De Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren, opgericht in 2006, is een zelfstandige Werkgroep binnen de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde. De Werkgroep stelt zich ten doel om de literatuur van Suriname, de Nederlandse Antillen en Aruba te ondersteunen en de studie ervan te bevorderen.
|Zaterdag 1 mei, 15.00 uur, Theater van ’t Woord
Status Aparte 2; presentatie nieuwe Caraïbische romans
Boekenprogramma van Uitgeverij In de Knipscheer in samenwerking met de OBA en de Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren rond de zojuist verschenen ‘Curaçaose’ roman Ruwe olie van Karel de Vey Mestdagh en de nieuwe roman Devah van de Arubaanse schrijver Jacques Thönissen. De auteurs lezen uit hun nieuwe werk en praten over hun schrijverschap met Peter de Rijk.
Na afloop signeren de auteurs bij de boekentafel van In de Knipscheer.
Toegang gratis maar wel verplicht kaarten te reserveren via www.oba.nl/agenda of via 020-5230900
Over de auteurs en hun werk:
Karel de Vey Mestdagh (1950) debuteerde in 2005 met Onder een hemel van tin, een autobiografisch getinte verhalenbundel. In de roman Ruwe olie neemt De Vey Mestdagh een even onbekende als bijzondere episode in de internationale politiek als uitgangspunt. De wereld in 2001, ontduiking van VN-sancties, illegale olie, terreur, en hoe Curacao hierbij betrokken raakt. Deze roman laat zien hoezeer internationale gebeurtenissen kunnen ingrijpen in het leven van gewone mensen.
Jacques Thönissen. Aruba is voor Thönissen al een halve eeuw een tweede vaderland. Na zijn carriere als o.a. leraar Spaans en directeur van het Augustinus College te San Nicolas, schreef hij drie Arubaans-Caraïbische romans: Tranen om de ara, Eilandzigeuner en De roep van de troepiaal. Hij schreef voorts drie kinder- en jeugdboeken die ook in het Papiaments zijn verschenen. In zijn nieuwste roman Devah wedijvert de herinnering met droombeelden, die aanschurken tegen de werkelijkheid van het heden. Zijn werk vertoont trekken van het magisch realisme.
Tweede Cola Debrot Lezing
Op 6 april jl. werd in de OBA de Tweede Cola Debrot Lezing gehouden. De Cubaans-Amerikaanse auteur Ana Menéndez liet op uitnodiging van de Werkgroep Caribische Letteren haar licht schijnen op de rol van taal in haar leven en literatuur. Hieronder vindt u de integrale tekst van haar lezing.
THE BILINGUAL IMAGINATION
El universo (que otros llaman la Biblioteca) se compone de un número indefinido, y tal vez infinito, de galerías hexagonales, con vastos pozos de ventilación en el medio, cercados por barandas bajísimas. Desde cualquier hexágono se ven los pisos inferiores y superiores: interminablemente.
Como todos los hombres de la Biblioteca, he viajado en mi juventud; he peregrinado en busca de un libro, acaso del catálogo de catálogos; ahora que mis ojos casi no pueden descifrar lo que escribo, me preparo a morir a unas pocas leguas del hexágono en que nací.
Good evening. Thank you all for being here tonight and thank you to the Working Group on Caribbean Literature and especially to Dr. Van Kempen for making it possible for me to be here. It's a real pleasure to speak to you tonight in this gorgeous library.
Some of you may have recognized the opening, slightly abridged, of Jorge Luis Borges' short story La Biblioteca de Babel, The Library of Babel. A library, because I thought it would be appropriate tonight. In Spanish, because that is how he wrote it, and because I wanted to open with a foreign cadence, the music of the other. And Jorge Luis Borges because he was bilingual, iconoclastic and completely original. And it is the inter-relation of those qualities that is the subject of my talk tonight.
Like most of you, I am bilingual.
My first memory is about language. I'm two years old and being carried by my mother. She is holding me in one arm and with the other is opening the freezer. "Esto se llama hielo," she says, taking out a tray of ice. "Así es como se dice amarillo en Inglés."
