Hayden's Ferry Review


Scribbles from WALTIC: The Words (Part 2)

Ming Holden
From my notebook: things I heard people say
Bilgii University, Istanbul, Turkey
September 2010


“Why should writers be in prison? In other words, who is afraid of literature?”

“Publishing is one part stock exchange and one part cathedral. My friend swears publishing has lost the cathedral part.”

“But for Jules Verne we would never have walked on the moon, perhaps. We can’t help but end up at Star Trek, where we walk into a room and all information is available in an instant. How do we get there and still have all our rights?”

“Perhaps a death sentence on literature has accompanied it since it began.”

“I lived in Italy for a while. No one there thinks ideals can actually be achieved.”

“I can tell you what Swedes would have done: they would have been offended, been quiet about it, then gone home and told everybody what pricks the English were.”

“Literature is now part of the entertainment industry.”

“Languages respond to the universe.”

“Macbeth couldn’t be performed in Iran because the king dies onstage.”

“American books are cheap, and they can even be good—some of them. But we need Norwegian books for Norwegian society. About issues that impact Norway, not California and New York.”

“[Translation as] something that belongs to the spiritual sphere, something you do for your own soul and those of others…'Really?' is the reaction. 'You enjoy your work? And you admit it? Work isn't supposed to be fun. That's why you're paid for it.’ I think this attitude might have Christian origins...”

“I was beautiful and I was slender in 1968, and this is what I wrote.”

“If one is on the outskirts, one might as well dwell on the outskirts.”

“Women from Iran told me we have one big state and in every household different little states.”

“Exile can be positive. It can give you a new language, a new perspective…I write in the language of exile, which reminds me of exile…writing is a thing of beauty, Swedish an instrument of communication.”

“No human beings can be separated from the universe. Human language activity…is at the same time a human matter and a cosmic one.”

“But before I go into my cloud—into garden of cloud, I mean--”

“In the coming century 60-90% of the world’s languages will become extinct…serious enough to make a political concept of linguistic imperialism look like a platitude.”

“The horizon is not wholly blank.”

“We all have to get together and put all our rights in a big basket and function as a collective.”

“The literature planet is..a self-rotation that does not depend wholly on the cosmic revolution.”

“In Iranian, sex is referred to as everything from ‘to do the damned thing’ to ‘to give.’”

“The world is a place where many things meet each other…On the other side of huge change is an ever-present, never-changing truth. What new birth is coming? What new birth?”

“Between the early 30s and now, 60% of the Turkish language was lost.”

“The gulls lost their ocean. They cry out.”

“And underneath that story, there was another.”

“So now back to the original question: are we using the right words, or are we using them correctly?”

“It’s egotistical, in fact, not to work for [a just society]. We cannot be happy and secure in an unhappy and insecure world.”

“Language does not only promote survival, it promotes the dignity of survival.”

Ming was one of the few Americans and the youngest presenter at the second-ever convention of the Writers and Literary Translators International Congress (WALTIC) in Istanbul in September 2010 (the first was in 2008 in Stockholm, where she fangirled Philip Pullman so hard he ran away from her). She presented in the "Freedom of Expression" bracket in the "stories" category to an audience that included Maureen Freely, Orhan Pamuk's literary translator, and the secretary of International PEN and the exiled President of China's Independent PEN. Ming spoke of her experience in Mongolia working with PEN International and Freedom to Write in order to assist exiled Chinese Inner Mongolian dissident Tumen Ulzii Bayunmend. What follows are quotes she heard during the conference and scribbled in her notebook.