Thursday, 23 October 2008

Living Life Through an Anglophone Lens

I was picking out Nordic movies with a roommate of mine the other day at the library. She is Slovakian, is ethnically Hungarian, is fluent in German, is studying Swedish and Icelandic, and understands more French and Spanish than me. So here I am finding all these great movies but having to put them down just because they have no subtitles in English. She asked, "Why aren't you taking those?" and I thought it would be an obvious answer to her, that I won't be able to watch it if the subtitles weren't English. To her, there would be no impediment. Until then I hadn't realized that I used English as a crutch to access other cultures. Knowing a language fluently is having a key to some other world.

Up until a few years ago I refrained from reading anything but English literature because I didn't want to read translated books - I thought it would skewer the whole purpose of reading a novel. Of course, I gave up and read Italo Calvino via William Weaver and got more and more into world literature.
But the fundamental question remains: is it better to have read a book and lost most of what is happening than to have never read it at all? The English language can only do so much.

I regret that I will never be able to access so many cultures because of my lack of skills in that language. It's great that so many things are translated into English, but I will always feel I'm living in a pseudo-world where everything is slightly off, or has been fitted to fit in with the limitations of English.

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