is also about learning about the Other.


Barbara Cassin: Curator of the After Babel, Translate exhibition, philosopher and philologist, Research Director at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), she is currently president of the Collège international de philosophie. She is the author of Google moi : la deuxième mission de l’Amérique (Albin Michel, 2006) and was the principal editor of the dictionary Vocabulaire européen de la philosophie (Le Seuil/Le Robert, 2004).


Under the combined influence of the Clash, Madame Bovary and Jean-Paul Sartre, Magyd Cherfi penned all the lyrics for Zebda, a band from Toulouse, before launching a solo career (Cité des étoiles, 2004; Pas en vivant avec son chien, 2007). He published his first collection of stories, Livret de famille, in 2004, followed by La Trempe in 2007 compiled into a Babel edition (no. 1082) in 2011. He recently published Ma part de Gaulois (Actes Sud, 2016).











Film programme

‘Cinema, a universal language?’

Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 February

All films will be screened in the Auditorium Germaine Tillion – Tickets: €6/4


  • Saturday 4 February


4.30 pm

Conference with Samuel Bréan, translator and founder member of the association for audiovisual translators and the review L’Ecran traduit.

This assertion has not stopped being contradicted since the captions of silent movies. But if, after that, translation was meant to be seen and not heard, here it is deliberately put on show to surprising effect: in Colette’s unusual subtitles (Jeunes filles en uniforme); in a mix of French and German summoning Babel to banish him (Allô Berlin ? Ici Paris !); in a Version française which changes the plot (Le Port de la drogue); and in ‘Navajo English’ subtitles which create an alternative interpretation of Film Socialisme.



Film Socialisme (Socialism)

By Jean-Luc Godard (France/Switzerland, 2010, 1h 42m) – in French (with ‘Navajo English’ subtitles by Godard)

Starring Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Agatha Couture

An itinerant and polyglot cinematographic experience, Film Socialisme features myriad idiosyncrasies, not least being distributed internationally with ‘Navajo English’ subtitles. Created by the director himself, these extremely unique subtitles don’t always translate what is said on screen; they are more interpretive. It’s almost another story that unfolds on the screen.



Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform)

By Leontine Sagan (Germany, 1931, 1h 36m) – German with French subtitles (subtitles by Colette)

Starring Emilia Unda, Dorothea Wieck, Hertha Thiele

Manuela, 14, is enrolled at a Prussian boarding school for military girls where she falls passionately in love with Fraulein von Bernburg, one of her teachers…

This film, one of the first to openly tackle the subject of lesbianism, enjoyed great public and critical acclaim on its release, before it was censored by the Nazis. Here it is screened in German with its original French subtitles, translated by Colette.


  • Sunday 5 February


3 pm

Allô Berlin ? Ici Paris ! (Hello Berlin, Paris Calling)

By Julien Duvivier (France, 1931, 1h 29m)

Starring Josette Day, Germaine Aussey and Wolfgang Klein

Lily, a French telephonist, spends her days talking with her colleague Erich about their work. Despite the language barrier, the two young workers get closer and plan a rendezvous.

An astonishing bilingual film in which, just like the characters they play, French and German actors perform in their own language. But not without getting their wires crossed along the way!


5.15 pm

Le Port de la drogue

by Samuel Fuller (US, 1953, 1h 20m) – In French

Starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters and Thelma Ritter

By merely changing a small part of the dialogue, a plot can literally be transformed, as demonstrated by Le Port de la drogue: if in its French version, the film depicts a police investigation into drug trafficking, in its original English version, there’s absolutely no mention of drugs, but rather a microfilm a network of communist spies is eager to get their hands on.


4) Babel extra-muros


•Exhibition at the Marseille Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) on the Ecole des jeunes de langues, a language school founded by Colbert and King Louis XVI in Marseille to train translators and interpreters in the languages of the Levant during the ancien regime.


•Exhibition at Marseille’s international centre of poetry (cipM), at the La Vieille Charité site, on poet-translators.


