09 July 2009

Gustavo Pérez Firmat

In his introduction to his book Tongue Ties (2003), Gustavo Pérez Firmat writes: "Even in writers who write in only one language, the other language (be it their ‘second’ or their ‘first’) exerts a determining if often tacit pressure. This type of writing incorporates a ‘latent bilingualism,’ to use Claudio Guillén’s phrase, that manifests itself in deeper, often more disturbing ways than code-switching or interlingual play. In several chapters of the book, my effort will be to read bilingually in seemingly monolingual contexts, to examine how the absent or lost language shapes the writer’s transactions with his vehicular tongue." (p. 8)

This is the kind of reading that I wish more literary critics would do. Pérez Firmat has some debatable ideas about what mother tongues are like, but his method is clearly important. Because many (if not most) writers today do not know only one language, it is increasingly important to develop a literary method of analysis, if not a literary theory, that will allow us to explore the multilinguistic dimensions of a literary text.

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