Redux: An Ordinary Word



Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.

The writer and translator Claudia Durastanti was born in the U.S. to Italian parents, both deaf, who never taught her to sign. She spent much of her young life shuttling between Brooklyn and Basilicata, and between the two countries’ native tongues. “When I write in English,” she told the Daily last week, “I’m making the reverse journey from the one I’m used to—English to Italian—so I’m obsessed with correctness. But then I don’t think it’s good writing. Usually, when you allow yourself impurities, the writing is actually stronger.” Read on for more from contributors to our archives who have journeyed between languages and nations: Dany Laferrière—the first Haitian and the first Quebecois to join the Académie française—on the nuances of the French dictionary; Beth Nguyen on her fractured relationship with her mother, who was left behind when the rest of the family immigrated to the U.S.; a wry poem by the hard-of-hearing, multilingual poet Ilya Kaminsky; and the Iranian-born Swiss photographer Shirana Shahbazi’s portraits of goftare nik (good words).

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Dany Laferrière, The Art of Fiction No. 237
Issue no. 222 (Fall 2017)

If a word that was used by Flaubert or Césaire falls into desuetude, if it becomes passé, we still keep it in the dictionary because it was used by an important writer. The dictionary strives to recognize the creative usage of writers. Our commission not long ago tackled the word sexe. So we looked at how writers use a word like sexe—all the different notions, phrases, and implications that have come up over the years. The Marquis de Sade doesn’t have the same thoughts on the matter as, say, the Marquise de Sévigné. An ordinary word can take up half a page in the dictionary. A word like sexe can run to six or seven pages.

By Beth Nguyen
Issue no. 232 (Spring 2020)

Over the course of my American life I have spent less than twenty-four hours with my mother. We have never spent more than an hour or two together at a time. If I see her it’s only because I’m in Boston for some other reason and I’ll call my father so he can call her to arrange a visit. I need his easy Vietnamese to figure things out, to decide the time when I must show up at her apartment. And then she and I just sit there, maybe drink some tea, maybe talk about her pet cockatiels. I ask her questions she won’t really answer.

From “Last Will and Testament”
By Ilya Kaminsky
Issue no. 227 (Winter 2018)

Be careless, life!
Wrap me in newspaper on a park bench
so some enterprising schoolchild
can filch from my eyes
two dimes
and replace them with two U.S. postage stamps.

Goftare Nik (Good Words)
By Shirana Shahbazi
Issue no. 172 (Winter 2004)


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