This is called ice; that is how you say yellow in English. I don't know what my toddler mind made of this riddle. But it shocked and delighted me enough that I still remember it almost 40 years later. I think it was there in that little kitchen in Tampa, Florida, that my life-long fascination with language - its possibilities as well as its limitations - was born.
My sister and I grew up in a bilingual family. And though my parents spoke Spanish almost exclusively, my mother (aware that we were after all, living in the United States) made an effort to slip in an English word now and then. I think she was worried I might be lost when I started school. And I was. I remember my first day of pre-school, where the other kids were speaking a fast, hard language that I could not really understand.
I don't remember suffering from my inability to communicate. If I felt anything, it was more a fascination before the enormous mystery of language. How was it that these people could make their feelings and desires known simply by manipulating a set of unintelligible syllables? The fascination, of course, soon gave way to comprehension. By kindergarten, my English was fluent enough to play along with the others. And by first-grade I began my first experimentation in language, writing a short story (in crayon) about how the butterfly got its name -- naturally, the etymology involved a vat of butter.
In grade school, as my grasp of grammar rules grew with my vocabulary, an unease began to gnaw at me. One day in the car, I presented my mother with the dilemma. How was it, I demanded to know, that in Spanish not just people, but also things - chairs, desks, refrigerators -- were either male or female, but in English they seemed to be neither. Was una mesa still female when you translated it to table? I don't really remember my mother's response. I suspect it was something along the lines of, "That's just the way it is, dear." Like most parents of young children, mom had by this time grown weary of my endless questions.
But she might have also been a little concerned about my apparent confusion. In the 1970s, when I was growing up, hearing more than one language as a child was said to delay language ability and might even interfere with general cognitive development. Then there were the political costs. In the United States "bilingual education" has always been a volatile subject.
Florida was debating bilingual education in the schools, and Tampa was still something of a backwater , when my father was accosted at work by a colleague demanding to know if he was in favor of bilingual education. My father, sensing a trap, responded: "Absolutely not. My children are already bilingual." Then he added, mischievously: "Your children, however, might benefit."
In fact, the benefits of bilingualism have since been widely studied. Aside from encouraging the development of a more worldly and educated citizen, early bilingualism may confer other benefits. Since the dark ages of my childhood, researchers seem to have revised warnings about the horrible dangers that a second language poses to a young brain. In fact, knowing more than one language as a child seems to set you up for a smarter adulthood. Alison Mackey and Kendall King summed up some of the new research in The Bilingual Edge (HarperCollins 2007). People who are fluent in two or more languages since early childhood are better able to perform multiple tasks while distracted, tend to score higher on IQ tests and exhibit greater creativity. Neither are the benefits confined to young adulthood. Those exposed to multiple languages as children show fewer signs of mental decline as they age. Perhaps not surprisingly, they also tend to show greater cultural empathy as well as an ability to learn still more languages. In one widely-quoted study first reported in Nature, bilingual children were shown to have more "grey matter" in their brains than children who had not been exposed to a second language. The earlier the exposure, the larger the density. But all the research in the world won't persuade a skeptic. And, anyway, it's not my aim to convert anyone. I'm proof that bilingualism is no ticket to success or exceptional intelligence. I still haven't managed to master the multiplication tables. For me this early exposure to two languages was simply a wedge that opened a wider world, that primed me to adapt to difference and change. I think what all bilingual children know instinctively - even if they're not consciously aware of it - is that there is more than one way to interpret the world. This is a significant insight, especially for a self-centered child.
If there is more than one way to express colors, if inanimate objects can acquire different properties, if one girl's mesa is another boy's table, then increasingly the idea of a single truth becomes harder to accept.
I hardly need to sell the Dutch on the wonders of bilingualism. I just read an article about a Spanish girl practicing her English…in the Netherlands. But I want to explore what bilingualism means to creativity. There are many reasons to learn another language: to appreciate foreign cultures, to communicate in an increasingly interconnected world, to make money. But there is something else that bilingualism gives us: a subtle shift in the mind, a step back from the chauvinism of a single language, and therefore of a single, discrete reality.
