Writing in a second language is unsettling3 July 2009 at 4:00 AM | Posted in News | 9 Comments
In his preface to his definitive anthology of multilingual writers, Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft (2003), Steven G. Kellman (the acknowledged authority on translingual literature) writes: “As much as flesh and blood, we are composed of and by words. If Homo sapiens is a species defined by language, then switching the language entails transforming the self. While it can be liberating, discarding one’s native tongue is also profoundly unsettling; it means constructing a new identity syllable by syllable.” (p. xiv)
This is a great insight! Multilingual literature (I hesitate to call it “translingual” because that term appears to exclude the mixed-language texts that are becoming more common nowadays and also appears to prioritize authors that try to write in the second language on the same terms as “native speakers” of that language) challenges not just the literary community in general but, more importantly, the writers themselves. Multilingual literature is not just a literary exercise nor a literary phenomenon; it is a matter of life and death for writers, since writing is life or death for writers.