In Other Words
A foreign language can signify a total separation. It can represent, even today, the ferocity of our ignorance. To write in a new language, to penetrate its heart, no technology helps. You cant accelerate the process, you cant abbreviate it. The
And yet my lexicon develops without logic, in a darting, fleeting manner. The words appear, accompany me for a while, then, often without warning, abandon me.
avevo bisogno di una lingua differente: una lingua che fosse un luogo di affetto e di riflessione. ANTONIO TABUCCHI
Because in the end to learn a language, to feel connected to it, you have to have a dialogue, however childlike, however imperfect.
Books are the best meansprivate, discreet, reliableof overcoming reality.
Even though I now speak the language fairly well, the spoken language doesnt help me. A conversation involves a sort of collaboration and, often, an act of forgiveness. When I speak I can make mistakes, but Im somehow able to make myself understood. On the page I am alone. The spoken language is a kind of antechamber with respect to the written, which has a stricter, more elusive logic.
Every language belongs to a specific place. It can migrate, it can spread. But usually its tied to a geographical territory, a country. Italian
I have only the desire. Yet ultimately a desire is nothing but a crazy need. As
I just wanted to go home, to the language in which I was known, and loved.
Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity. It stimulates. The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.
Im scared that the pencil sides might disappear, just as a drawing can be rubbed out by an eraser. Bengali will be taken away when my parents are no longer there. Its a language that they personify, that they embody. When they die, it will no longer be fundamental to my life.
In a sense, I'm used to a kind of linguistic exile. My mother tongue, Bengali, is foreign in America. When you live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You speak a secret, unknown language, lacking any correspondence to the environment. An absence that creates a distance within you.
In my case there is another distance, another schism. I dont know Bengali perfectly. I dont know how to read it, or even write it. I have an accent, I speak without authority, and so Ive always perceived a disjunction between it and me. As a result I consider my mother tongue, paradoxically, a foreign language, too. As
I realize that its impossible to know a foreign language perfectly. For
I start with very short pieces, usually no more than a handwritten page. I try to focus on something specific: a person, a moment, a place. I do what I ask my student to do when I teach creative writing. I explain to them that such fragments are the first steps to take before constructing a story. I think a writer should observe the real world before imagining a nonexistent one.
I think it's a hesitant book and at the same time bold. A text both private and public. On the one hand it springs from my other books. The themes, ultimately, are unchanged: identity, alienation, belonging. But the wrapping, the contents, the body and soul are transfigured.
I think that the power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching, through a work of art, for something that alters us, that we weren't aware of before. We want to transform ourselves, just as Ovid's masterwork transformed me.
It's a sort of literary act of survival. I don't have many words to express myself--rather, the opposite. I'm aware of a state of deprivation. And yet, at the same time, I feel free, light. I rediscover the reason that I write, the joy as well as the need.
It usually sits on the night table, so that I can easily look up an unknown word while Im reading. This book allows me to read other books, to open the door of a new language. It accompanies me, even now, when I go on vacation, on trips. It has become a necessity. If, when I leave, I forget to take it with me, I feel slightly uneasy, as if Id forgotten my toothbrush or a change of socks.
Like certain faces among the people I see on the street every day, certain words, for some reason, stand out, and leave an impression on me. Others remain in the background, negligible. After
Reading in another language implies a perpetual state of growth, of possibility. I
Should I dream of a day, in the future, when Ill no longer need the dictionary, the notebook, the pen? A day when I can read in Italian without tools, the way I read in English? Shouldnt that be the point of all this? I dont think so. When I read in Italian, Im a more active reader, more involved, even if less skilled. I like the effort. I prefer the limitations. I know that in some way my ignorance is useful to me.
The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.
They don't understand why I want to take such a risk. These reactions don't surprise me. A transformation, especially one that is deliberately sought, is often perceived as something disloyal, threatening.
They tolerate my mistakes. They correct me, they encourage me, they provide the words I lack. They speak clearly, patiently. Just like parents with their children. The
Une langue étrangère, c'est comme un muscle frêle, délicat. Si l'on ne s'en sert pas, il s'affaiblit.
What does a word mean? And a life? In the end, it seems to me, the same thing. Just as a word can have many dimensions, many nuances, great complexity, so, too, can a person, a life. Language is the mirror, the principal metaphor. Because ultimately the meaning of a word, like that of a person, is boundless, ineffable.
Whenever I can, in my study, on the subway, in bed before going to sleep, I immerse myself in Italian. I enter another land, unexplored, murky. A
When the language one identifies with is far away, one does everything possible to keep it alive. Because words bring back everything: the place, the people, the life, the streets, the life, the sky, the flowers, the sounds. When you live without your own language you feel weightless and, at the same time, overloaded. Your breathe another type of air, at a different altitude. You are always aware of the difference.
When you live in a country where your own language is considered foreign, you can feel a continuous sense of estrangement. You