Saturday, February 6, 2010

Merfolk



You can read Francisco Aragon's response to my post about bilingualism on his blog, Letras Latinas. I am grateful for it. He mentions the disheartening recent news story about Spanish-speaking workers at a bookstore, of all places, being asked not to use their own language on the job, as well as Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory, an influential book for both of us, it turns out. I hope you'll read what Francisco has to say, for which I am grateful and by which I am moved.

I should add, about Ni Dhomhnaill, that though Irish herself, she had to embrace the language on her own in a culture that increasingly embraced English as a dominant language; and that, married to a Turkish man, she also lived in Turkey and learned to read and speak Turkish. The experience of living away from her own country and culture did not make her nostalgic for either, but rather showed her how deeply important it was for her to write and function in her own inherited language. But it also reinforced her sense of a kind of vertigo and dislocation:

"... the whole act of [literary] translation seems to me vitally important. What we gain is still so much greater than what we lose. It is another precarious purchase on reality in the often uncomfortable, even at times downright pathological, life of continuous dualism. Many are wont to praise the stereophonic and stereoscopic worldview gained by knowing a major world language and a less-spoken local one which has a long and august literary reality. I am more inclined to be aware of the vertiginous swoon and sense of headlong rush into incomprehensibility which often accompanies this dual view."

I quote this to amplify and clarify my earlier post: it's not the case that what she describes is exactly pertinent to Spanish. Ni Dhomhnaill specifically contrasts English, a "major world language" with "a less-spoken local one," and Spanish is both a major world language and a much-spoken local one. The larger point remains: that we owe much to translation, and to poetry itself, however you come by it:

The high spring tides leave their mark
on the sea-walls of their minds, the edge of every breaking wave
ragged with flotsam and jetsam and other wreckage,
words carried ashore like the shells of sea-urchin
and left at the high-water mark where they get the head-staggers
at the time of the Saturday moon, words that are still imbued
with the old order of things, phrases like
"wide thighs, narrow-waist, hare-brain."

(translation by Paul Muldoon of an unpublished poem)

My thanks yet again to Francisco, and I expect we'll each have more to say!

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