Artists Space

Mute Inglorious Nabokovs
Helen DeWitt

November 16, 2014, 4pm

On the last day of The Library Vaccine, novelist Helen DeWitt will be present alongside her library to hold a meeting addressing the subjects of language, translation and access. She invites you to join her, to generate ideas, and new resources...

Eight pieces of paper with text in various languages arranged in a grid.
[Eight pieces of paper with text in various languages arranged in a grid.]

We hear so often of the disadvantages of schools where children come from 50 different linguistic backgrounds; we sometimes hear colleges boasting of their diversity (200 languages spoken). We can see at once that no institution could have staff covering all this ground – which means we need a mechanism to empower people to share with each other. And literary texts seem to have a particular need for this mechanism. Calvino talked about how Italians in America had no bookstores, because the immigrants were illiterate peasants; the German and Hungarian immigrants were educated, so they had bookstores. But the curious thing is, even if immigrants bring a literary culture, it remains in an enclave -- unlike cuisines, which spread rapidly through the mechanism of the restaurant, direct access to great literary traditions doesn't spread out.

So what can we do? Collectively, we have immense linguistic resources; what do we need to do so we can all draw on this? How can we set ourselves free of institutional territoriality? These aren't rhetorical questions (What is to be done? Wait for it! I have the answer!). We'd like people to come and offer ideas, possible solutions, maybe resources not generally known. And we'd like something to happen. Not just people coming and spinning ideas and going away; let's start doing things.