Aviram on literary competence

11 June 2009 at 4:51 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Here is a take on literary competence: “Literary competence is not the ability to resist the pleasures of reading but the ability to feel them. It arises, precisely, from the ability to distinguish between the literary and the nonliterary.” These sentences come from a long study by Amittai F. Aviram entitled “Notes toward a new formalist criticism: Reading literature as a democratic exercise” (1998). In ordinary conversations with someone speaking in a second or foreign language, we are always aware that the person is not a so-called native speaker (if only because of different accents, vowel sounds, idioms, and so on). When reading a work in a language that is not the writer’s mother tongue, we should also be aware that the language itself is not the writer’s own and, therefore, is different from the language of a writer writing in a mother tongue. Moreover, when we read a literary text not in a mother tongue, we should take its being not in a mother tongue as an element of its literariness. What is literature if not language used and read in a special way? By ignoring the second-language nature of the text, we miss the extra pleasure of watching two languages interacting with each other.

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