Sunday, 9 February 2014

On style and language(s)

On his article on Robert Walser, Walter Benjamin says, "...what we find in Robert Walser is a neglect of style that is quite extraordinary..." I have been fascinated by Walser's works for quite a few months now and I finally had the joy of reading his Microscripts. I wondered, upon reading Benjamin, as to whether I was missing something. I had not noticed a lack of style, and I asked myself if that lack was more visible in the original German. I wondered, in other words, if the translator had made the text smoother. Or, if style is ultimately a matter of taste. Or as to whether in 1929 the idea of stream of consciousness as a paradoxically conscious choice of style was not very widely diffused. As I grew up reading the likes of Allen Ginsberg, I found punctuation a very odd beast that parsimoniously came into my life very late. Walser said that he never reread himself, never made any changes. We cannot know if this is true or not. What I know is that it took scholars quite a few years of hard work to decipher his microscripts, a form of writing that he adopted during the final decade of his writing life. I find these scraps of paper, with their tiny tiny handwriting, objects of outstanding beauty. But the thought occurs to me that perhaps they weren't that easy to decipher for Walser himself. Although he did transcribe some for publication.
I have been battling with the dilemma of two languages ever since I deemed my English good enough to be used creatively. Because my Italian is certainly smoother, richer, more precise. And authors write in their mother tongue, there are very few exceptions to this. Conrad, of course, and Nabokov (I didn't know). I happen to be reading his autobiography Speak Memory at the moment which, I believe, was written in English. And I find similarities with Walser, perhaps the synesthesia, or the freedom of style, coming, in the case of Nabokov, from using a second language. I don't know if anything I am saying is true, but I find in it validation for the adoption of a language or a style that is jagged, bumpy, awkward, but ultimately perfectly capable of conveying images, emotions, atmospheres. Even, perhaps, more so than if it was smooth and grammatically perfect. 

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