Volume 48, Number 4, Winter 2016
Special Issue: Translingual Fiction
Guest Editors: Steven G. Kellman and Natasha Lvovich
Introduction—Steven G. Kellman and Natasha Lvovich
James Joyce’s Ulysses has been notorious as a “dirty book” from the moment of its appearance. It was banned on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for its supposed obscenity and even Joyce’s experimental peers were shocked by its indecent language. Yet Joyce’s earlier works, Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, are almost completely free of obscene language and dirty words. This essay suggests that this profound change in style can be explained, at least in part, by Joyce’s increased involvement with Italian in the decade he spent in Pola and Trieste. During that time, Joyce became thoroughly bilingual in Italian and English and, as I will try to show, being bilingual can completely alter the way in which one uses language, especially with regard to its affective connotations in general and to the use of what are considered “taboo words” in particular.
Elsewhere: Translingual Kundera—Michelle Woods
In the last twenty years, the Czech-born writer Milan Kundera has written four novels in his second language, French: La lenteur, L’identité, L’ignorance, and La fête de l’insignifiance. This article examines how Kundera transposes his particular authorial style from his Czech language texts to his French novels and, in doing so, provides a subtly subversive reading of the norms of French novelistic language and style. Kundera’s French writing has been read as a straightforward homage to, and embrace of, French literature and culture, but this article suggests that Kundera’s translingual novels interrogate his second language and culture through a deliberate rewriting of normative domestic style and through a questioning of the vibrancy of French literary culture.
This essay investigates how the Chinese-British author and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo’s A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (2007) engages in the rewriting of what Yasemin Yildiz termed the “monolingual linguistic family romance” (2012). Written in a learner’s English, which improves throughout its fictional diary pages, the novel describes and enacts the labor of love that language learning always connotes, and thus questions the unique affective investment in the mother tongue. Xiaolu Guo’s decision to harness the very process of a protagonist’s self-translation as the focus of her first novel in English creates an experimental text that stages the inequity between her character’s slowly improving English and a perception of her unwritten dialect and official Mandarin Chinese as equally oppressive, between the hegemony of global English and the imposition of Mandarin Chinese as the language of her education, between Western capitalism and Chinese communism. Using Pascale Casanova’s insights into the unequal linguistic exchanges both in translation and the literary world, I argue that as it presents a writer’s alienation from either stepmother’s or lover’s tongue in literary endeavor, Dictionary for Lovers investigates and destabilizes both affective relationships in order to put in relief the asymmetry of globalized exchanges at their basis.
This paper examines the phenomenon of “literary translingualism” in Cloudy Years (2000), an autobiographical Persian novel by a Kurdish writer, Ali-Ashraf Darvishian. By drawing on strategies of appropriation proposed by Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin in The Empire Writes Back (1989), this paper shows how Darvishian has incorporated the Kurdish dialect and culture of his hometown into his Persian narrative, thus highlighting his cultural distinctiveness while writing in the only official language of his country. The postcolonial reading of Cloudy Years affirms that writing in any of the dominant languages of Persian, Turkish, and Arabic does not necessarily mean the assimilation of a Kurdish writer into the dominant culture. On the contrary, hybrid translingual texts such as Cloudy Years not only defy the state-imposed monoculturalism but also manifest a hybridity that is emblematic of the country’s heterogeneous ethno-cultural makeup.
Historically, Zionism posited a fundamental connection between Hebrew language and Israeli culture and identity. Recent developments in Israeli literature, in particular the rise to prominence of both Israeli authors writing in non-Jewish languages and Hebrew writers living abroad, have begun to test the link between language and homeland. This article reads a recent work of translingual Israeli literature in English, Shani Boianjiu’s 2012 novel The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, through an earlier fictional and theoretical work in English by the Israeli writer Rela Mazali. Through their approach to translingualism, these texts question the naturalness of the assumed bond between language and homeland and offer a contemporary challenge to the Zionist negation of exile.
Whilst Bharati Mukherjee has identified Junot Díaz as a new American immigrant writer who refuses to abandon his mother tongue and “pre-migration historical inheritance,” Toni Morrison has argued that language is “the most valuable point of entry into the question of cultural (or racial) distinction.” Considering both the difference between old and new American immigrant writing and the question of cultural and racial distinction in Díaz’s writing, close analysis of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao shows the newness and the political valency of Díaz’s translingualism. It reveals how his narrator Yunior’s oral-sounding discourse is created from high literary techniques and references combined with the “tainted” languages of sci-fi and fantasy, hip hop and Spanishes of the street. It is in this cultural and linguistic miscegenation that Díaz’s originality and radical poetics reside, as they make up an original new-immigrant literary discourse that is distinctly his “own goddamn idiom.”
Maria Kager is a lecturer in modern English literature at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Her work has appeared in the James Joyce Quarterly, the Journal of Modern Literature, L2Journal, and various edited volumes. She is currently completing a book about bilingualism and cognition in modernist fiction.
Steven G. Kellman is author of Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth; The Translingual Imagination; The Plague: Fiction and Resistance; Loving Reading: Erotics of the Text; and The Self‑Begetting Novel. He edited Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft; UnderWords: Perspectives on DeLillo’s Underworld; Torpid Smoke: Stories of Vladimir Nabokov; and Leslie Fiedler and American Culture. He is professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Maria Lauret is a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Sussex, UK. She is the author of Liberating Literature: Feminist Fiction in America (1994); Alice Walker (2nd edition, 2011); Wanderwords: Language Migration in American Literature (2014), and articles on topics ranging from feminist film theory to African American culture to US political discourse on (im)migration. She is currently working on a poetics of multilingual reading.
Natasha Lvovich is a writer and scholar of multilingualism and of translingual literature. She teaches at CUNY and divides her loyalties between academic and creative writing. Among her publications, The Multilingual Self, a book of autobiographical narratives, followed by more than a dozen creative nonfiction pieces and interdisciplinary essays on multilingual identity and creativity. Among her latest publications, “The Gift: Synesthesia in Translingual Texts” and “Translingual Identity and Art: Marc Chagall’s Stride through the Gates of Janus.” She has organized a number of panels and seminars on literary translingualism, including the very first symposium Writing the Stepmother Tongue, and gave a series of lectures on the topic as a visiting professor at École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France.
Mahroo Rashidirostami is a PhD graduate of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. She received her MA in Kurdish studies from the University of Exeter, her MA in English literature from the University of Tehran, and her BA in English language and literature from Razi University.
Ania Spyra grew up in a German, Silesian, and Polish speaking home in Upper Silesia. An associate professor of English and comparative literature at Butler University and a senior lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University, she teaches a range of courses in transnational and postcolonial literature, translation, and creative writing. She has published and lectured widely on nodal cities, feminist contestations of cosmopolitanism, multilingualism, and transnationalism.
Melissa Weininger is the Anna Smith Fine Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies at Rice University. She has a PhD in Jewish studies from the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, Jewish nationalism, and gender, and she is currently at work on a book on diaspora Israeli literature.
Michelle Woods is an associate professor of English at SUNY New Paltz. She is the author of Kafka Translated: How Translators Have Shaped Our Reading of Kafka (2013), Censoring Translation: Censorship, Theatre, and the Politics of Translation (2012), and Translating Milan Kundera (2006), and is the editor of Authorizing Translation (2016).