Monday, March 05, 2018

I might have read this foreign city like a text

Often it sickened me to hear people speak their native tongues fluently. It was as if they were unable to think and feel anything but what their language so readily served up to them.
— from "Canned Foreign," in Where Europe Begins, by Yoko Tawada.

"Canned Foreign" is a brilliant little story (well, it's not really a story; vignette?). I love this idea, that too-easy language is simple, inadequate, wrong. It reaffirms me in my shortcomings, my own inadequately communicative behaviour, grounding me in a comprehensive philosophy of language and theory of communication.

Clearly my reading this year is proving the inadequacy of language:
Clearly we need to read to learn to read the world. But then what? My reading is also leading me to attempt to articulate . . . something inexpressible.
Once, in the supermarket, I bought a little can that had a Japanese woman painted on the side. Later, at home, I opened the can and saw inside it a piece of tuna fish. The woman seemed to have changed into a piece of fish during her long voyage. This surprise came on a Sunday: I had decided not to read any writing on Sundays. Instead I observed the people I saw on the street as though they were isolated letters. Sometimes two people sat down next to each other in a café, and thus, briefly, formed a word. Then they separated, in order to go off and form other words. There must have been a moment in which the combinations of these words formed, quite by chance, several sentences in which I might have read this foreign city like a text. But I never discovered a single sentence in this city, only letters and sometimes a few words that had no direct connection to any "cultural content."

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