Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chapter 6

When you do something in a new language, you always hit limits. As I neared the end of De eeuw van mijn vader (My Father's Century) I overcame many limits and ran into one when Big Mak started quoting Lucebert. Poetry can be hard in your own language.

This time, I ran into Dutch legalese for the first time. While I was able to read past the redundancy endemic to the field, I was unable to understand all of it as well as I would have liked. It was some consolation that the main character, who had experience typing contracts, also didn't understand it until his wife pointed out paragraph 9.

Even so, I wanted to understand all of it. As you learn a language, it's like listening to a faraway radio station start to come in, or looking through a lens that finally starts to focus. When you hit your limits, the faraway station fades to static.

Chapter 6 is an extension of the book's dynamic, alternating between the protagonist's great luck when he's out and his skeptical wife at home. This time, he comes home with a great salary and a contract. He has missed dinner, and his wife is unhappy. He points out in the letter that makes up the book that he's experienced in high register Dutch, while his wife is not. Then, she finds a flaw in the contract having to do with how at the end of employment, he will not be able to make any claims against the cheese company. During this ego deflation, his son chimes in.

Every so often, we see the letter reader, and I wonder who he is. I remember learning that half of acting is reacting. The reader's reactions fit, but I wonder what he's doing there. Does he have a role later, or is he a stand-in for us?

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