Interview with Ilan Stavans, Professor of Latin American and Latino Cultures
at Amherst College
\"The Writer in Exile
Are you a writer or a Mexican writer?
I like to think that I am simply a writer but I\'m afraid that I will
inevitably remain a Mexican-or rather, a Hispanic-writer. Hispanic because
language is the main factor here, the vehicle of one\'s thoughts. Of course,
there are writers who overcome being from one country. No one would think of
Kafka as one more Czech writer, or Conrad as a Polish writer, or Nabokov as
another American or Russian writer. All of them did a wonderful thing with
exile, didn\'t they? They managed to master the art of exile. They became
better writers in the new language. Conrad is one of the greatest writers in
the English language.
Talking recently about writers from the West Indies, Brodsky said that
people like Walcott or Naipaul have two options, either choose the
transparency of non- history, that of their islands, or adopt the language
of their conquerors, the British.
I had a discussion with Brodsky about this, about joining forces with the
conqueror. He has a poem about Mexico, where he went invited by Octavio Paz.
It\'s called, \"To Yevgueny.\" In it, he celebrates the Spaniards, which would
seem a really politically incorrect thing to do. But what he said was that
it was nonsense to attack Spaniards because Mexico is made of Spanish
culture and of the native culture; you cannot eliminate one part. What good
is it to think that writing in Spanish is writing in the language of the
conquerors, or writing in English for me now is writing in the language of
the oppressors of Latin America? Writers have to choose the language that
makes it easier for them to communicate, the one that is more appropriate to
where they live and what they have to say. Anyway, nowadays, what are the
Caribbeans and Latin America but a pale copy of the United States? Choosing
the language of the conqueror is not a bad move. We were raised with the
popular images that come from the U.S., that come from that culture. Our
pantheon of heroes were replaced with a pantheon of characters from that
culture. Superman and Batman are part of my background.
Is that also communication?
I think it is. I have written an essay about communication called
\"Traduttore, traditore.\" The world is made of a thousand and one languages,
and we have different ways of handling communication. One attitude is let\'s
translate, another is let\'s not even try, a third is let\'s all learn a
universal language, such as Esperanto. Utopian, I know, but there was Latin
during the Renaissance, now there\'s English. A fourth option is, let\'s be
polyglots, let\'s live in more than one language, more than one reality.
Let\'s be multilinguists. I write in English for Americans about topics they
know little about, and I write in Spanish for Mexicans about topics they are
unacquainted with. I act as a bridge, I symbolize dialogue. Unless we say
that there can be no translation, unless we paraphrase Ambrose Bierce by
saying that an interpreter, a translator is someone who wants to convince
somebody of a message that was never there in the first place. The Hispanic
writers who live in the U.S., are they American or a continuation of Latin
America? A difficult question. Being bicultural is being troubled. It\'s a
source of constant conflicts, but only in paradise are there no conflicts. I
am the owner of a divided self and am sure my circumstances come as a result
of exile and, also, of a polyglot existence. (...)\"
MORE ABOUT LANGUAGE CHOICE : www.f.waseda.jp/buda/texts/language.html
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