The idea that bilingualism can be enriching and beneficial for an individual is a popular one. But what about for a city? Here the associations are less positive, particularly if we automatically think of cities whose linguistic divisions echo the political or religious divisions between two communities unable to communicate.
In Cities in Translation: Intersections of Language and Memory (Routledge, 2012), however, Sherry Simon develops an account of how civic plurilingualism can be a powerful creative driver. Her work explores how the linguistically-divided city is not only a location for ‘distancing’ – where communities develop their distinct independent identities – but, more interestingly, one for ‘furthering’ – the cultural encounters that are a pervasive force in modernity. With particular reference to the writers and translators of Calcutta, Trieste, Barcelona and Montreal, Simon demonstrates some of the ways in which translational practice has shaped the literatures of divided cities, and evokes their creative dynamics.
Here we talk about the various Renaissances of these cities, as well as some of the themes that recur across time and space: the physical aspect of the city, and the passages through which ideas are transported; the practice and the consequences of ‘reading one language, writing in another’; and the role that self-translation can play in the development of an author’s voice as well as the contestation of their legacy.
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