STORIES BEYOND BORDERS: 4. Dancing Words i. Mother Tongue, Foreign Tongue and Literary Production

(Presented between 22nd March and 1st April 2005 at York University, U of T, McMaster University, University of Waterloo, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada; “Multiculturalism and Cultural Production in Contemporary Germany”)

i. Mother Tongue, Foreign Tongue and Literary Production


For those of you, who still believe that poems are just sentiments and feelings, can go ahead and form a specific reader or consumer group for all I care. However, these people can not be real lovers of literature. I was once asked by a colleague during a reading, “How can you do this? Poetry for me is an expression of my innermost feelings, which I can only imagine in my mother tongue.” Such a group of people certainly have feelings. But they are not creative word acrobats, who, during literary creation, can sometimes mercilessly cannibalize their feelings or at times beautify them exaggeratedly, so that they can come a bit closer to the character and the appearance. Literature or poesie has its own language. It has its own rules and laws that can not be simply compared to a formula such as a² + b² = c².

The function of poetic art lies in overcoming such formulas constantly. Each text and each work of art knows its own laws that can be discussed partly with reference to the originated work and partly by considering the artist.

You already know how difficult and easy it is in a language, even in your mother tongue, to find an accurate term, during the correction of your German essay in high school or the revision of your seminar paper at the university. I would like to present my opinion regarding this problem to such advocates of the exact term, and by doing so, I would like to render homage to one of my teachers Alfred Döblin, “Language can only try to come close to reality and to reach a certain precision. But it has its limits.” So, away from the obsession with the exact expression! The search for a language, which can represent things and events exactly, is futile. It is just an illusion!

(It is an excerpt of the essay in nearly 1000 Words. Translator: Dr. Sukanya Kulkarni, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto)

The original text in German “Muttersprache, Fremdsprache und Dichtung” is in the book “Die galoppierende Kuhherde (Schweinfurt 2001)”.

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