LI regrets not speaking Spanish – a correctable fault, but one that we persist in, thus doubling the wrong – or whatever the interest on sins is these days.
Thus, traveling in Mexico – or rather, staying with polylinguistic friends in Mexico – continually brought us into contact with the harsh edge of not understanding. A conversation about politics in the thirties in Cuba – a conversation about a visit to New England – a short series of sounds that was somewhat like a conversation about paying for breakfast in a restaurant – is an experience of the holes in the mesh of the common will -- that common will in which I am usually so vested and surrounded, so utterly dominated by and dominant in (or so the tongue would have me think), as to not even notice it. It made me wonder, once again, at the wonderful imperturbability displayed by Americans vis-à-vis what they think is going on in Iraq, giving their almost universal inability to understand the very language in which what is going on goes on.
However, immersion brings a sub-level of understanding. And a sub-level of distance from one’s total immersion in the experience of one’s native land. There’s an essay in this Fall’s American Scholar by Jamie James, a critic who left New York City for Indonesia in 1999: “Why I don’t live in America,” who expatriated to Indonesia to live with his lover, a man named Rendy. The essay makes several points, that are continually being made, in fact, about the pall of dislike for America that has fallen across the world since the Bush gang pulled its Iraq caper. What interests me, however, is that James never mentions the language. One wonders – does he speak English with the servants he mentions? It is a funny thing about American expatriates that they seem to share, with Americans in general, a sense that language is transparent – it is made of glass and English.
In our hearts, I guess, we are a nation of logical positivists.