The problem with our public culture is not that it is low-grade: it is that it is fluent, clear, coherent, often vividly expressed, and more or less entirely free of fresh intellectual content

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

The villages we visited were populated by people who spoke Bembe, a Bantu language. My interpreter spoke Bembe fluently. Not all of our interpreters did. Swahili, another Bantu language used as a lingua franca across much of eastern Africa, was sometimes used in Bembe’s place. Monolinguals were sent to my interpreter, bilinguals to the Swahili-speaking interpreter. The occasional French-speaker was interviewed by our Swiss colleague. (She prized those exchanges, a rare chance to speak directly with villagers.)

At the beginning of my first interview, my interpreter asked our villager if he was ready to speak. My ears perked up in an unusual moment. He used a word I knew: tayari, “ready”. Kannada, a Dravidian language spoken in southwestern India, uses the same word for “readiness”—probably borrowed from Arabic via Persian and Hindi. Bembe probably borrowed the word from Swahili, a language that has absorbed a great deal of Arabic vocabulary through centuries of trade. How wonderfully curious, I thought, that a Kannada-speaker from the United States would have this word in common with a Bembe-speaker from one of the most remote regions in the world. I felt inspired—perhaps this interpreter bit would turn out well after all.

My readiness ended there.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Luo Yang

Now the midload was a middle flabe which was not too oversalt and a sugar flabe on her saliva glam and it wasn’t course quite satisfactual

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

… by making of the narrator not he who has seen and felt nor even he who is writing, but he who is going to write (the young man in the novel – but, in fact; how old is he and who is he? – wants to write but cannot; the novel ends when writing at last becomes possible), Proust gave modern writing its epic. By a radical reversal, instead of putting his life into his novel, as is so often maintained, he made of his very life a work for which his own book was the model…

the writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them. Did he wish to express himself, he ought at least to know that the inner ‘thing’ he thinks to ‘translate’ is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, its words only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Damien Roué

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