December 8, 2022

"'El Polaco' is the second of Coetzee’s novels to appear in Spanish first, but he began privileging translations much earlier..."

"... in his career: in the past twenty years, he’s seen to it that many of his books be made available in Dutch before any other language. Fêted in Amsterdam in 2010, Coetzee expressed appreciation at being 'read in a language in which I feel myself to be a somewhat more humorous writer than in the original English.' 'Humorous' is far less commonly applied to his writing than adjectives like 'cold,' 'austere,' 'rigorous,' 'spare'; Martin Amis famously described his style as 'predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure.' But to his enthusiasts Coetzee transmits a great deal of pleasure—in his outwardly severe, circumscribed manner—and exhibits an abiding if vanishingly subtle sense of humor...."

Writes Colin Marshall in "J. M. Coetzee’s War Against Global English/What lies behind the celebrated South African writer’s decision to publish his latest novel in Spanish before making it available in English?" (The New Yorker).

But it's not all about humor. In fact, it seems more like that predication on absolutely no pleasure that Amis talked about: 

"'I do not like the way in which English is taking over the world,' [Coetzee said]... 'I do not like the way in which it crushes the minor languages that it finds in its path. I don’t like its universalist pretensions, by which I mean its uninterrogated belief that the world is as it seems to be in the mirror of the English language. I don’t like the arrogance that this situation breeds in its native speakers. Therefore, I do what little I can to resist the hegemony of the English language.'"

27 comments:

gahrie said...

English has become the global language because it does the best job at it. English is very good both at creating new words, and at adopting words from other languages. Most other languages are not, and many nations actually "protect" their language from evolving in those ways. (French for example, which is one reason why French comes second to English as an international language)

Bill Crawford said...

Sounds like fighting the Tower of Babel

Enigma said...

Privilege: In the words of Inigo Montoya "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

https://blogs.transparent.com/english/i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means/


Hegemony versus English as an emergent efficient and economical common language -- hegemony too may not mean what some ideological people think is means. But, if we'd all switched to the made-up universal language Esperanto it's be cool?

Lurker21 said...

Hemispheric Spanish is Global English's little brother. A really daring move would have been to release the novel first in Nahuatl or Quechua.

One could also make the case that Coetzee is already a part of the Anglo-American(-Australian-South African) cultural blob, so maybe he ought to sit back and let other people tell their own stories. Not to mention the whole straight White male thing.

Joe Smith said...

Privileging?

Seems awkward...

Brylinski said...

In my experience in traveling the world, anyone who takes money speaks English.

Lem Former Twitter Aficionado said...

"Here, there and everywhere"

Jupiter said...

"I do what little I can to resist the hegemony of the English language."

He could stop using it.

Howard said...

English does the best job of being the global reserve language because the dollar is the global reserve currency, the US Military is the global reserve police force, the US entertainment industry is the global reserve movie industry, US aviation is the global reserve... ad infinitum.

When one is born on third base, it doesn't mean you just hit a triple. Bootstrapping is a shared fiction to remove the shame of unimaginable wealth and opportunity.

Coetzee's novels sounds like a long trek in an ox driven wagon over kop und vlei while fighting your inner varkhond.

Narr said...

"the shame of wealth and opportunity."

Yeah, all that wealth just lying around in the world, waiting to be picked up by whoever stumbles by . . .

The Howard weltanschauung in a nutshell. Sad.

gahrie said...

Bootstrapping is a shared fiction to remove the shame of unimaginable wealth and opportunity.

Tell that to Elon Musk.

Rollo said...

Fine sentiments, but they count for nothing if he didn't write the book in Spanish.

Owen said...

Can I just express my distaste for this neologism, "privilege" as a verb? The opening quote talks of Coetzee "privileging" a translation of his book. What does that even mean? I suppose it's an ugly short-hand for "deciding to publish a translation of the book into Language X before its publication in Language Y," but I also suppose the not-so-subtext is a political sermon such as "Coetzee is awarding post-modern victim status points to Language X over Language Y, because of colonial oppression yada yada."

It's really tiresome. And by the way, how can Coetzee "privilege" anything? It's his book, right? Is he awarding privilege points to himself as represented by one translation over himself as represented by a later one? How can he privilege himself over himself?

Lem Former Twitter Aficionado said...

I'd imagine randomness would be less random if everybody spoke the same language.

rcocean said...

Coetzee has a book about Dostovesky that I want to read, otherwise I'm not a fan. Maybe he writes better in spainish. His Nobel Prize was primarily for his anti-aparthiad work.

Lem Former Twitter Aficionado said...

When I was in Twitter, I followed a Mexican Spanish language editor and she often used a tag called #DiloMejorEnEspañol - 'Say Better in Spanish'. It was about looking for a Spanish word to substitute for English words that Spanish speakers often would use in conversation.