•Presentation at the Marseille Museum of History (Musée d'Histoire) of a documentary on languages spoken in Marseille, produced by Antoine Grunenberger and Sebastian Uria Fernandez, in conference with Médéric Gasquet-Cyrus.


Claire Fontaine’s Strangers Everywhere neon signs will be on display at these sites and Fort Saint-Jean.



Friday 16 December 2016

Scientific and professional meetings
Le vendredi 16 décembre 2016 à partir de 18h
Le vendredi 16 décembre 2016 à partir de 18h

Friday 27 January 2017

Vendredi 27 janvier 2017 à 19h
Open meeting
Vendredi 27 janvier 2017 à 19h

Thursday 26 January 2017

Jeudi 26 janvier 2017 à 19h
Open meeting
Jeudi 26 janvier 2017 à 19h

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Mercredi 25 Janvier 2017 à 19h
Open meeting
Mercredi 25 Janvier 2017 à 19h

Saturday 4 February 2017

Les 4 et 5 Février 2017

Visits and activities

  • Learning facilities provided weekends and school holidays / Audio guides / Visit pamphlet


  • Guided tours


- A tour of the exhibition for adults


- A visit of the exhibition for middle and secondary schools (90 minutes for school years 6-12)
"Bom dia, salam, hello, dobar dan, kalimera, shalom! A multilingual guide welcomes you to talk all things language: anyone who teaches languages knows that every translation has its pitfalls, its problems of comprehension. The exhibition shows how translation is the art of bridging differences, a good model for citizenship today and how young students should engage their curiosity in others.’


- Quésaco tour/workshop for middle and secondary schools (90 minutes for school years 9-12)

Option to pair the tour with the Quèsaco workshop, sponsored by the translation company A.D.T. International.

‘After an interactive tour of the exhibition, delve further into the subject of translation by attending a workshop on etymology. Taking words in the French vocabulary such as kif-kif, quèsaco and week-end, we trace these words back to their roots and weave a story from these rich linguistic threads.’


Saturday 17 December 2016

Guided tour
Pour les dates à venir merci de vous référer au calendrier


The exhibition catalogue

After Babel, Translate


Publication edited by Barbara Cassin

Includes contributions from: Souleymane Bachir-Diagne, Jean-Marie Borzeix, Xiaoquan Chu, Patricia Falguières, Yasmina Foehr-Janssen, Thierry Grillet, Jacques Leenhardt, Alain de Libera, Jean-Luc Marion, Marie-José Mondzain, Xavier North, Gisèle Sapiro, Roland Schaer, Olivier-Thomas Venard, and Anthony Vidler


There are two main ideas which underpin the catalogue accompanying the After Babel, Translate exhibition. One relates to an historical fact, i.e. that translation is a one of the phenomena which helped establish civilisations in the Mediterranean region. The other relates to a political observation for our times: translation, this bridging of differences, provides an important model to understand citizenship in today’s society. The first idea relates to Babel, the Biblical legend that tells of how attempts to create a common language failed. Was this a curse or an opportunity? The second idea, an underlying theme of the catalogue, approaches several questions regarding flows and peoples. The catalogue also explores literary translation, and the invisibility of the professionals working in the field of translation, dubbing and interpreting, from the dragoman to the artist. These same ideas are addressed in the ‘common thread’, written by the exhibition’s curator Barbara Cassin, which runs through the publication, across from or in the margin of the many contributions therein.


Copublished by Mucem/Actes Sud

Format 20 x 27

272 pages

120 illustrations

€35 incl. taxes

ISBN 978-2-330-06915-5

Published in December 2016




6) Two books and a collector’s item


With contributions from Barbara Cassin and Isabelle Marquette


Three other publications feature the Mucem’s rebuses, some of which are on display in the exhibition: two books, [1] and [2], and a collector’s item.


