Henry Roth4 July 2009 at 4:34 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment
In Switching Languages, Steven G. Kellman writes: “For his masterpiece of immigration fiction, Call It Sleep (1934), Henry Roth, whose first language was Yiddish, managed to create English prose supple enough to carry echoes of Yiddish, Polish, German, and Italian. Switching tongues is the natural way to negotiate a motley universe.” (p. xvi)
To foreground or make explicit those “echoes” is the main task of a multilingual literary critic. We can see from Kellman’s example how difficult the task is: a critic of Roth’s novel would have to know English, Yiddish, Polish, German, and Italian. Critics might find that too demanding, but Roth clearly did not.
Multilingual authors have the right to demand that their critics know as much as, if not more than, they know.