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The City of Words 

Alberto Manguel

The City of Words
Alberto Manguel
We like to think our cities don’t have walls anymore. In the 2007 CBC Massey Lecture, Alberto Manguel would have us think otherwise. Though an important tool to build (that is, to identify and name) cities, language can be used and abused so that barriers---invisible yes, but no less effective---still go up.

“Language lends voice to the storytellers who try to tell us who we are; language builds out of words our reality and those who inhabit it, within and without the walls; language offers stories that lie and stories that tell the truth.

“Languages change with us, grow stronger or weaker with us, survive or dies with us.” And with the fate of language goes the destiny of our cities.

Manguel urges us towards “an endless sequence of readings” of stories to find the way to peace, acceptance and exchange in our cities.

But his supporting examples (including Epic of Gilgamesh, Don Quixote, the film Ataranjuat-The Legend of the Fast Runner) tend to emphasize the past over present writing, as well as overlooking the stories by women. Well, at least Margaret Atwood makes it in there.

Though these distract and detract from the argument, it’s still worth considering.
Sean Flinn

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Vol 25, No 26
November 23, 2017

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