Future belongs to the imperial language: Coetzee

Updated: Jan 25, 2011, 09:10 AM IST

Jaipur: Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee Monday said the future belonged to the imperial and the big languages of the world.
"The stand I adopt is that the language is a tool of communication. The more command one has over a language, the more it becomes your language," Coetzee told a packed audience at the sixth DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.

"The future belongs to the big language, the imperial languages," Coetzee said.

The 70--year-old South Africa-born writer is known for masterpieces like "Disgrace", "Dusklands", "Elizabeth Costello" and "Waiting for the Barbarians".

Coetzee was addressing a session on "Imperial English", which dwelt of the dual lives of non-English writers who used the "imperial language of English" for writing.

The writer in the smaller languages could be made accessible through translations, the author said.

Citing examples, Coetzee said: "A Zulu or Afrikan writer, who speaks his mother tongue at home, has an advantage over Anglo-phones (western English speaking people)."

"They grasp the lesson early in life that the world is not simply as it is - but it is framed by the language we see it in. The dual language can either be a handicap to write in or an alien language which they can master," Coetzee said.

He said the "Jaipur Literature Festival was pre-indisposed to dual linguistic life".

"Several writers here are not in command of the imperial language," he said, adding that observation could trigger arguments.

Recalling his own childhood, Coetzee said, "As a child in South Africa, I went to an English medium school because my parents thought English is the way of the future. In the university, I went to study English, I taught English, I speak English fluently and I write in English. Yet, I cannot say I am at home in English," he said.

The writer said when he writes in English, he feels that he is "writing in someone else`s mother tongue."

Coetzee, who now lives in Australia, was awarded the Booker Prize twice - for "Life and Times of Michael" in 1983 and for "Disgrace" in 1999. He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2003.

Coetzee turned out to be the show-stopper Sunday, holding the audience in thrall for 45 minutes when he read out an excerpt from his work, "The Old Woman and the Cats" - a philosophical essay that explores the journey of souls.

He signed at least 1,000 copies of his books later for audience comprising old and young readers and even the odd lay man.

Commenting on the popularity of Coetzee in India, writer and television presenter Sunil Sethi of Just Books, a popular literature capsule on television, told IANS: "Coetzee`s books are so universal and powerful. His "Disgrace" captures the degeneration of life on the campus with such poignance. He also talks of discrimination and colour bar. People relate to it a great deal in India."

Actress-musician Ila Arun, who heard Coetzee for the first time at the Jaipur Literature Festival, told IANS: "I was moved".

"I loved his reading from the `Old Woman and the Cats`. It was like getting to know Coetzee. I am going to buy `Disgrace` for my daughter," Arun said.

IANS

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