For much of the 20th century, the study of literature has been organized around national literatures written predominantly in one language: American literature in English or Greek literature in Greek. Over the past few decades our views of literature have begun to change to accommodate the many multilingual texts that do not fall neatly into one or another national literature. The case of countries such as India or Canada that produce literatures in two or more languages is relevant, but I am thinking of a more pervasive phenomenon that has received little attention: writing that though written ostensibly in one language is influenced by and draws on another. The works of Conrad and Nabokov come immediately to mind as examples of this multilingual literature. The poetry of Olga Broumas is another interesting case. In her collection Beginning with 0 she describes how Greek is present in her
English “like a curviform alphabet/ that defies/ decoding:”‘What tiny fragments;’ she writes, “survive, mangled into our language:’

Literature that is written with more than one language in mind is not only important for how it challenges our assumptions of national and ethnic literature, but also for how it offers translators modes of mixing languages in their literary translations. Multilingual writers from Nabokov to Broumas are often translators as well. Their work makes a double claim: if literature isn’t completely at home in one language and literary tradition, then translations also need not aspire to a seamless fit. They too can experiment with the way languages interact and alter each other.

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Featured Image: Katerina Anghelaki Rooke at ‘Myth of the City’ Conference in Chania, Crete 1995. Photo by Hartmut Schulz, Berlin []