Literary competence9 June 2009 at 7:17 AM | Posted in News | 9 Comments
Let us focus for a moment on the notion of “literary competence,” a phrase made famous by Jonathan Culler, although the idea that more educated readers understand literature better than less educated readers (or that literary education is necessary if one is to read literature properly) has been around since the beginning of formal education.
Not very much attention has been given to the place of multilinguistic competence within literary competence. Culler and others, of course, have always talked about language (for example, you need to know the grammar of a language before you can understand a poem in that language), but they have, as far as I know, not talked about knowing the mother tongue of the author if the work is not in the mother tongue. I suggest that it is necessary for critics (as well as for more discriminating readers) to have linguistic competence in the mother tongue of a bilingual or multilingual author in order to fully or properly read a text written in a second or foreign language. That linguistic competence need not be of a very high level (the critic does not need to speak the language, but merely to read it or at least read a dictionary or similar reference work in that language); it should be enough to see how the mother tongue influences (interferes, supports, counterpoints, etc.) the language of the text.