Saturday, September 22, 2007

Caroline Bergvall and multilingualism

Here's an excerpt from an interesting interview John Stammers conducted with Caroline Bergvall:

JS: So in what way did this move into another language become the idea of writing?
CB: What it demands of you, when you move from your first language into another language, as a writer, the person who manipulates language, verbal material, is that you become part of the activity or the commitment to writing. It became the fact that I am not English but I am writing in English. This throws up a number of questions. How do I read English culture? How do I situate myself in it? Am I a foreigner to it? All that becomes the project of writing and that's really linked to my being a writer.

JS: Elsewhere you have said that bilingualism and even, (being half French, half Norwegian) trilingualism is an influence of yours which presumably relates to what you what you have just said.
CB: What it has done is create a critical and an artistic interest in the crossing points between languages. The way languages and cultures meet, can or cannot meet. So I have become more and more interested in writing or literary work which is written in more than one language. My own work, more and more, is trying to use those. And that's not necessarily to create mongrel or hybrid languages, but is actually to show up the impact that languages have against, or into, each other. That also indirectly, I think, can explain my interest in installation art, in kinds of cross-art forms, an interest in mis-spellings, in idiosyncrasies of all kinds, kinds of mis-translations.

JS: Are you saying there's a special awareness that comes with that, of difference and of the fact of language and languages?
CB: Yes. It generates an awareness. You can't forget that you are using verbal material you don't have the same so called intuition of language you can have with your first language. The whole issue of the mother tongue becomes immediately very problematic. It isn't my first language so where do I place myself, where do I place the whole activity of dreaming, of speaking in tongues, of connotation? The buried knowledge of the culture of the language, do I have it or not? Will I misunderstand you in fact? I've lived here for ten years in England but how much am I acquiring or not? That for me becomes very dynamic in the everyday use of the language and therefore even more so in its artistic use or its literary use.

[For full interview:]


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