Rebus? The French phrase parler rebus, i.e. to speak in riddles, may be obsolete today, but the word rebus is still in common usage to mean an enigma to be solved. A rebus is meant to mean something, but what? What phrase might well be hiding behind one of the collections trade cards?

In fact, the enigma here refers to a particular type of riddle. Instead of talking in veiled words, like the Sphinx or Oracle, the rebus shows or displays ‘things’ in plain view; a rebus speaks, but ‘by means of objects’. Rebus, the ablative plural of res ‘thing or object’, is borrowed directly from Latin. The word is a reference from around the 16th century to the satirical pieces composed by Picardy clerks at carnivals, subtle satires of de rebus quae geruntur – of things which are going on – using pictures to suggest words or phrases.

However, these things designed to be seen, in fact, need to be heard; a rebus only works when it plays on sounds and meanings, like in a game of charades. One is obliged to reinterpret the things and their names independent of their usual meaning. When Frederick the Great invited Voltaire to dine at his home, Château de Sans Souci, he drew two hands beneath a capital P, then a lower-case ‘a’ followed by the number 100 topped by a saw. In French this gives ‘Deux mains sous P à cent sous scie’? Tomorrow, supper at Sans Souci? Voltaire replied with a capital G and a lower-case ‘a’: in French, ‘G grand a petit’ (literally ‘I have a big appetite’). Witty words between men of wit.

Why does this kind of riddle give us so much enjoyment? Primarily, I think, because it gives us licence to play around with language like an aural matter, clay to be moulded, a substance to shape. It’s probably one of the earliest and most innocent, and one of the most delightful, pleasures we can experience. We reinvent the body of our language by listening to it.

Next, because there is something magical in a rebus. It opens up so many possibilities, which you have to relate to one another and try to articulate before imagining closing up by projecting what it is. Freud said it very clearly: ‘A dream is a rebus’. Because it is the same mechanism at work: in a dream as in a rebus, it would be incorrect to interpret all or difference parts as they appear and you must ‘replace each separate element by a syllable or word’ as if they were two different languages. Like Champollion and the hieroglyphs, we need to decipher what we see and we will only understand the signs and rules when we ‘compare the translation and the original’. To decipher a rebus is to translate.

And when we interpret and we get it right, then, Freud adds: ‘the words thus put together are no longer meaningless, but might constitute the most beautiful and pregnant aphorism’. Unless they form some truism or other we are familiar with, such as ‘like father, like son’ or ‘a miser’s son is a spendthrift’, all in all no less complex than the Oedipus complex. From the wisdom of nations to psychoanalysis and back via the challenge of language and translation.


Copublished by Mucem/Actes Sud


[1]: 978-2-330-06917-9

[2]: 978-2-330-06918-6

[Collector]: 978-2-330-06919-3

Published in October 2016


“Rébus. A propos de ce qui se passe.[1] and [2]

Format: 15 cm x 10,5 cm     

Number of pages: 40 pages

Illustrations: 30

Retail price (incl. taxes): €8

“Rébus. A propos de ce qui se passe.” [Collector]

Format: 15 cm x 15 cm     

Number of pages: 80 pages

Illustrations: 120

Retail price (incl. taxes): €15



The gift and book shops at J4 and Fort Saint-Jean are open every day (except Tuesdays) during Mucem opening hours




Catalogues d’exposition

Catalogues d’exposition

Dossier Pédagogique de l'exposition Après Babel, traduire


[AUDIOGUIDE] Après Babel, traduire

Audioguide disponible en français et anglais.


Tarif unique de location 2€


Disponible aux points billetterie du MuCEM (J4 et fort Saint-Jean)





Département de la Communication du MuCEM

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Julie Basquin
Tél. : +33 (0)4 84 35 14 70

Chargée des relations presse et de l’information :
Muriel Filleul

Tél. : +33 (0)4 84 35 14 74 / Mob. : 06 37 59 29 36

Assistante presse et information :
Lisa Studer
Tél. : +33 (0)4 84 35 14 79


Agence Claudine Colin Communication

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