January 12, 2004
Yesterday I wrote some notes on the seminar on language. The topic was "What does it mean for you to write in English? and How do you translate yourself, your story, into a new language. I just have one more comment from Lan Cao. She said "translation can be leveraged into an advantage." I have at my disposal, she said, cliches in Vietnamese, but when they are translated, they become colourful English phrases.
There was much discussion of CNN as a fountain of cliches. Images that pretend to portray reality are complete distortions of reality.
What conveys reality? The sounds of language? The images. The tone?
Sasha Hemon from Sarajevo said that after 9-11 a story he had just written had to be changed from a major key to a minor key. He didn't explain how he did that -- it is so clear in music--you just alter the third note of the scale. I imagined him going through a story and darkening every scene slightly, tinting every conversation with a touch more foreboding...and if your stories are pretty dark already, then what would it mean?? The idea of changing the key of a story obsesses me still. Maybe one day I can see the two drafts of Hemon's story.
Elizabeth Nunez: wanted to clarify a comment Bharati Mukherjee had made the evening before about how immigration laws were liberalized in the US in 1965. Nunez pointed out that the Civil Rights Bill which was passed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 tried to ensure equal protection under the law, as enshrined in the constitution, for all discriminated groups. People should be protected regardless of race, colour, creed, and "country of origin." The inclusion of country of origin in the Bill of Rights led directly to the liberalization of immigration which clearly discriminated against people based on their country of origin. I had not realized that.
Elizabeth talked about the different kinds of immigrant situations. She chose to leave Trinidad which she saw as a much more sexist society than the US. Educated women were not encouraged to work. By 1967 she was in the US, getting her MA and PhD at night while holding a full-time job. She said that when you choose to leave, you choose to have such loss, to say good-bye to so much. She goes back often now to visit with family, but contact, communication, and visiting must have been much more difficult for her in the 70s and 80s.
Her comment made me think of my own grandmother who immigrated in 1926, leaving behind her father and many loved brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. It must have been deeply painful to make the decision to leave them, to try and make a better life for one's children. And then - what if 15 years later,everyone is murdered and there is no Warsaw left for you to ever return to and no more letters...