Nathaniel Rich
Author; Senior Editor, The Paris Review
02:40

Nathaniel Rich on Language

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The crucial role of miscommunication.

Nathaniel Rich

Nathaniel Rich lives in New York City, where he is an editor at The Paris Review. He is the author of San Francisco Noir and The Mayor's Tongue is his first novel.

Transcript

Topic: Nathaniel Rich on Language

Nathaniel Rich: When I was living, that summer, in Italy-- before going to Trieste I was living in Milan for six weeks, and I moved- I moved in a-- I was working at a publishing house as an intern in- in Milan, and I moved in with a colleague at the office who invited me. I really didn’t have a place to stay, and he said I could stay at his house. And I didn’t really know what the terms would be, but I needed a place to stay. So I ended up sleeping on his fold-out chair in his living room, but he <inaudible>- he didn’t- he didn’t want anything from me; he was being a very generous guy, and we became friends, and we had a lot of shared interests. He was an editor at this pub- a young editor at this publishing house, and he couldn’t speak English very well but always wanted to practice his English. And I couldn’t speak Italian that well, but I always wanted to practice my Italian. So we would have conversations in which he would try to speak English and then I would try to speak Italian or I would try to speak back in a king of Pidgin English- dumbed-down English so that I- I was not really speaking either language, and he was neither speaking- speaking either language. And we didn’t really know what each other way saying at all, but we felt like we really sort of got it in some way, and- and we would, you know, tell jokes and- and tell stories, and- and we felt like we got along really well. And- but we were never really sure probably on a deeper level if we- what we were saying made any sense. And that- that kind of- that informed a lot of the book and that- that’s- that for me was a- dramatized what is in the- kind- thing I encounter a lot in my life, which is just inarticulacy <laugh> and trying to speak to other people and trying to- people trying to relate to each other and communicate and- and the ways in which they’re constantly thwarted by language and- and sentences and words and how language, you know, complicates and distorts real sentiment and real feelings. And yet, there’s the deep human desire to nevertheless reach out to other people and communicate, and the tension between those things was fascinating to me and that’s a motif or idea that I- I think is- is there in every page of the book. For me, that’s a big part of what the book is about.

 

Recorded On: 3/17/08


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