She later started working for the Spanish version (style?) of the NYT.

Steven said...

The world benefits from having a common language, I hope English usage will continue to expand. Imagine the benefits if the entire world could understand each other. It is amazing to see that whenever there are protests in other countries, the signs are in English so that they can get their message out to the world. The cultural aspects of losing languages are unfortunate, but really a minor loss compared to the benefit.

One might argue I only say this because I speak English, so we have some benefit. Well, someone is going to get lucky. Esperanto was ridiculous.

There are other cases though.

I think it is a great loss that the Catholic Church no longer uses a universal language, Latin, for masses. In my neighborhood there are English and Spanish speakers and the local parish has masses in each language at different times. The communities never meet each other. This is very sad. Why not use the universal language and everyone go to church together? People say "Oh, I won't understand the words". First, there are books that translate it and one can pick it up. Second, understanding the words is of secondary importance anyway.

SteveSc said...

"I do what little I can to resist the hegemony of the English language."

And it is so very little....

Lucien said...

No mention of Mandarin?

Biff said...

Enigma said..."Privilege: In the words of Inigo Montoya 'I do not think that word means what you think it means.'"

Not a bad list of misapplied phrases at that link. In general, I am prone to the pedantic defense of traditional, "standard" meanings and definitions. Nonetheless, maintaining the logician's definition of "begging the question" as anything more than a secondary, specialist definition seems to be a lost cause. To the consternation of pedants everywhere, the popular and primary definition of the contemporary English phrase is now "raising a question."

I expect I will concede on the subject of "disinterest" before I reach my death bed, though I will not be proud of it.

readering said...

Steven: I occasionally used to attend mass in other languages because of my schedule. Korean and Creole as well as Spanish. Follow in the book. You could do that.

I occasionally go to funerals at an SPPX parish. Weekdays, but daily communicants attend. They invariably spend the mass silently saying their rosary and ignoring the mass in Latin. I guess the old missals don't come with a translation.

Nice that one can attend RC mass anywhere in the world and hear the same service, even if one does not understand the language. And the mass is still in Latin. I have been to concelebrated multinational services in Latin. Folks forget that the mass is written in Latin and, from there translated into the other languages. With occasional disputes, as with the revised, controversial English translation some years back.

Howard said...

Musk had to make a long trek from South Afrika and utilize the vast wealth and infrastructure of the US to accomplish his goals.

narciso said...

it's intriguing because spanish has a whole other rhythm then english, and i imagine afrikaans doubly so,

Lazarus said...

Somebody ought to break the news to him.

The Boer War is over.

Narr said...

This reminds me of an argument with a friend in college.

English was already the lingua franca in the early '70s. It was the language of the two greatest empires if nothing else.

"But does English -deserve- to be the global language?" asked a friend.

-"What do you mean?"

"With all the evil that's been done . . ."

-"That's unique to English? What's unique to English is its flexibility and adaptability, you could call it promiscuity. It already has global cultural infrastructure unmatched by any other tongue, and is the basis of international business, and it doesn't have any close competitors. The world will not replace a tool that useful because of some moral-ethical qualms."

I recall it word for word like it was yesterday . . . with an effin frisson!



Gahrie said...

Musk had to make a long trek from South Afrika

Which he began as soon as he could at the age of 18, precisely because he knew that the United States was the one place where anything is possible through hard work and talent.

and utilize the vast wealth and infrastructure of the US to accomplish his goals.

And every other citizen, resident and illegal immigrant has the same ability to do so.

Elon came here with nothing, worked like Hell and slept on his office floor, and created a company that sold for over $300 million dollars. Elon got $22 million of that. Now at this point an awful lot of us would have retired to a life of leisure. I would have.

Instead Elon went back to work and created a company that eventually became PayPal. PayPal eventually sold for $1.5 billion. Elon got about $176 million of that. Again, I'd be on a yacht watching girls nude jelly wrestling at this point...but Elon went back to work.

He took over Tesla and founded SpaceX. (and eventually The Boring Company and Neuralink) He completely revolutionized electric cars, battery technology and rocketry. The Boring Company is busy making tunnels (and practicing for Mars) and Neurallink has announced the unveiling of their first technology, reportedly designed to help the paralyzed walk and the blind to see.

Along the way he has fathered 10 children, all of him he acknowledges and supports, and become the richest man in the world.

Another example:

There's a guy in his late 20's called David Dobrik. He was a DACA kid, his parents came here illegally from Slovakia when he was six. (He has a green card now) In high school in 2013 he started making videos for an app called Vine. He moved to L.A. and continued making Vines and started posting Youtube videos. They were very short (4 minutes 21 seconds) and often stupid. He has made something in the tens of millions of dollars across social media. As they say: "only in America".

RMc said...

"I do not like the way in which English is taking over the world"

Just wait 'til everybody's speaking Chinese, buddy.