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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Friday, March 20, 2009

LOL Literatures in Other Languages: Umberto Eco

21 March 2009
Umberto Eco

One of the dangers of macaronic texts (and even of monolingual works in second languages) is that of not really understanding the words in the non-mother tongues. After all, as all writers know, dictionaries do not really contain all the meanings of a word; at most, dictionaries point you towards the strictly literal meaning, but do not give you the reverberations, the music, the feel, the shape, the taste of a word (which is what poets look for). Umberto Eco, in his Il nome della rosa (1980), translated into English as The Name of the Rose (1983), satirizes the lunatic fringe of multilingual writing, with the character of Salvatore, who "spoke not one, but all languages, none correctly, taking words sometimes from one and sometimes from another." As the old logicians used to say, however, abusus rei usum non tollit [the abuse of something does not mean that we should not use it]. Of course, there are multilingual texts that don't quite make literary standards, but if language is really central to the craft of writing, then surely the use of more than one language has to be an asset rather than a drawback. Everything else being equal (and admittedly they never are), a work using more than one language should be considered superior to a work using only one.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 3:36 AM


T.S. Eliot has proven Dr. Cruz's point that more languages make poetry "richer" -- in fact, it will assume broader dimensions. This presupposes, however, that the "other language" lines are part of the poetic materials needed to create the "integrity" of the poem. The other languages, quite functionally, become part of the integrated "gestalt" that the whole poem or fiction is.

When is the use of more than one language an asset? When the other languages contribute to the "hardening" of the central imagery in the poem, as in Eliot's "Wasteland". When characters in a piece of fiction speak their native language (to authenticate characters as well as enhance the creation of verisimilitude in order to achieve "suspension of disbelief"). These are instances where multi-language in a literary work could be assets.

Of course, there is always the caveat of creating dysfunctional (even malfunctioning) images in poems and unnecessary dilettantism in the fiction's characterization.

"Reductio ad absurdum" could best describe a mish-mash of language-interlacing that does not achieve the writer's artistic purpose. The misuse of multilingual lines reduces the composition into an absurdity literature is best without. A lot of "literary" work are abstruse already even without the other languages. James Joyce in his "Finnegan's Wake" comes to mind. It could become goobledygook.

(See for a more of the above.)--ALBERT B. CASUGA

21 March, 2009 07:01

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