What is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write?
July 28, 2018 10:53 PM   Subscribe

This is very interesting and compelling. I do wonder how much of the political history really inflects Roy’s personal writing voice. My own reaction to her work is that the voice of the God of Small Things feels like the natural language of a specific (and very talented) Malayalam/English speaker, as distinctive to the writer as a fingerprint—whereas the The Ministry of Utmost Happiness feels strangely less personal, closer in style to Rushdie, and rather laboured in its effort to capture so many tones and accents. But this is just a personal impression and the difference may just be the difference in scale between the two novels.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:37 AM on July 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I thought this was very interesting. Thanks for posting.
posted by Alex404 at 6:38 AM on July 29, 2018

That's very long and I confess to having skipped a lot of the details about her novels (which, alas, I haven't read), but there's plenty of fascinating stuff in there, like this:
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has been—is being—translated into 48 languages. ... Of the 48 translations, two are Urdu and Hindi. As we will soon see, the very fact of having to name Hindi and Urdu as separate languages, and publish them as separate books with separate scripts, contains a history that is folded into the story of The Ministry. Given the setting of the novel, the Hindi and Urdu translations are, in part, a sort of homecoming. I soon learned that this did nothing to ease the task of the translators. To give you an example: The human body and its organs play an important part in The Ministry. We found that Urdu, that most exquisite of languages, which has more words for love than perhaps any other language in the world, has no word for vagina. There are words like the Arabic furj, which is considered to be archaic and more or less obsolete, and there are euphemisms that range in meaning from “hidden part,” “breathing hole,” “vent,” and “path to the uterus.” The most commonly used one is aurat ki sharamgah. A woman’s place of shame. As you can see, we had trouble on our hands. Before we rush to judgment, we must remember that pudenda in Latin means “that whereof one should feel shame.” In Danish, I was told by my translator, the phrase is “lips of shame.” So, Adam and Eve are alive and well, their fig leaves firmly in place.
I love "my favorite award of all time: Best Film in Languages Other Than Those Specified in Schedule VIII of the Indian Constitution."

Also, Ootacamund is one of the best place names I know. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 7:48 AM on July 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Artificial Intelligence, we are told, can write masterpieces in any language and translate them into masterpieces in other languages.

What? Who is saying this? I've never ever heard anyone claim that automatic translation is close to what a literary translator does, much less that AI is capable of writing "masterpieces in any language". I can't see what her point is here, unless it's just to set up the ensuing audience-flattering.
posted by thelonius at 8:18 AM on July 29, 2018

thelonius, I think it was a start-of-the-lecture joke.
posted by gwint at 9:14 AM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thank you for posting this. I appreciated learning about the shared history of Hindi and Urdu, the ways English serves both privilege and emancipation in India, and the challenge of language coexistence. And this insight felt particularly resonant for me:
Power bases began to shift, hierarchies changed, releasing suppressed resentment and new energies that began to seep through the cracks like smoke. As the old ideas of governing by fiat and military might began to metamorphose into modern ideas of representative government, old feudal communities began to coalesce into modern “constituencies” in order to leverage power and job opportunities.
posted by brainwane at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2018

Also, Ootacamund is one of the best place names I know. Thanks for the post!

It has a lot of equally awesome names assigned to it throughout the 19th C. - Wotokymund, OttakalMandu (probably closest to what the Toda called it), Udagamandalam, Ootacamund and finally, and no I am not making this up, Ooty. Perfect name for a really interesting place.

Ooty is in Southern India, but it's in the mountains, so its record high temp is 77F! It averages around 68F for the high temp every day throughout the year. It's the birthplace of snooker, and the original snooker table is on display at the Ooty Club, where it was invented.

One of the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world is at Ooty! An amazing and unique instrument, utterly unlike the big dishes of the West. Designed and built by Indian science and industry, it saw First Light in 1970 and is still doing useful and important work, such as delving into Pulsar Nulling Phenomena!

posted by Slap*Happy at 7:04 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks for posting this excellent piece but wow, the LitHub comments on it are absolute garbage.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:33 AM on July 31, 2018

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