On the tyranny of monolingualism…

“I don’t think that one can be a bilingual poet. I don’t know of any case in which a man wrote great or even fine poems equally well in two languages. I think one language must be the one you express yourself in, in poetry, and you’ve got to give up the other for that purpose. And I think that the English language really has more resources in some respects than the French. I think, in other words, I’ve probably done better in English than I ever would have in French even if I’d become as proficient in French as the poets you mentioned.” (interview with T S Elliot, The Paris Review no. 1., 1959)

For a very long time, I could not choose my language of writing; choosing one language for me always meant sacrificing my other language(s), other culture(s), other identity(ies), other part(s) of Self. The question of language choice and/or language loss has been and still is a problematic one for many writers who have either inherited or have come into a prolonged contact with more than one culture / language / identity. Much later, I came to realize that the problem of language is a false problem for me as a writer. As, although I was not explicitly forced to do so and think this way, everything around me led me to believe that I had to choose my language (of writing). The monolingual was, and still is, the “default” option, the standard, the norm. It is a powerful system of thinking, an ideology, as Elliot’s quote celebrating the monolingual shows.

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