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The Good Book Fair

The Good Book Fair. Wrocław 2019,
College for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Wrocław

‘Beyond Language.’ An Attempt to Translate Reflections

On Saturday, the seventh of December ‘Anno Domini’ 2019, participants of the discussion panel organized by the College for Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Wrocław and Æ Academic Publishing from San Diego, in sunny California were transposed „from shore to shore, from one land to another, from text to text” (1), the journey during which they became active readers of lores and lands as remote as Jamaica in the Great Antilles archipelago or Wejherowo in the Pomeranian province. The event was held as a part of the Good Book Fair organized in the city of Wrocław for the twenty-eighth time. In the background of Wrocław events echoed the words of our Nobel Laureate in Literature 2018 who on the same day gave her Nobel speech in Stockholm, entitled “The Tender Narrator” (2). Olga Tokarczuk compares the world to a story in which “a thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes.”
Vividly and with great esteem Dr Marcin Odelski told the story of how ‘Kaszëbsczi jãzëk’ is being reintroduced into an inclusive concept of ethnolinguistic dimension of Polishness. Dr Odelski did not reduce the story to common gadgets, which usually evoke ephemeral associations and emotions, but, instead, tenderly recited „bëlné słowò” (‘a beautiful word’ in the Kashubian language which „òtmikô” (‘open’) many hearts in the audience. „The world is a fabric” – says Olga Tokarczuk – ” which we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussion, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes (…); [w]hen this story changes – so does the world.” The story of a small Kashubian homeland was woven into a unique pattern cleaving consciously the congealed hegemony of red and white. This kind of story, when we look at the world through the eyes of someone else, is born out of the human quest for understanding ‘beyond language.’
„Out of many, one people,” states the motto of Jamaica, which could eligibly be referred to the local language of ‘patois.’ There is no short answer to the question of how long it takes for a language to be yielded. Language is born in contact, as can be demonstrated through Jamaican creole, which has served as a binding agent in connecting a heterogeneous group of island inhabitants, affecting their sense of identity and belonging. About Jamaican ‘obeah,’ culture and countless proverbs, in which the African tradition of ancestors is enchanted, we can read in the latest book by Dr. Aleksandra Knapik, entitled: ‘Jamaican Creole Proverbs from the Perspective of Contact Linguistics.’ Dr Knapik tells the world in a fragment, having depicted in it a network of connections and convergence of the immigrant experiences. Perhaps we should trust fragments, as Olga Tokarczuk advises, and meander from one story into another, constantly considering various relations, variations and modifications of 26 letters.
In palatable transitions between letters and live speech, Dr. Agnieszka Kocel slightly shortened the distance between Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘swich’ and Neil Gaiman’s ‘such’, while, quite unexpectedly, these two dimensions of English became bound by the non-obvious and non-palatalized „no” particle by Dominic Esquibel. The story of palatalization woven in the book ‘Palatable Palatalization. A Story of Each, Much, Such, and Which in Middle English Dialects’ was created, as Dr. Kocel says, from the need to discover the mystery inherent in one of the most influential phonological processes in English. Creating a story is an endless revival of what recurrently undergoes amnesia. The spirit of an explorer is an immanent feature of each and every reader, especially in difficult times when, as Jorge Luis Borges says, „nobody expects to discover anything.”
In a modern city, a traditional fair belongs to endangered genres of culture on the verge of extinction, threatened by greedy investors who devour once open urban space, thriving with a multitude of colors, smells, and dialects, and force it into the narrow frames of shopping stalls where exchanges are replaced by transactions. Meanwhile, a fair is a point of view, a perspective that constitutes the foundation for a universal, comprehensive story, all-inclusive and firmly rooted – like language – in nature. The fair perspective allows one to see things out of the center. In that shrinking space of the privatized „I” and „my,” Aleksandra Knapik, Agnieszka Kocel and Marcin Odelski maintain the art of wide perspectives and lofty points of view, thus entering the list of ‘tender narrators’ who are able to activate in the reader’s mind the ability to unite fragments into a single pattern. As Olga Tokarczuk said: „(…) the universe of literature is a single thing, like the idea of ‘unus mundus’ (…) in which the Author and the Reader perform equivalent roles, the former by dint of creating, the latter by making a constant interpretation.”
(1) Gadamer, Hans-Georg ([1993] 2009) „Lektura jest przekładem.” Translated by Małgorzata Łukasiewicz. [In:] Piotr Bukowski, Magda Heydel (ed.), ‘Współczesne teorie przekładu. Antologia.’ Kraków: Znak. 321‒325. Original edition: Hans-Georg Gadamer (1993) “Lesen ist wie Übersetzen.” [In:] ‘Ästhtik und Poetik 1. Kunst als Aussage.’ Gesamelte Werke. Bd.8. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr; 279‒285.

(2) Tokarczuk, Olga (2019) „Tender Narrator” [„Czuły narrator,” as in the original. Translated by Jennifer Croft and Antonia Lloyd-Jones. Retrieved on December 7, 2019 from: https://www.nobelprize.org/uploads/2019/12/tokarczuk-lecture-english.pdf.

Text author: Monika Piechota, MA, philologist, translator, teacher, Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Philology, University of Wrocław, Poland; her interdisciplinary dissertation will describe a few selected Shoah diaries.