On rocks and quills

For many literature lovers it was just a simple headline about Jhumpa Lahiri: “A writer’s headlong immersion into Italian.” For writers it was  a reference to a long story of courage and suffering. I could feel it in my bones as a writer in exile. Thinking of a story while you see and hear every scene and dialogue in another language transforms words from falling quills to pieces of rock.  When you abandon the native language, which functions as a protective shell for one’s soul surrounded in the oddities of the new language, you plunder yourself  into the unfamiliar. The writer is originally naked when entering artistically into another language. The writer in exile pays a price in order to understand the whispers of the new words and phrases; the price is paid with the numerous awkward moments of miscommunication and lost ideas and thoughts in real situations of everyday life. Language, the very means of literary creation, can become counterproductive, an obscure device that has lost its magic. Imagine that one day you wake up to find out your childhood toys have become totally unfamiliar. Opening your eyes and trying to write in the the new language feels the same. I think it is a horrifying, humiliating, and even marginalizing situation for a writer to find out that his/her  stories will remain untold. B. Breytenbach once described this experience: “You live in an acquired linguistic zone like going dressed in the clothes of the husband of your mistress.”


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