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Now I remember why I stumbled across the Slow Manifesto last night. I was about to google “Slow Man” when the automated suggestion “Slow Manifesto” caught my attention. Needless to say, I completely forgot about Slow Man.
So here we go again…Slow Man…Cotzee. Oh yeah right, C-o-e-t-z-e-e, thanks google (such a know-it-all).
Complete Review says “No consensus [among the reviewers], with quite a few quite disappointed.” I’m not sure whether I’m disappointing or not. I’m not overly familiar with Coetzee’s authorship so I suppose I did not really know what to expect. Except that it was about a man who lost his leg, and frankly how much fun could that be? So I read Elizabeth Costello before Slow Man because I knew they would interlink somehow. I wish I hadn’t. I did not really like Costello, an author (Coetzee’s alter-ego?) who gives, or listen to other people give, lectures. So her presence in Slow Man was annoying as hell. Otherwise, a quite pleasant novel. -What you would expect from a Nobel Prize winner? I don’t know, what do you expect from a Nobel Prize winner? -Something touching. Moving. That crawls underneath your skin? In that case, no. -But a literary experiment? Yes, perhaps. But a pretty boring one. Or maybe the experiment, the initial question, was interesting, but the result, the answer, was boring. Such things happens. -Pushing boundaries is not interesting? If you have nothing of interest to say I see no need with pushing boundaries, only for the sake of pushing.
In Elizabeth Costello I took loads of notes because I thought she was quite clever to begin with. Then she loses her mind (Alzheimer’s?…I have no backing for this theory, I suspect it is not even the case. But either that, or I lost my mind because I could not follow any of her reasoning after chapter 6.). In Slow Man she is not so interesting, does not do or talk much at all actually. But there is something she says about language that hit a nerve with me:
‘Ever since you reminded me of your French past, you know, I have been listening with pricked ears. And, yes, you are right: you speak English, you probably think in English, you may even dream in English, yet English is not your true language. I would even say that English is a disguise for you, or a mask, part of your tortoiseshell armour. As you speak I swear I can hear words being selected, one after another, from the word-box you carry around with you, and slotted into place. That is not how a true native speak, one who is born into a language.’
‘How does a native speak?’
‘From the heart. Words well up within and he sings them, sings along with them. So to speak.’
I have two word-boxes. One that once wasn’t a word-box at all. It was the true language of a native who spoke from the heart. But I pushed the language into a word-box because it wasn’t good enough for me. Too limiting. I still carry it close to heart, but it is not the same. As for the other word-box, I speak English, think in English and maybe, possibly dream in English, although I don’t think I dream in any language at all. But of course, there will always be that accent, that process of selecting the words, the unnaturalness in speaking, the contrived in the writing. I was too greedy and wanted a language that was not mine. Now, all I have are my two word-boxes, and no langauge. No song.
In the novel, Elizabeth Costello offers Paul language lessons. ‘I will teach you how to speak from the heart.’ So dear Mr. Coetzee, I know you are not Elizabeth Costello but I know a part of her is you. Would you please give me language lessons and teach me to speak from the heart?
I expanded my vocabulary today:
Taxidermy is “the art of preparing and preserving the skins of animals and of stuffing and mounting them in lifelike form.” In other words, a fancy way of talking about stuffed animals. And the fancy ways are always good to know.
In my old high school, all science classes were taught in a near-ancient building that, for some obscure reason, was called Siberia. On teh second floor of Siberia there was a biological museum filled with stuffed animals and jars with nasty pickled things. Mostly birds and fishes but also the more exciting ones that you can see in the picture. My personal favorite was the polar bear, which I think is the little white, fluffy thing behind the moose. But the most impressing piece of the whole collection was the elephant head. It was mounted on the wall to the left and came with some anecdotal myth about how it had ended up in the museum. A story which I have obviously forgotten by now, as with everything else I was ever taught in Siberia. I think it was more of an escaped-animals-from-a-traveling-circus-story than a killed-by-Roosevelt-on-safari-in-the-deepest-and-darkest-Africa-story. But still impressive. I also want to remember a human foetus in one of the jars but that sounds a bit too unorthodox to be true, it was probably a monkey, or thinking about it, it might have been a X-files episode.