Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Nabokov

Does the World reveals itself in different ways via different languages?

The Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, who wrote in French, talks of the change of language as a catastrophic event in any author’s biography.   

“When I changed my language, I annihilated my past. I changed my entire life,” says Cioran. And rightly so.

The world reveals itself in a certain manner to the Japanese writer, and in quite another to the one who writes in Finnish.

Literary virtuosity (in the mother tongue) almost always betrays a sense of deep, comfortable immersion into a familiar soil.

There is something “natural” in one’s becoming a writer in one’s native language. Having reached self-consciousness into that language, having assimilated it along with the mother’s milk, such a writer finds himself in a somewhat privileged position: He only has to bring to perfection whatever he has received.

As such, if for any reason the writer has to change languages, the experience is nothing short of life-threatening. Not only do you have to start everything again from scratch, but you also have to undo what you have been doing for almost as long as you have been around.

Changing languages is not for the fainthearted, nor for the impatient.  (And I did change writing in 3 languages, 3 times)

COSTICA BRADATAN posted this August 4, 2013 in the Opinionated of NYT Born Again in a Second Language

When he moved to France at the age of 26, Cioran’s command of French was barely decent, yet he ended up as one of the greatest stylists of that language. Similarly, Joseph Conrad learned English relatively late in life – which did not prevent him from coming to be one of its most sophisticated representatives.

Simone Weil, in her exploration of the Catholic religion, “Letter to a Priest,”written the year before her death in 1943 (maybe in 1993?), noticed at some point that “for any man a change of religion is as dangerous a thing as a change of language is for a writer. It may turn out a success, but it can also have disastrous consequences.”

When you become a writer, you don’t do so in abstract, but in relation to a certain language. To practice writing is to grow roots into that language; the better writer you become, the deeper the roots.

Painful as it can be at a strictly human level, the experience can also be philosophically fascinating. Rarely do we get the chance to observe a more dramatic re-making of oneself.

For a writer, language is far from being a mere means of expression: it is above all a mode of subjective existence and a way of experiencing the world. She needs the language not just to describe things, but to see them. 

The language for a writer is not just something she uses, but a constitutive part of what she is. This is why to abandon your native tongue and to adopt another is to dismantle yourself, piece by piece, and then to put yourself together again, in a different form.

When changing languages you descend to a zero-point of your existence. There must be even a moment, however brief, when you cease to be. You’ve just quit the old language and the new one hasn’t received you yet.

You are now in limbo, between worlds, hanging over the abyss.

A change of language usually happens when the writer is exiled or self-exiled. Yet the physical exile is doubled in such cases by an ontological one — an exile on the margins of being.

It is as though, for a moment, as she passes through the void – the narrow crack between languages, where there are no words to hold on to and nothing can be named – the self of the writer is not any more.

Weil’s comparison to the religious conversion is indeed apt because, just like in the case of the convert, the writer who changes languages undergoes a death-and-rebirth experience. In an important way, that person dies and then comes back as another.

When she starts writing in the new language the world is born anew to the writer. Yet the most spectacular rebirth is her own.

For this is a project of total reconstruction of the self, where no stone is left unturned and nothing will look the same again.

Your native language – what you were before – appears as less and less familiar to you.

But that doesn’t bother you at all; in fact, you look forward to a moment when you will use it as just another foreign language.

Not long after adopting French, Samuel Beckett, an Irishman, complained of his native English: “Horrible language, which I still know too well.”

The ontological promise of complete renewal that comes with the new language is nothing short of intoxicating.

When you are reborn in this manner, it is as if all the possibilities are open: you are given a chance to re-fashion yourself into whatever shape you choose. You are your own demiurge: out of nothing, as it were, you can become everything.

In 1954, asked why he chose to change languages, Beckett answered: out of a “need to be ill equipped”.

His response is exceedingly sly because, if you listen more attentively, its boastful tone is deafening. For in French the need “to be ill equipped” (d’être mal armé) doesn’t sound very different from the need to be (another) French author Mallarmé (d’être Mallarmé).

Anything less than a Mallarmé status would not have been enough for a Beckett on his quest for the new self. Eventually, he didn’t become Mallarmé, but Samuel Beckett, the French author of “Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” or “Waiting for Godot,” which is probably just as good.

