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Bilingual Aesthetics, Bilingual Games

Anne Dalke's picture

Do y'all remember reading, in our course on "The Rhetorics of Silence," Doris Sommer's analysis of Rigoberta Menchu? And her argument that we should be respectful of others' silences, others' secrets, not presume that we have 'the right to know'? I've just found out that, 10 years ago, she published two books about code-switching. Here's a description of the first:

Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education, (Duke University Press, 2003), a sequel to Proceed with Caution, attends to code-switching as a specific kind of rhetorical gate-keeper. If you haven’t yet been wondering about the ways that bilingualism can improve a range of private and public moves—in aesthetics, politics, and philosophy (not to mention business and commerce)—let’s take some time out together. What if I said that an extra language, beyond a coordinating lingua franca, promotes personal development, fair procedure, and effective education, while one-way assimilation derails progress on all counts? Would you be curious about the arguments and perhaps willing to change your mind if bilingualism had seemed irrelevant or even damaging? I hope you are willing, and I offer this book as an invitation to consider the cultural conditions for fair and fulfilling contemporary life. This book is about added value, not about remediation. More than one language is a supplement, not a deficiency. It is a dangerous supplement to monolingualism, whether the addition amounts to two languages or to many. Bilingualism overloads mono systems; and multilingualism does it more. But in principle bi- and multilingualism make similar mischief with meaning. The underlying goal of thinking about these overloads as intellectual, artistic, and ethical enhancements will be to open public debates beyond the failing standard of monolingual assimilation. Throughout this book, I address the enhancements in the most theoretically sophisticated terms I can muster, but in plain language. Partly the gambit is to demonstrate that theory is practically second nature to bilinguals who normally abstract expression from meaning; and partly the range of refinements that follow from the “open sesame” of bilingual readings means to persuade some readers that bilingualism is intellectually advantageous. Others will know that already.

The second book, Bilingual Games, is a collection of essays by a range of scholars: These essays bring home the most challenging observations of postmodernism—multiple identities, the fragility of meaning, the risks of communication. Sommer asserts that many people normally live—that is, think, feel, create, reason, persuade, laugh—in more than one language. She claims that traditional scholarship (aesthetics; language and philosophy; psychoanalysis, and politics) cannot see or hear more than one language at a time. The goal of these essays is to create a new field: bilingual arts & aesthetics which examine the aesthetic product produced by bilingual diasporic communities. The focus of this volume is the Americas, but examples and theoretical proposals come from Europe as well. In both areas, the issue offers another level of complexity to the migrant and cosmopolitan character of local societies in a global economy."



Sasha De La Cruz's picture

Yes I use it as a reference all the time!

Hey Anne,

Of course I remember these, I talk about "feeling the right to know it all" all the time! These sound amazing I would love to look more into them.