What does this mean for the writer? Some years ago, I realized that my most revered writers were also famously bi or tri-lingual. The list is long: Becket, Nabokov, Conrad, Calvino, Borges. Was it a coincidence? Writers, after all, are in love with language, which stands to reason that they would be promiscuous with that love. But there is more to it. The particular kind of narratives these writers created was directly influenced by their knowledge of multiple tongues. Bilingualism shaped their mind in a way that produced a particular kind of fiction: a fiction obsessed with language, with the other, with doubles and, to a certain extent, with uncertainty.
Borges' biographer Emir Rodriguez Monegal has explored this idea with characteristic astuteness. He points out that Borges, "Georgie" to his relatives acquired Spanish from his mother and English from his paternal grandmother Fanny Haslam de Borges and from his father. Borges learned English before Spanish. He first read Don Quixote in English and when he read it in the Spanish he thought it was a bad translation.
"This bilingualism would produce a split which would give rise to the double in his work," he writes. (one can cite for example, the inverted symmetry in stories like The Garden of Forking Paths) This bilingualism Monegal continues " was the origin of a double voice which ordered his entry into writing. While Borges was Georgie, he was convinced that Spanish was an inferior language (of servants and Galician immigrants) English on the other hand was a superior language, his father's and grandmother's language"
In his essay "El Cuerpo y el Codigo en los cuentos de Jorge Luis Borges" Didier Anzieu writes:
Borges es el narrador del alba del lenguaje. Comparte con nosotros el jubiloso deslumbramiento de niño que descubre que su cuerpo coincide con un código y que puede jugar con ese código de la misma manera que su madre y el han jugado con el cuerpo del otro. Nos comunica la embriaguez de pensar que la polisemia de los simbolos, que las combinaciones infinitas permitidas gracias a cualquier código, una vida, todas las vidas de todos los hombres del pasado, del presente o del futuro, no las agotaran nunca. Desmontar con el fin de dominar los mecanismos de esa polisemia, de esas combinaciones, se convierte entonces en un medio para reparar el tiempo que transcurre, la muerte que se repite en cada separación, un medio para superar el horror de los espejos cuando no devuelven la imagen fragmentada, mutilada, de nuestro cuerpo….
Borges is the narrator of the dawn of language. He shares with us the dazzling jubilance of the child who discovers that his body corresponds to a code and that he can play with that code in the same way his mother and he have played with each others bodies. We understand the thrill of thinking that the meanings of the symbols, which allow infinite combinations, will not be exhausted by one life, nor by all the lives of all men who have every lived in the past, present or future. Mastering the mechanisms of this polysemy, then becomes a means to repair time itself, to vanquish the death that repeats itself in each separation; the multiple symbols become a means by which to overcome the horror of the mirrors that return the fragmented, mutilated image of our body ....
And so Borges played with the ultimate code, that of language. He was the characteristic bilingual writer who, like Nabokov and Calvino, derive a sense of play from the polysemy inherent in life itself, and so enlist the infinite combination of symbols as a way to outrun mortality.
Think of Alejo Carpentier, born in Switzerland, raised in Cuba, with an adolescence in Paris where he spoke and read French fluently. Later, in exile to France he said he worked to guard himself against "the insularity of his homeland. Who other than an international polyglot like Carpentier could have observed and been able to name "lo real maravilloso?"
Think also of Nabokov's poetry in which so much turns on words or even on the letters of the alphabet.
Here is the opening of Nabokov's: "An Evening of Russian Poetry" first published in The New Yorker in 1945:
The subject chosen for tonight's discussion
Is everywhere, though often incomplete:
when their basaltic bank become too steep,
most rivers use a kind of rapid Russian,
and so do children talking in their sleep.
My little helper at the magic lantern,
insert that slide and let the colored beam
project my name or any such-like phantom
in Slavic characters upon the screen.
The other way, the other way. I thank you.
On mellow hills the Greek, as you remember,
fashioned his alphabet from cranes in flight;
his arrows crossed the sunset, then the night.
Our simple skyline and a taste for timber,
The influence of hives and conifers,
reshaped the arrows and the borrowed birds.
'Why do you speak of words
When all we want is knowledge nicely browned?'
Nikolai Gumilev, ( the poet who so influenced Nabokov) wrote:
"An agonizingly sweet, childishly wise sense of our own incognizance that is what provides us with the unknown…always remember the unknowable …"
The unknowable, the untranslatable, the alien shape of the foreign tongue. That is what art is trying to get at. And for the bilingual writer, language is the first manifestation of the mystery that lies at the core of our existence.
