20 July 2010

John Guzlowski

Is a literary text written in a second language necessarily less profound than a literary text written in a mother tongue?  The following poem (reprinted without permission from the author) raises this question.  It would be good for a critic (someone else, not me!) to examine the philosophical content of works by Joseph Conrad (to name the most apparently profound of authors writing in a second language) and compare them with that of works by any monolingual British author of the same stature.

I can't tell you about Kant
in Polish, or the Reformation,
or deconstruction
or why the Nazis moved east
before moving west,
or where I came from,
but I can count to ten, say hello
and goodbye, ask for coffee,
bread or soup.
I can tell you people die.
It's a fact of life,
and there's nothing
you or I can do about it.
I can say, "Please, God,"
and "Don't be afraid."
If I look out at the rain
I can tell you it's falling.
If there's snow,
I can say, "It's cold outside
today, and it'll most likely
be cold tomorrow."


  1. I would like to quote the multilingual author Albert Russo regarding Joseph Conrad:

    "Oh, I hear the naysayers: 'You can only write well in your native language.' I've heard that remark about my own multilingual exercises, specially here in France. And who utters such opinions? Monolingual critics, journalists or writers, who have no idea of what the possession [of] another language entails. And they add: 'You will never be able to excel in a second language.' They forget the case - very rare indeed, that is why, I admire Powell's endeavors - of Joseph Conrad, whose native tongue was Polish and whose second language was French. He learnt English in his twenties, spoke it with such a bad accent that people could hardly understand him, and yet he wrote the most beautiful and sophisticated novels in English. A bon entendeur salut!"

    - excerpted from Russo's foreward to Dr. Santosh Kumar's book "Adam Donaldson Powell: the Making of a Poet", Cyberwit.net, 2010.

  2. Dear Ms. Cruz, thank you for posting my poem here and making it a part of your discussion.

    Let me say one thing, as a writer who has both been translated into other languages and translated work into other languages, I feel that the process of translation enriches all involved, the writer being translated, the translator doing the translation, and of course the reader reading the translation.

    Translation deepens the writing and the writer.