As it happens, yesterday was a day of, shall we say, personal chronological significance, and my lovely wife gave me several presents, mainly books. (As she put it, “You don’t need more books, of course, but… you need more books.”) One of these was a book I recently posted about, Switching Languages, “the first anthology in which translingual authors from throughout the world examine their experiences writing in more than one language or in a language other than their primary one.” I am, of course, delighted to have it (and Summer in Baden-Baden and Life Along the Silk Road) and am very much looking forward to reading it. Another source of delight: not only is my wife lovely and generous, but she reads my blog.
Coincidentally, today’s NY Times has an article very relevant to the book, about two Americans who have made careers in Argentina, writing in Spanish:
Mr. Johansen is not the only American enjoying artistic success here after having cast his lot with this country in crisis. A highly praised novel published in Argentina recently is “Flores de un Solo Día,” or “Flowers of a Single Day,” by Anna Kazumi Stahl, a Louisiana native, also 39, who first arrived here 15 years ago not speaking a word of Spanish, and now, like Mr. Johansen, writes in that language….
Critics have traditionally argued that Spanish, more so than English, lends itself to a florid vocabulary and to ornate sentences. But Ms. Stahl said she finds it to be exactly the opposite: “Perhaps because I am a Southern writer” in English, she said, she is more direct and disciplined and less flamboyant, “cautious, with short sentences,” when she switches to Spanish.
“Like any good Southerner, I get attached to the words and all the resonances and so everything gets a little bit embroidered,” she said.
Writing in Spanish, on the other hand, “took everything away from me except primary colors,” she explained, adding, “It’s not that I was necessarily working on a smaller canvas than in English, but I was working with fewer elements, and therefore every stroke had to be a stroke that counted.”…
Mr. Johansen, in contrast, considers himself truly bilingual and writes lyrics in English and Spanish, sometimes bouncing from one language to the other in the same song and tossing off puns as if they were party favors. But he finds it difficult to explain how he decides to pair a song with a language.
“Usually a melody or a line of a lyric will come,” he said, “but beyond that I really don’t know how it happens. I always say that some day I’d like to learn a foreign language, like French or Portuguese, because the two languages, English and Spanish, are really just one for me.”
I might as well admit that I bought myself A Concordance to the Poems of Osip Mandelstam and John Crowley’s The Translator. We’re just going to have to get a house with a lot of room for bookcases.
Oh, and a shout-out to the monkey-lovin’ folks at 9622.net; thanks for the good wishes!