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  • Knowledge and Censorship

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  • Knowledge and Censorship

    Ilan Stavans with

    Verónica Albin

  • KNOWLEDGE AND CENSORSHIP Copyright © Ilan Stavans, 2008.

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

    First published in 2008 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN™ 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010 and Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England RG21 6XS Companies and representatives throughout the world.

    PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave Macmillan division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. Macmillan® is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European Union and other countries.

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

    Stavans, Ilan. Knowledge and censorship / Ilan Stavans ; with Verónica Albin. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Stavans, Ilan—Interviews. I. Albin, Verónica, 1955– II. Title.

    PS3619.T385K58 2008 8649.64—dc22 2007039394

    A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

    Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India.

    First edition: April 2008

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

    ISBN 978-1-349-53962-8 ISBN 978-0-230-61125-2 (eBook)

    DOI 10.1057/9780230611252

    ISBN 978-1-349-53962-8

    Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2008 978-1-4039-8410-4

  • Also by Ilan Stavans

    Fiction The Disappearance

    The One-Handed Pianist and Other Stories

    Nonfiction Love and Language (with Verónica Albin)

    The Riddle of Cantinf las Dictionary Days

    On Borrowed Words Spanglish

    The Hispanic Condition Art and Anger

    The Inveterate Dreamer Octavio Paz: A Meditation

    Imagining Columbus Bandido

    ¡Lotería! (with Teresa Villegas)

    Anthologies Lengua Fresca (with Harold Augenbraum)

    Tropical Synagogues The Schocken Book of Modern Sephardic Literature

    Wáchale! The Scroll and the Cross

    The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories Mutual Impressions

    The Oxford Book of Latin American Essays Growing Up Latino (with Harold Augenbraum)

    Cartoons Latino USA (with Lalo López Alcaráz)

    Translations Sentimental Songs, by Felipe Alfau

  • Editions César Vallejo: Spain, Take This Chalice from Me

    The Poetry of Pablo Neruda Encyclopedia Latina (four volumes)

    I Explain a Few Things The Collected Stories of Calvert Casey Cesar Chavez: An Organizer’s Tale

    Rubén Darío: Selected Writings Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (three volumes)

    General The Essential Ilan Stavans

    Ilan Stavans: Eight Conversations (with Neal Sokol) Collins Q&A: Latino Literature and Culture

    Conversations with Ilan Stavans

  • Information is the currency of democracy. —Thomas Jefferson

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  • C O N T E N T S

    Preface xi

    Part 1 Four Meditations

    One The Process Glitch 3

    Two Wor(l)ds 9

    Three Stealing Books 15

    Four Keeping My Mouth Shut 23

    Part 2 Four Interviews (with Verónica Albin)

    Five Knowledge 29

    Six Dictionaries 55

    Seven Libraries 95

    Eight Censorship 127

    Index 165

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  • P R E F A C E

    In the fall of 2006 Gabriella Georgiades, known as Ella among friends, the humanities editor at Palgrave Macmillan in New York, envisioned including between two covers three interviews I made with Ilan Stavans. They revolved around the provocative topics of language, translation, silence, and censorship. She contemplated a fourth dialogue devoted to knowledge, thus rounding out the concept of how humans acquire and disseminate information. In addi- tion, she suggested supplementing these four interviews with four brief, first-person meditations she read by Stavans, which were unified by a single motif: the quest for individ- ual freedom in society, especially as it pertains to freedom of speech, belief, and action.

    In the preface to Love and Language (Yale University Press, 2007), I describe how I first met Stavans at a conference of the American Translators Association in Toronto, where he was delivering the Marilyn Gaddis Rose lecture. To what I’ve already said in that preface, I would like to add that I became interested in Stavans in part because he is still very much the urchin from Copilco we saw in On Borrowed Words. To this day, Stavans crosses the street where he shouldn’t, plays with his food, and changes the rules of the game when

  • xii Preface

    you least expect it. But you can’t really spank him—or at least not every time—because somehow, without anyone noticing, he often manages to make a point no one else had yet made. Stavans is a bit of an imp and that pixyish attitude makes exploring the world of ideas with him a great deal of fun. When you travel with him, you trade the comfort of an Ivory Tower office for an uncertain perch on that precarious aerie on the topmast of some caravel, dizzy with the knowl- edge that he’s already thrown the charts overboard and you may very well get blown off the map. But let me expand on the inception of Knowledge and Censorship. Stavans and I got together for dinner in Houston in November 2004 without knowing each other well at all. While the hors d’oeuvre was being served, I realized that we were both hooked on dic- tionaries, each owning several hundred and each having authored one, and written and lectured extensively on them both formally and informally. By the time dessert came around, we agreed in that the dictionary is the embodiment of knowledge just as much as it is an instrument of censor- ship. In other words, there could not be a meaningful dis- cussion of lexicons without a thorough exploration of the f low, and interruption, of information.

    As soon as I embarked on this first interview with Stavans, I knew I had a book in hand. That book—it turned out to be two plus a chapter on language and empire for Vanderbilt University Press—would revolve around freedom, identity, ethnicity, and knowledge. I got down to work immediately and was in constant touch via phone, fax, snail mail, and e-mail. Stavans and I talked to friend and foe all over the world, we picked our students’ brains, we read and surfed voraciously, and exchanged not only books and scholarly

  • xiiiPreface

    papers but also off-the-wall URLs, trivia, and cultural tidbits we remembered from our having grown up in Mexico City in the 1960s. We met in person as often as our schedules allowed. We made it a point to do so in cities we knew well (New York, Amherst, Houston, Mexico City) but in places in those cities where at least one of us, and preferably both, had never been. The purpose of this requirement was to learn something from the place we had selected as well as from the conversation of that day.

    We talked, and looked, and pondered in museums dedi- cated to strange obsessions, in little known art spaces and galleries, in libraries, in cemeteries, in lecture halls, or meet- ing rooms where topics we thought might have a bearing on what we set out to do were being discussed, and we even met in a hospital emergency room in the largest medical center in the world just to see what kinds of things were being said, what kinds of things held back. We let the eclectic venues guide and inspire us. It was outside the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, for instance, that the topic of silence, one that has occupied Stavans for decades, first emerged. And that topic led us to freedom of speech, and that to freedom of action and belief, a topic that Neal Sokol began exploring in Eight Conversations, specifically focusing on the inf luence Isaiah Berlin had on Stavans. That inf lu- ence manifests itself in these playful pages.

    The connection between the ref lections and interviews is deliberately understated. The former are impressionistic, offering a sense of Stavans’s rambunctious mindset. In con- trast, in the latter I attempted to expand on them by pushing him to explore a particular topic from myriad perspectives. For instance, in “The Process Glitch” he mentions that in

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    the English language there are two words for the same con- cept: freedom and liberty. Are they one and the same? In the interview on dictionaries, he delved into the duality. And he returns to it in his discussion on the censorship and the writer, where he talks about John Stuart Mill and Nadine Gordimer, among others. Therein, in a nutshell, a map to his mind: expansive, centrifugal, dithyrambic.

    When Ella Georgiades took a maternity leave, Luba Ostashevsky stepped in to steer the project to its completion. Both have been invaluable and we are indebted to them. And to Joanna Mericle, a blessing throughout the editorial process, a huge thank you. My gratitude goes to my indefatigable col- leagues Martín F. Yriart and Eliezer Nowodworski for their counsel. Their knowledge is admirable, as free from any kind of censorship as is possible. I also appreciate the encouragement of the scores of readers who have sent insightful elect