And as if there was not enough alienation in his adoption of a new language, he alienated himself one more time by translating his French work into English.

Elsewhere, Beckett claimed that he preferred French because it allowed him to write “without style.” Yet writing “without style” is one of the writing styles most difficult to accomplish; you really need to be well equipped to do it.Tucker Nichols

Granted, rigorous training, self-discipline and constant practice are necessary. After all, art is the opposite of nature. Yet no matter how you look at it, there is a distinct sense of continuity and organic growing in this writer’s trajectory.

Becoming a writer in a language that is not yours by birth goes against nature; there is nothing organic in this process, only artifice.

There are no linguistic “instincts” to guide you on the path and the language’s guardian angels rarely whisper into your ear; you are truly on your own.

The author who shift to writing in a second language develop an unusually acute linguistic awareness.

Says Cioran: “When I wrote in Romanian, words were not independent of me. As soon as I began to write in French I consciously chose each word. I had them before me, outside of me, each in its place. And I chose them: now I’ll take you, then you.”

In an interview he gave in 1979, 7 years after he moved to the United States from his native Russia, Joseph Brodsky speaks of his ongoing “love affair with the English language.”

Language is such an overwhelming presence for these people that it comes to structure their new biographies. “English is the only interesting thing that’s left in my life,” says Brodsky.

The need to find “le mot juste” (the proper word) starts out as a concern, turns into an obsession, and ends up as a way of life.

These writers excel at the art of making virtue of necessity: out of a need to understand how the new language works, they turn into linguistic maniacs; out of a concern for correctness, they become compulsive grammarians.

Vladimir Nabokov is doubtlessly another such representative, even though he started learning English at an early age. The same pattern again and again: everything out of nothing, from halting ignorance to a mode of expression of the first order.

Towards the end of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” the reader comes across something whose significance exceeds the confines of the story. It is the scene where Montague meets the “book people.”

In a world where printed texts are banned, they have dedicated their lives to preserving the “great books” of the humankind; every member commits a book to memory and spends the whole life reciting it. They are living texts, these people, language incarnated. Apart from the masterpieces that inhabit them, they don’t mean much.

Their bodies matter as little as the paper on which a book is printed. In a way, a writer who has changed languages is not very different from these people.

In the long run, because of their compulsive preoccupation with linguistic precision and stylistic perfection, a colonization of sorts takes place: language penetrates all the details of that writer’s life, it informs and re-shapes it, it proclaims its dominion over her – it takes over. The writer’s self is now under the occupation of an invading power: her own writing in the new language.

It could be said that in the end you don’t really change languages; the language changes you.

At a deeper, more personal level, writing literature in another language has a distinctly performative dimension: as you do it something happens to you, the language acts upon you. The book you are writing ends up writing you in turn. The result is a “ghostification” of sorts.

For to change languages,  a writer is to undergo a process of dematerialization: before you know it, you are language more than anything else.

One day, suddenly, a certain intuition starts visiting you, namely that you are not made primarily out of flesh anymore, but out of lines and rhymes, of rhetorical strategies and narrative patterns.

Just like the “book people,” you don’t mean much apart the texts that inhabit you. More than a man or a woman of flesh and blood, you are now rather a fleshing out of the language itself, a literary project, very much like the books you write.

The writer who has changed languages is truly a ghost writer – the only one worthy of the name.

Having done all this, having gone through the pain of changing languages and undergone the death-and-rebirth initiation, you are sometimes given as a reward, an access to a metaphysical insight of an odd, savage beauty.

It is the notion that the world may be nothing other than a story in the making and that we, who inhabit it, may be nothing more than characters. Characters in search of an author, that is.

Note: Before I settled in the US for about 20 years, and at the age of 25, I already mastered 3 languages: French, Arabic and Lebanese/Syrian languages. Actually, I consider “the formal Arabic” as a slang of the Syrian language, from which it is based in most of its words (the Aramaic and Syriac languages). I knew the deeper meaning of the slangs and I could use them as Not independent from me, but part of my civilization.

After I moved to the US, English became my main language and my blog is in English, a combination of American and English since many “sophisticated words” are French/Latin. Surprise, when I used French-based words that are adopted in English, people considered me as mastering English better than most “natives”

Actually, English does Not use all these extravagant signs, accent egu, accent grave, cecidille… which facilitate writing. The same with formal Arabic with its gamut of gymnastic in signs. Otherwise, I could write in all these language as easily as in English.