How does story telling confront this essential mystery honestly? How does it translate the untranslatable. Of course, I don't have the answer. But we can begin to find a glimmer of it in the form of story telling itself. Because what is story telling but the ultimate act of translation, of transmitting experience, of mediating space, of communicating meaning in a world of random and fleeting information.
To this end, there's a story I like to tell about a story Umberto Eco tells that tells us everything we need to know about story.
It starts with 40,000 tons of nuclear waste sitting in temporary storage in the United States. That much regular garbage is daunting enough. That much hot garbage presents a major technical and ethical dilemma. The government doesn't know quite what to do with it.
Some years ago, The Department of Energy proposed burying the radioactive waste under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. But even if they could persuade the public that the material would pose no hazard in the immediate future, scientists still had to ensure that the material would pose no hazard into the distant future: The garbage would be radioactive and deadly for the next 10,000 years. How to warn future generations to stay away from the mountain?
As Eco writes in The Search for The Perfect Language, the linguist Thomas A. Sebeok was hired in 1981 by the office of Nuclear Waste Isolation to come up with a solution. To come up with, if you will, the ultimate translation.
Sebeok immediately ruled out any kind of written warning. There was no permanent language to warn human beings 10,000 years into the future to "Keep Out." Words are abstract things, deeply rooted in the contemporary and dependent on context to transmit meaning. Just a few generations after the last Pharaoh, the knowledge of hieroglyphic writing had disappeared.
Sebeok ruled out other forms of permanent communication: noise and electrical signals needed a power supply; smells don't last; and ideograms, like words, lose their meaning over time.
The only solution Sebeok could offer was for the U.S. to establish a kind of "Atomic Priesthood" -- a select group of scientists aided by legend-makers whose job it would be to translate the warning of the deadly waste from generation to generation through story-telling. Over time, the mechanics of the message would surely change, time and culture shaping the translation. But the meaning - Danger - would be preserved and transmitted as taboo from the distant past. The Atomic Priesthood never came to be. And the Obama Administration recently rejected the idea of disposing the waste at Yucca Mountain. What remains of that story ( besides this enormous nuclear waste) is the enduring nature of story-telling itself.
* In 2009, after discarding a second novel-in-progress, I decided, in frustration, to stop writing. I had read many novels in the previous year and while I found passages memorable, as a whole their structures left me empty. Creation had acquired a sort of fundamentalist predictability. I couldn't do it anymore: couldn't draw up a fake history of a character, didn't give a damn about his motivation, didn't want to cook up another plot-driving conflict. I realize, of course, that mine was a private crisis and it is unfair and even mad to blame the entire tradition of the novel for what was, in the end, a matter of consequence to no one but myself. But writing, like reading, is an intensely personal act. If I could no longer create a world, then all possible worlds were suddenly lost to me. One night, I sat down with two books by Italo Calvino: Six Memos for the Next Millennium and Numbers in the Dark. Calvino, who, incidentally, had been born in Havana, had rescued me earlier in my writing career, and I was hoping these titles would provide a similar salve for what ailed me.
Memos is a collection of five lectures (there were to be six, hence the title) that Calvino prepared for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1985. Calvino died of a brain hemorrhage in Italy, weeks before he was to deliver them, but the lectures he had prepared outline the values Calvino held most dear in art. The fifth lecture, "Multiplicity", deals with the idea of the contemporary novel as an encyclopedia. Calvino begins with a long quotation from Carlo Emilio Gadda's novel That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana and goes on to include, in encyclopedic fashion, writers from Robert Musil to Marcel Proust to Thomas Mann to of course, Jorge Luis Borges.
Borges was the forefather of what Calvino described as the "hyper-novel", a work with a multiplicity of narratives that in an essential way corresponds to the writer's multiplicity of languages, as well as the modern world's multiplicity of realities. It's too bad that neither man lived to see the rise of Google, the internet offering the ultimate playground for the novel-as-encyclopedia. Yet both Calvino and Borges, like characters in their own fiction, call forth out of the future the possibilities of a seemingly infinite database, Borges with his "Library of Babel" and Calvino with "World Memory", where an organization is preparing "the greatest document centre ever conceived, an archive that will bring together and catalogue everything that is known about every person, animal and thing..." Similarly, George Perec in the 1970s seemed to anticipate the billions of bits of narratives, trivia and images instantly accessible today to anyone with a laptop.
