Allow me some posting zealotry on my first day.

February 14, 2009

The always-brilliant Zadie Smith. This piece is fascinating on multiple levels; my favorite concept she introduces is that of the ‘double-voiced.’ If more than one voice exists inside the self, is that an advantage or a burden? Can the presence of an alternate voice become a strength?

My father speaks a little conversational Spanish because his mother is from the Dominican Republic, and she gave birth to his two older sisters there. He was born in New York and raised on American-Dream English, but the rapid-fire sounds of their first language filled his ears from his earliest memories. I often think about who he would be if he was born a year earlier in Santo Domingo, if his identity would have been formed differently by speaking another language first. And maybe then I would have grown up with the ability to speak Spanish- is there a part of my soul that is missing because I have been robbed of that gift? What can we not express of ourselves because of the hole where that tongue should be?

In terms of literally being bilingual, Chinua Achebe proved what a strength it could be by writing Things Fall Apart in English, in a voice that he himself possessed, but one that was forced upon him by an Empire that was never invited. He believes that writing back to the colonizing force in its language is a means of empowerment, even a way to destroy the enemy’s presence from within the scope of everything he consider familiar.  Yet Ngugi Wa Thiong’o argues that writing in African languages is vital to asserting independence from centuries of European exploitation, and that using the inauthentic  language of English cannot justly portray the African experience.

And what of Barack Obama? Aside from his knowledge of other languages, he possesses the gift of familiarity with many dialects and accents. His casual shifting into a languid drawl when visiting the Southern states on the campaign trail did not go unnoticed, and was even mocked by many a pundit. But perhaps his greatest strength is such versatility; each vote cast for him in November came from the hands of people who could hear their own voices within his.

This article is also a captivating and important one, and deals with the same ideas of cultural dualism, with a look at literary translation. Most of the books that have had the greatest influence on my life and thoughts have been in translation: The Idiot, Don Quixote, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kafka on the Shore, etc. The thought that we as rather isolationist Americans are missing out on entire realms of literary accomplishment for our lack of available translators/translations is a frightening one.


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