The Taylorian is delighted to be hosting an exhibition celebrating the work of Yoko Tawada, DAAD Writer in Residence at St Edmund Hall for two weeks from 19th February 2017. The exhibition has been curated by Masters student Sheela Mahadevan (MSt Modern Languages), with the help of DAAD-Lektor Christoph Held and Professor Henrike Lähnemann, and will run for the duration of Tawada’s visit. It is open to holders of a Bodleian Reader Card. This blog post is an abbreviated version of the exhibition catalogue prepared by Sheela Mahadevan.
Yoko Tawada was born in 1960 in Tokyo, Japan. From 1982, she did an MA in German literature at Hamburg University, followed by a PhD at Zurich University. Germany is now her home: after living in Hamburg for 22 years, Tawada moved to Berlin in 2006, where she still lives. She writes in both German and Japanese, with the nature of her bilingualism a prominent feature in her work.
Tawada works intensively with German dictionaries when she writes. These are two of those she uses most:
Tawada has won numerous prizes for her work, such as the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize (1996), the Förderpreis für Literatur der Stadt Hamburg (1990), the Lessingförderpreis (1994), as well as numerous Japanese prizes. She was winner of the prestigious Kleist Prize in 2016 (see this extract of the Laudatio by Günter Blamberger given on this occasion).
Tawada writes in a variety of genres and media: novels, poetry, essay collections, plays, and even audio texts. Some of her works are written in Japanese, and then translated into German. Other works are written in German. She rarely translates one language into the other herself, but sometimes writes the same text in both Japanese and German.
Some examples of Tawada’s work.
Of course Tawada is not alone in making use of multilingualism in her writing. Other multilingual writers writing in German whose works contain the presence of one or more additional languages, include Paul Celan, Franco Biondi, Franz Kafka, Elias Canetti, Galsan Tschinag, Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Tzveta Sofronieva.
Other multilingual works by authors writing in German:
When making deliberate use of several different languages, the way the languages are presented to the reader is a very important consideration. Layout, choice of typeface and clarity of presentation can all influence how the reader perceives the language and culture in relation to others. The Taylorian has examples of bilingual books over several centuries.
The materiality of the book is a vital aspect of Tawada’s works. She experiments with different forms of paper and other materials in her books. Although paper made from plant-based products has been available since the end of the Middle Ages, Tawada chose to have the book cover of Ein Gedicht für ein Buch made from fish skin, since fish and water are important in her works.
“When a book is translated into other languages, you can’t control the translation.”
(Yoko Tawada, Jaipur Literary Festival 2016)
Translating Tawada is undoubtedly a challenge; it often requires a knowledge of both Japanese and German. It poses many ‘problems’: how do we translate neologisms into any language? How do we translate so as to recreate the reading experience of a specific book? For example, in a book that is in German and Japanese, where both languages are to be read in different directions, how is this effect rendered in an English translation? How do we translate into English a German and a Japanese version of the same text?
In this text, Chantal Wright outlines the problems and demonstrates potential solutions when translating Tawada’s work.
Tawada’s works make us reconsider our own relationship with language, creating the feeling that no-one can be comfortable in any language, even our mother tongue. Is it possible to free oneself from language?
We end this post with a variety of comments by Yoko Tawada regarding language and translation, taken from Koiran, Linda, Schreiben in Fremder Sprache- Yoko Tawada und Galsan Tschinag (Munich: Iudicum Verlag, 2009) pp. 257-358:
<<Wenn man eine weitere Sprache kennt, dann ist die Distanz zwischen sich selbst und der Muttersprache spürbar. Man ist nicht so ganz unter der Macht der Sprache. Das ist eine Befreiung, und dann kann man erst mutig werden.>>
(If you know another language, then the distance between yourself and the mother tongue can be sensed. You aren’t quite so much under the spell of the language. You are released, and only then can you become bold.)
<<Wenn ich im Denken von der einen Sprache zur anderen springe, spüre ich einen Augenblick stark, dass es ganz dunkle Bereiche gibt, ohne Sprache….Wenn man in diese Kluft einmal hineingefallen ist, dann ist die Muttersprache auch ganz fremd, ich finde Japanish dann sehr komisch und Deutsch sowieso. Dieses Gefühl ist für mich sehr wichtig: sich von der Sprache zu befreien.>>
(If I jump from one language to another while thinking, I sense for a moment that there are quite dark areas without language…if you have fallen into this abyss once, then the mother tongue is quite foreign, I then find Japanese very strange, and German too. This feeling for me is very important: to free oneself from language.)
<< Die literarische Sprache ist sowieso nie die Muttersprache. So wie ich auf Japanisch schreibe, gleicht nicht dem Japanisch, das ich spreche oder der japanischen Sprache, die ich als Kind gelernt habe. In dem Moment, wo man einmal eine Trennung von der Alltagssprache gemacht hat, kommt die literarische Sprache- und die ist sowieso eine Fremdsprache.>>
(Literary language is in any case never the mother tongue. The way I write in Japanese never equates to the Japanese which I speak, or the Japanese language which I learnt as a child. When one has separated from the language of daily use, this is the moment at which literary language arises, and this is in any case a foreign language.)
For a video introduction to the exhibition, please see the links below:
Introduction: On Yoko Tawada https://youtu.be/gVxWauXK4fE
Exhibition Case 2: Bilingual Layout in Yoko Tawada https://youtu.be/rU5Zv36k2iY
Exhibition Case 3: Exophonic Writing in German https://youtu.be/I6dd2wPT0HY
Exhibition Case 4: Bilingual Layout https://youtu.be/M0z8HMzXqSU
Exhibition Case 5: Bilingual Layout 2 https://youtu.be/CgujyiGUVgc
Exhibition catalogue by Sheela Mahadevan, MSt student, Oriel College
Text abbreviated for online publication by Emma Huber, German Subject Librarian