Beyond Words - Language Blog

A Space Between Souls: Aviya Kushner on Literary Translation

The Wilson Quarterly recently featured Aviya Kushner’s article on American culture, bilingual writers, and the importance of literary translation.

Here is a quote from the article, entitled McCulture:

There are bilingual writers who feel a special freedom in English: a rebirth, they say, without the weight of culture or history, the taste of prayer or the memory of genocide. Olga Grushin, at the end of our conversation, quoted Charlemagne, who said that to have a second language is to possess a second soul.

I was moved by the idea of another soul. But then I thought it over, as reader instead of writer. As praise is heaped on people who have mastered English, we are rewarding writers for selling their first soul. A culture with a healthier translation climate would create a space between languages, a space between souls. As readers, we’d win. We’d be able to hear the sound of all sorts of souls on the page — whether a first soul or, as Charlemagne claimed, a second soul, trying to speak, or perhaps, with luck, sing. Read more