Costica Bradatan

Costica Bradatan is an associate professor of honors at Texas Tech University and the religion/comparative studies editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. His most recent book is “Philosophy, Society and the Cunning of History in Eastern Europe.”

Notes and tidbits posted on FB and Twitter. Part 81

Have you read or seen Lolita of Nabokov?
I read sections of this book, standing in one of Barnes and Noble bookstore in Montgomery County (Maryland), because there were no facilities to sit. The book sounded more erotic than the chaste movie, and I was glad it was directed that way.
I saw the movie twice. I saw it again last night and was happily surprised to notice that it was Lolita who was running the show from beginning to end.
The times she got angry was calculated: She was seeing Clare (Peter Sellers) from the start before meeting James Mason (who played a difficult and convincing part of a middle-aged man, totally in love with Lolita but managing to retain his responsibly as a father-in-law.)
Lolita (with all her instinctive smartness as an enticing girl) was duped by Clare who intended to use her in porno movies and she refused and was kicked out to survive on her own.
They overcrowded the highly talented and funny Sellers in his role, even when he knew that he was about to die.
How could Mason be duped by Sellers in so many occasions if he didn’t care that much about Lolita?

Have you seen Basic Instinct?
I saw it at least twice. Last night was wonderful because I saw it again before they showed Lolita. I loved this film that was packed with plenty of erotic scenes and a smart content.
Who do you think was the killer? Until the last second, showing the ice pick under the bed of Sharon Stone, you would side with everybody that it was the psych professional woman who was the killer (another great body).
Apparently, after finishing a book about a targeted killer, Sharon made sure to kill the real life character of her story.
Douglas is to be ultimately murdered by Stone since she had finished the new book about him: she was totally clear about it when she told him so: he refused to believe her because he started to believe in her innocence.
The weak point is why the psych woman didn’t raise both her hands when Douglas ordered her to take her hands out of her pocket? She knew he would shoot at her since he did it a few times before in the same situation. But the movie must have an end.

What is needed is to develop a belief system based on that all born people have the rights to enjoy equal opportunities to learning, getting training, health and due processes with a fair justice system.
This new belief system or petition principle is feasible because in transparent democratic processes people rely on the majority opinion to extend any rational excuses for their attitudes.
Equal practical opportunities circumvent the wrong implication that opinions are reached independently of their surrounding.
The effects of community sanctions to deviation attitudes from the belief system can then formalize the equal opportunities rights to everyone

Traditions of classes, professions, family and social structure, and religious beliefs… have been initially drawn from observations of human nature and establishing general notions, before the politicians (men of actions) in each sphere of influence in life, organized them to self-serve the interests of the elites.

If we seek reforms by bringing up human nature then we are following the wrong direction.

Les femmes, survivantes de l’inceste, durant toute notre histoire et jusqu’ a nous jours, geraient le monde, et le regnent encore.

La mobilite dynamique dans certain pays n’a fait qu’augmenter le taux des survivantes de l’inceste. Ils ont maintenant des facilities modernes pour fuir leur isolement.

Cette fois-ci, les survivantes de l’inceste ont tendance a se vanger de n’impote quelle maniere avec les opportunites et les lois en applications. Elles joignent Daesh en mass quant elles le peuvent

L’amour sexuel doit etre court and fugitif (ne depassant pas 24 heures?): regenerer a chaque nouveau festin d’amour.
Ne dissocie jamais l’ amour charnel de la spiritualite
je renacle devant une tendress mal meritee: c’ est une compassion qui m’etouffe, mais que j’ apprecie apres
It has nothing to do with giving people more time (you can’t) and everything to do with creating more urgency, more of an itch, more desire.
Dans les societtes de mobilite dynamique, c’ est normal de reflechir aux raisons d’ avoir des enfants
Ce qui nous ne tue pas, nous rend bizarre
Les auteur feminines: les femmes parlent-elles vraiment autant des hommes? Peut-etre est-ce vraie a Londre ou en Europe? Partout. Meme aux USA avec plus de 300,000 nouveaux titres par an.
Il serait difficile de trouver des policiers masculins n’ impliquant pas un probleme d’ alcool. 




May 2022

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