Thursday, 24 February 2011

just what is it that makes lists so appealing?

For an article published in The Guardian online last week, Dan Vyleta compiled his 'Top 10' of books written in the author's second or adopted language. Discussing the practice of writing in a language other than one he was born into, Vyleta comments:

"It is true that for many of us our relationship to our adopted language is not territorial. Mine is an English that I cobbled together from the many places I have lived and the books I have read, a transnational quilt. It limits me in some respects, and opens avenues in others."

Among those on his list were books by the usual suspects - Conrad, Nabokov, Brodsky, Beckett - along with some by lesser known (Emine Sevgi Özdamar) or currently prominent (Aleksandar Hemon) writers. It was great to see Ha Jin mentioned, whose book of essays The Writer as Migrant (The University of Chicago Press, 2008) has a simultaneously steadying and animating effect.

Through this piece I learned that the technical term for such writers is 'exophones'. Literally, this means 'outside of voice'. Which carries all sorts of dismissive overtones. 'Exolingual', an alternative in the same vein, would suggest something else entirely.

I'm actually rather amused by efforts to find appropriate labels: emigré, transnational, post-national, heteroglossic, polyglot... Wouldn't it be interesting to consider how, to a certain extent, all writers use a hybrid tongue, one of their own making?

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