Thursday, November 22, 2012

The things you discover by accident.

There are many languages that I wish to learn, however certain small doubts are setting in. How on earth will I be able to find the time for it, the opportunities for it, while at the same time 1) reading an absurd amount of books and 2) actually making some money at some point? No idea. The more I travel, spend time abroad, etc., the more I realize that learning a language is not only a matter of self-discipline and sitting at home with your books and the occasional tutor/language class to calm your bad conscience. This became clear when I spent a year in France and at the end thought "I will never learn another language, because I will never manage to leave home in this way again". A language is not only the language itself, there's tons of stuff connected to it, something that I think perhaps 1% of people get, and especially not those who do not study anything themselves.

I think one of the most important things about spending time abroad is discovering random things that increase your knowledge of the culture the language is connected to. With the right kind of diligence, I guess this can be achieved at home, but that is rarely the case. Recently there has been a series of articles in Swedish press (particularly on regarding the dismantling of language education at Swedish institutions of higher education. There's been repeated mention of how Sweden loses a great deal of business due to the denial of the fact that there are other languages than English, while at the same time having a highly multilingual population (due to immigration). Using money on language educations at Universities and actually sending people abroad doesn't really seem to be a focus. If you are going to deal with people from other countries professionally, you shouldn't just have a half-decent knowledge of grammar and a vocabulary, you also have to understand in what way the people you are dealing with differ from you in the way they interact socially, professionally, etc. That's especially important if you're Swedish and about as formal as a continental European 4 year old! Well, it's not like I have a high opinion of Swedes anyway, so nothing has really been lost.

But really, I intended to write a post about literature. Since getting interested in Ukraine, I have met some... resistance from people. Mostly, it's "isn't that the same thing as Russian?" (never actually coming from Russians). The answer, once and for all, is no. Then there's the "but Ukrainian sounds so funny!" like it's a plaything more than an actual language, which is about as intelligent as the Swedes/Norwegians going "Swedes/Norwegians sounds so stupid/happy!" (both think the same thing about the other, you see, and no one understands why). Finally, there's the "Ukraine is a part of Russia" which is just ridiculous. Ukraine is a separate country, with a separate culture, which has sides that are both Russian (especially to the east, naturally) and western. Being in Ukraine is a whole different thing from being in Russia. And, the literature!

Why hasn't anyone ever told me about Ukrainian literature? On a side note, I love how in Ukrainian bookstores, Russian literature is put together with "World Literature", further shattering the "but it's the same thing"-idea. Since Russians are so fond of claiming Ukraine as their own, why have I never come across any Ukrainian literature anywhere? One would think I would, considering what my interests are. But no. I had never heard of any of the Big Ones until I went to Kiev. I've had this long-standing problem of never finding any Russian literature that I sincerely like, but no such thing with Ukrainian literature. Ukrainian literature is awesome!

Well, I should now confess that I've read a total of 4 books so far. But they have all of them been *quite* awesome. Ukraine deserves to be acknowledged for this. Why is it all Tolstoy, Dostojevsky but no Franko, Vynnychenko? I discovered Franko by being given his Перехресні стежки by my tandem partner in Oslo, and Vynnychenko by being given his Записки кирпатого Мефістофеля (in a volume with some short stories as well) by a friend I made in Kiev. They both interest me in a way Russian literature has not quite been able to. I have a whole stack of books waiting for me, after going to the Petrivka book market and saying to an old man there that I was looking for Ukrainian literature. He enthusiastically picked out four or five volumes and sold them to me for almost nothing. I hope they will continue to amaze me. I doubt I would have this knowledge and these insights if I had just stayed at home in Oslo, just like I wouldn't have known that Russian people aren't actually as gloomy and scary as they appear on the street. I wouldn't have learned this from only going to Ukraine either, because Ukrainians on the street are different from Russians on the street!

For all of those who understand Ukrainian, here's an interesting mini-documentary on Vynnychenko. (Unfortunately the music is sometimes so loud it's hard to hear what they say.)