I Can Do Better Than That!

David Homel


This paper builds on the notion of crypto-languages, or hidden languages, to narrate the author’s coming to writing and translation. His novels are discussed as all including one aspect or another of crypto-language. For example, Russian becomes the key to salvation for Sonya, who doesn’t know how to speak it, in Sonya & Jack, and a clinical psychologist in the former Yugoslavia admits in The Speaking Cure to knowing that his patients lie to him, but that behind every lie lies the truth. The author himself learned the difference between “real” foreign languages—French, German or Spanish—and cryto-languages—Polish, Czech or Yiddish—during his childhood in Chicago. The experience of learning French forged in him the desire to write, which in turn created the desire to translate that is described here as a kind of voyeurism. The title of the paper refers to the feeling one has while reading some translated fiction: “I can do better than that!” Translation, as a form of writing, can improve the original by correcting various mistakes, in the logic of the plot, for instance. But there is a difference between writing and translating: the writer writes to find out how the story will end but the translator already knows. As a result, the best way for a writer to translate is to resist reading the book before starting the translation.


Translation; Authorship; Writing; crypto-language

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21992/T9S91W

ISSN 1920-0323