Divided selves?

30 December 2008 at 3:24 PM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

The Report on the Conference Immigrant Literature – Writing in Adopted Languages held on 24 April 2008 in Brussels, organized by the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) offers fertile ground for ideas about the core issue of this blog. I will go through the report in some detail, one detail at a time, to react even at this late stage, perhaps to elicit some posts from interested readers. Leonard Orban (EU Commissioner for Multilingualism) is reported to have said, “In their intermediate position, the authors are forced to give up a part of their own culture in order to better understand a new country. They live in a ‘divided self’ and have to become part of the foreign culture, thus both cultures enter a reciprocal relationship that could become a role model for a prudent interculturalism.” I like the way Orban stresses the importance of literature for peace and unity initiatives, but I am a bit wary about the divided self (in some circles, that is called “hyphenated identity”) idea. I think, on the contrary, that second-language authors, even if they do not know it, represent a third, rather than a mixed or cross-bred culture. Literary critics have to begin recognizing that reading a poem not written by a “native speaker” needs a different set of criteria from that we use in reading a poem written by a “native speaker.” To begin with, the literary critics themselves must know the mother tongue intimately, to know which rhythmic patterns and so on contribute to the patterns intrinsic to the new language.

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