In La vie: mode d'emploi (Life: A User's Manual), Perec constructs a series of interconnecting stories packed with allusions, lists and seemingly unrelated bits of data, creating a work that is new not just in its rendering but in the way it captures a feeling of the present.
I read both Calvino books in a few days. The spiritual fog that had been descending on me for many months, perhaps years, began to lift. And I began to write. I started with an essay written from the point of view of Herbert Quain, Borges' fictional Irish writer. And that essay led to a story, which led to another, which led to another, all written under a series of arbitrary and self-imposed constraints. I had not approached writing with so much happiness since I was a child. The joy of the text had been restored.
Many of these new stories deal, not surprisingly, with translation: the necessity, folly and hilarity of the whole enterprise. In one, "Adios Happy Homeland" several Cuban poets are translated by Google. Another one, about José Martí, begins like this:
He had dreamt of a verse and when he woke, he found he had dragged it back with him across the viscous borderland of sleep. We will listen to these hymns and attach wings of gold to them, and they will cross the sea. He repeated it out loud, listening along with the words. We will listen to these hymns and attach wings of gold to them, and they will cross the sea. The images were familiar, but the words themselves were a mystery until he realized someone - something? - had translated them into English. And as he thought this, another thought simultaneous to that one told him that both these thoughts and the earlier one had also been translated. He ordered himself to think in Spanish, but the order itself was delivered in English.
The forms had changed, but the obsession was the same: language, and all it can and cannot solve. We are all bilingual in this sense, forever translating the ineffable wonder of being alive into a language others might understand. But, always, the inexpressible haunts every syllable. At best, we are left with an impression, a comprehension that goes beyond meaning and that is the essence of poetry, and of life.
Op 26 februari jl. organiseerde De Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren de 2e Van Lier Lezing. Deze vond plaats in het Lipsiusgebouw van de Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen van de Universiteit van Leiden. De lezing werd gehouden door Francio Guadeloupe, docent bij de afdeling Culturele Antropologie en Ontwikkelingsstudies (CAOS) van de Radbouw Universiteit Nijmegen en onderzoeker bij de Amsterdam School for Social Scientific Research (ASSR) van de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Zijn lezing kreeg als titel mee ‘Adieu aan koelies, nikkers en makambas: raciaal denken binnen de antropologie van de Caraïben’. Aspha Bijnaar, onderzoeker bij het Nationaal instituut Nederlands slavernijverleden en erfenis (NiNsee) in Amsterdam, trad op als referent. Een boeiende discussie met de zaal volgde.
dr. Francio Guadeloupe
Doelstelling van de werkgroep is het initiëren en ondersteunen van activiteiten ter bevordering van de Caraïbische letteren in ruime zin (literatuur, cultuur, geschiedenis). De werkgroep kiest daarbij voor een invalshoek die haar onderscheidt van organisaties die zich op verwant terrein begeven. Het gaat de werkgroep om het leggen van verbindingen tussen generaties, gevestigd en aankomend literair talent, landen (Nederland, Suriname, de Nederlandse Antillen en Aruba) en talen, tradities en perspectieven. Vanuit deze brugfunctie wil de werkgroep zich vooral richten op het aanspreken
en aanmoedigen van jongeren, het bevorderen van transatlantische samenwerking en het ter discussie stellen van vraagstukken die zoveel mogelijk vanuit een actueel maatschappelijke invalshoek worden bestudeerd. Op die manier is het mogelijk om relevante ‘blinde vlekken’ en lopende ontwikkelingen te identificeren en onder de aandacht van een breed publiek te brengen. Kennisoverdracht, uitwisseling, bewustwording en artistieke vernieuwing zijn daarbij sleutelbegrippen. De werkgroep zal bij het entameren van activiteiten steeds waar mogelijk aansluiting zoeken bij organisaties met een verwante doelstelling.