Sunday, 21 June 2009

Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (IV) - 1


No one has ever agreed that language ought to exist. For that, language is required.


The small child gurgles and rattles and chuckles, day by day making use of a larger part of the colour spectrum of language; the parents rejoice, and the game intensifies. There is no doubt that at the outset what is involved is a pleasurable and purely aesthetic satisfaction in the non-utilitarian play with sounds. The sounds are already there, and via the adults they are regulated into the language the child will speak. The pleasure need not necessarily disappear, but a noticeable alteration takes place when the aesthetic attitude is gradually replaced by the attachment of practical importance to a process which starts irrationally, and occurs regardless of the language that is to be learned.


No language can be called primitive, as it will always have a grammar and an order. And no language lacks beauty, even though that beauty may express itself in very different ways.


Language makes demands on me, it demands action. I can shape language, but it has already been shaping me for a long time. How many words for violence does language have? Language is not a means to something else. No, language does something to me: ‘I am a body that language touches.’ Each time I use language, a certain retroactive energy is involved.


Paradoxically, I must find my individuality in a language I have taken over. My language is my condition for living.


In language one travels without any safety equipment at all. Here the battle is for power, here self-worth and identity are at stake, here the strong may dominate the weak, here one may lie, one may edit reality at one’s discretion, manipulate, hide, block, talk without saying anything, and here art may continue to exploit every possibility or choose to defy the many forms of use or misuse. All dimensions are contained in language, from speech that is pure and clear to the lowest and dirtiest of speech, everything from true statements to delusion and illusion, the innocent and the dangerous. And here one may remain silent…

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Note: the posts with the translated text of Chapters I, II and III can be accessed here, here, and here.


Eric Dickens said...

Tafdrup says, above:

"Paradoxically, I must find my individuality in a language I have taken over. My language is my condition for living."

This paradox is interesting. The fact that we have to use a pre-existent system, i.e. one out there, to express our separation from that "out there" and our inner difference is a strange thing.

apprentice said...

What other way would there be with language. And surely the glory is that we all choose to use the existent system in a different way, subverting when neceassry.

What I think is sad is that we are never as at home in any other language as we are in our original tongue. But then nor would we feel good in someone else's skin.

I friend pointed me here and as someone with Danish and Swedish blood in me, but no knowledge of the langauages, I am grateful to her,

David McDuff said...

Thanks for your comment, apprentice. It certainly would be strange to live in someone else's skin, but I hope you'll enjoy reading some of the translations in this blog. There's quite to choose from - poems, essays, criticism, short stories, plays, excerpts from novels, and more.