It is reported that Irish author James Joyce had taken exile in France because he didn’t want to fight between choosing English or Gaelic as his language of expression in his motherland. Czech writer Milan Kundera, on the other hand, moved to France for political reasons – when Czechoslovakia came under Russian communist rule – and, later, chose to write in French rather than in his mother tongue Czech.
I find Kundera’s case interesting. Perhaps Kundera wrote in French to save himself the trouble of translating his Czech into French before publishing in France for a ready French audience. Or, perhaps, he wrote in French because the French literary ethos, and the French audience, did not welcome literature in a language other than French.
French literary scholar Pascale Casanova, citing the Man Booker Prize and its many non-British recipients, had stated in an interview with Charles Ruas in 2005 (see my previous post) that, unlike the English who welcome writers from their ‘colonies’, the French are rather arrogant and practically despise writers from their ‘colonies’ (typically countries in West and North Africa, Algeria being an ideal example – besides Canada, of course).
This makes me wonder how closely literature is connected to politics. If we look at history, we find that many writers were forced to write in, as well as translate their works into, another language simply because they were dominated by another culture and its language at that time. To some writers, this can mean another form of exile – an exile in one’s own land. Such influences can be seen in India’s literary and constitutional history.