Sunday, April 22, 2012

Felipe Alfau, from "Chromos"

The moment one learns English, complications set in. Try as one may, one cannot elude this conclusion, one must inevitably come back to it. This applies to all persons, including those born to the language and, at times, even more so to Latins, including Spaniards. It manifests itself in an awareness of implications and intricacies to which one had never given a thought; it afflicts one with that officiousness of philosophy which, having no business of its own, gets in everybody's way and, in the case of Latins, they lose that racial characteristic of taking things for granted and leaving them to their own devices without inquiring into causes, motives or ends, to meddle indiscreetly into reasons which are none of one's affair and to become not only self-conscious, but conscious of other things which never gave a damn for one's existence.

In the words of my friend Don Pedro, of whom more later, this could never happen to a Spaniard who speaks only Spanish. We are more direct but, according to him, when we enter the English-speaking world, we find the most elementary things questioned, growing in complexity without bounds; we experience, see or hear about problems which either did not exist for us or were disposed of in what he calls that brachistological fashion of which we are masters: nervous breakdowns, social equality, marital maladjustment and beholding Oedipus in an unfavorable light, friendships with those women intellectualoids whom Don Pedro has baptized perfect examples of feminine putritude, psycho-neuroses, and hallucinations, etc., leading one gently but forcibly from a happy world of reflexes of which one was never aware, to a world of analytical reasoning of which one is continuously aware, which closes in like a vise of missionary tenacity and culminates in such a collapse of the simple as questioning the meaning of meaning.

According to Don Pedro, a Spaniard speaking English is indeed a most incongruous phenomenon and the acquisition of this other language, far from increasing his understanding of life, if this were possible, only renders it hopelessly muddled and obscure. He finds himself encumbered with too much equipment for what had been, after all, a process as plain as living and while perhaps becoming glib and searching if oblique and indirect, in discussing culturesque fads and interrelated topics of doubtful value even in the English market, he gradually loses his capacity to see and think straight until he emerges with all other English-speaking persons in complete incapacity to understand the obvious. It is disconcerting. 

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