Wordpharmacy combines the structure of language with the healing principles of various medicaments. Like pills, language is something to be consumed by the body, and in turn it does not only affect our conceptions of things, but it also comes to designate our very corporal movability in the world. Consequently, words are not only something we consume, they are refractory entities that in turn define and consume us. Wordpharmacy can be seen as a poetical gesture endeavouring to let words work their magic from within the body itself.

The Wordpharmacy is written and produced by the danish poet Morten Søndergaard.

The Wordpharmacy has be shown in several cities like Paris and London and Berlin and Bangor and Tromsø and Voss.

The Wordpharmacy is translated into English by Barbara Haveland and designed by Christian Ramsø and is now available in six languages.

What is Wordpharmacy?

The Wordpharmacy consist of ten medicine boxes, each representing one of the ten word classes.

Each box contains a leaflet that functions as an instructional poem, guiding the reader’s ingestion of the given word class.

If you lack verbs in your life or if you want to know whether you can use prepositions if you are pregnant or you are in desperate need of numerals, then help is at hand.

The price of the Wordpharmacy is 50 €.

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Wordpharmacy – an introduction

by Ida Benche

What is the relation between the living body and the words we use to grasp and voice its being in the world? How does the structure of language affect and regulate our everyday somatic experiences? These are some of the questions that Morten Søndergaard’s Wordpharmacy seeks to highlight and investigate. Wordpharmacy is a work of concrete poetry, which playfully equates the structure of language with pharmaceutical products. It consists of ten medicine boxes, each representing one of the ten different word groups, and each containing a ’User Information Leaflet’ that typographically resembles the kind of leaflets normally found in medicine boxes. In an often imperative tone, the leaflets offer guidance on how to use the given word group: ’To achieve the best result with Adjectives® follow all of these instructions carefully. Do not be afraid. This is vital and necessary. Absolutely’.

In Wordpharmacy, the field of medicine is relocated from the pharmacy to that of the library or the dictionary, and the healing expertise of the doctor is replaced by the linguistic authority of the poet: ‘Speak to a poet or visit your local library if a side-effect becomes worse or if you experience side-effects not mentioned here’. In so far as we constantly and inevitably employ and consume words, we are all ’drugged’ by language and consequently, in Wordpharmacy we have all become patients of the poet. The information leaflets manifest themselves as appropriated ready-mades. In the case of pronouns, the leaflet is built from instructions on how to use Prozac. Here, the quality of Prozac to alter and regulate the mind is paralleled to the nature of pronouns as active modifiers of identity: ‘They point to you and your things and make you something other than you are. They fix you and your things in place.’

By transporting rather abstract grammatical classifications of language into the material entities of medicine boxes, Wordpharmacy effectuates a concretization of words and inscribes itself in the literary tradition of experimenting with ways of consolidating linguistic signs with materiality. However, while poetic experiments are often preoccupied with escaping the grammatical constraints and normative uses of language, Wordpharmacy presents an endeavor to drastically enter – through the gesture of digestion – linguistic regulations. Like pills, language is something to be consumed by the body, and in turn, it does not only affect our conception of things, but it also comes to designate our very corporal flexibility in the world: ‘Verbs® have a great effect on the motor functions.’ Usually we think of words as something we use to define things around us, from the most mundane everyday phenomena to our most complex ideas. From this perspective, language is a governing principle, which we skillfully deploy in order to classify the raw material of experience.

But in Wordpharmacy, no pre-linguistic experiences are given. Our bodies are always already penetrated, and, to a certain extent, dominated by unruly words that interminably operate within us beyond our control. Articles are, for example, depicted as autonomous markers of identity: ‘we make you someone. If you do not want to be someone, do not use us.’ However, Wordpharmacy does not facilitate any easy smoothing over of the difference between word and world. Nouns especially launch a fundamental breach between sign and referent: ‘Use of Nouns® can cause you to doubt languages’ ability to cover the world. Please note, therefore, that there is a big difference between words and things.’ Rather than annulling any discontinuity between language and the world of phenomena, Wordpharmacy launches words as fundamental inducers, vehicles for movement in the world. Verbs especially hold such qualities: ‘Verbs® make the world work, and consequently there are more of them: the world verbs.’ Here, verbs are described (prescribed) as something which generates dynamic relationships between things, and ‘unlock’ phenomena in order to render them graspable for the human gaze: ‘Verbs® appear all by themselves, like the blooms on flowers. See for yourself: the flowers flower.

Wordpharmacy presents an unsolvable problem: the difference between sign and referent is an ontological limit that can never fully be overcome. Like chemically engineered medicine, language is an artificially manufactured structure, which penetrates and alters the domain of the biological. But words also work as thresholds to the realm of phenomena, where our bodies exist alongside things. Just as medicine initially is produced to heal the body, but often carries decidedly unhealthy side-effects, so are the prescriptions of words in Wordpharmacy enclosed with warnings. The side-effects of pronouns include: ‘Panic attacks. Teeth grinding. Namelessness. (…) Loss of place. Loss of self.’ Words are not only something we consume; they are potentially menacing entities that in turn consume us.

In Wordpharmacy the trademark ® consistently accompanies each mention of a word group as if to remind the reader that what she is presented with is an already copyrighted and ideologically charged view on language that words emerge into economic structures: that they are always somehow for sale. As antidote to these easily manipulated, buyable meanings, Wordpharmacy launches a linguistic system in which words perpetually assert a certain unruly ‘surplus value’, and asserts language as a noncompliant and refractory system, which will always escape the total control of the politician, as well as that of the poet. Words might function as tools in the hands of authorities, yet they are also disobedient components of our everyday bodily encounters with the world.