Tuesday, 26 June 2007

NWW 07 Session Three: Eva Hoffman and George Szirtes

The third session in the series began with a short summary of the previous day's sessions, where some of the main themes included the following questions:

What do you take with you when you leave a place?
What is one escaping from and what is one escaping to?

George Szirtes and Eva Hoffman then took the floor to make language and discovery the focus for the morning.

Eva's starting point was the 'abrupt rupture' that occured between past and present when she left Poland as a teenager. Her main loss, she felt, was the Polish language - it had, she said, 'died for her at that time'. This central and formative exprience led her to see how language constructs us and shapes our internal lives as well acting as a tool. Without language she could not see or feel the world. This led to a highly exacerbated sense of language and a strong desire for the English language to be a new 'psychic home'.

George Szirtes left Hungary in 1956 with his parents. Both his and Eva's departure from Eastern Europe in the 50s were part of the wider Cold War politics of the era and the pattern of movement of people in the 20th Century. His initial experience of being in England was a warm welcome and openness - the sense that having left Hungary, his family were somehow heroic.

His English was restricted to three words when he first came to England. And those words, coming from a bilingual translation of AA Milne, were 'and', 'but' and 'so'. The sense of language both leaving and arriving as he started to attend school left a powerful legacy behind.

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