Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Culture, Language and People

Rushdie’s essay Imaginary Homes illuminates many essential ideas about what it means to be caught between two cultures, or to “fall between two stools” (15). One that I found particularly fascinating was his notion of the English language’s role in a multi-cultural identity. Rushdie writes, “And I hope we all share the view that we can’t simply use the language in the way the British did; that it needs remaking for our own purposes” (17). This statement raises two questions: how did the British use English? And, why must writers mold the language’s use to their personal needs? The English language being used “the way the British did” returned my thoughts to the Commissioner in Things Fall Apart. Through his book, he directly utilizes the language to belittle the life of Okonkwo and cast general judgments about a civilization he has just encountered and, therefore, cannot know much about. This seems to be the precise opposite of Rushdie’s aim. Such use of the language is a weapon against the beautiful, valuable and necessary act of accepting every aspect of a foreign culture, especially one to which you are closely tied.

The second idea, which is interconnected with the first, concerning the “remaking” of English is touched upon later when Rushdie states, “The British Indian writer simply does not have the option of rejecting English, anyway…and in forging of the British Indian identity the English language is of central importance. It must, in spite of everything, be embraced” (17). Embracing all elements of one’s cultural heritage, especially language, is a crucial step in becoming who we are as global citizens and as people. Chandra and Achebe both demonstrate this act in their writing styles; Achebe tells his tale through the European model of the novel to convey the proverbs, customs and beliefs of the Igbo people; Chandra composes his stories in English while still incorporating words and ideas derived from Indian culture. These men as well as Rushdie himself see the English language as an instrument with which to both enrich and expand their cultural identities.

The idea I thought to be Rushdie’s most poignant was that British Indians are “translated men” (17). Of course, there is the etymological root of “translation”, which Rushdie provides to make his point. However, the idea of being translated holds a much more fundamental implication than what is explicitly laid out for us. In translation, there are certain concepts that cannot be entirely grasped in just one language, and so it must rely on another language to convey its meaning (as seen in Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay). The intermingling of the two languages makes the idea complete and allows it to come alive. It is in this way that the combination of two cultures can have the same affect on a person. A person of multi-cultural heritage cannot be fully understood without both parts of their whole. It is when the two, or three or many are brought together that that person can be fulfilled and enlivened.

No comments:

Post a Comment