Readings and a Roundtable with Writers Yoko Tawada and Zafer Şenocak / Discussant: Homi K. Bhabha / Organized and moderated by Deniz Göktürk

Where Europe Continues…Translingual Writers and the Cosmopolitan Imagination: Readings and a roundtable with writers Yoko Tawada and Zafer Şenocak

Discussant: Homi K. Bhabha (Harvard University)

Organized and moderated by Deniz Göktürk (UC Berkeley)
This issue of TRANSIT is centered around an event held at UC Berkeley as part of an ongoing dialogue about multilingual, multicultural, and multinational issues in literature, politics, and culture in the broadest sense. The roundtable features Yoko Tawada and Zafer Şenocak, two writers well known for addressing these themes in their literary and critical works, in dialogue with Homi K. Bhabha, whose reflections on these subjects as a theorist have profoundly influenced literary and cultural studies. We are pleased to bring you a video of the entire event, in addition to the texts read by both Tawada and Şenocak, as well as other, previously unpublished materials by each author.

Yoko Tawada, a star in two national literatures, writes and publishes prolifically in both Japanese and German, playfully inverting common notions about native bodies, territorial belonging, and continental divides. Her works published in English translation include Where Europe Begins and Facing the Bridge.

Zafer Şenocak, a Berlin-based and well-traveled poet, novelist, and public intellectual, interrogates tropes of national historiography in both Germany and Turkey. After many books in German, he recently published three novels in Turkish, including Alman Terbiyesi (German Education). The collection of essays Atlas of a Tropical Germany is available in English translation, including an essay entitled “The Third Language.”

Homi K. Bhabha is Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English and Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University. In his path-breaking books Nation and Narration and The Location of Culture, he famously introduced a focus on border lives, hybridity, and the third space of translation into postcolonial theory, emphasizing the dual loyalties of migrants as a challenge to bounded narratives of national historiography. The theoretical questions that he raised also became inspirational for discussions about Turkish German cultural contact, for example in Deniz Göktürk’s work on transnational cinema.

In preparation for the roundtable, we asked Şenocak and Tawada to each select a short exemplary text from their works that would speak to movement across languages and territorial boundaries.

Yoko Tawada read excerpts from “Where Europe Begins,” her traveling narrative that approaches Europe from the East on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. The text that she read, somewhat adapted from its previously published form, can be read here.

Zafer Şenocak allowed us a peek into the writer’s workshop, reading a sneak preview from his novel Ostwärts (Eastward), still in progress. We are thus publishing an excerpt, in an English translation by David Gramling, before the publication of the novel in German.

Both texts show correspondences in terms of their (trans-)geographic imagination, their focus on the shifting boundaries of Europe, and their destabilization of binaries such as the East and the West, or Orient and Occident. Both writers poetically unsettle referential spatiality, thus complicating expectations of authors acting as cultural attachés who represent “their cultures.” The discussion highlighted that East is not just East. The significance and global currency of Turkish and Japanese words and tropes in the German or North American context is distinctly different, although there are also interesting correspondences in discourses regarding “the West” in Turkish and Japanese.

By bringing these two writers who write and publish in languages other than English into conversation with Homi K. Bhabha, we aimed to transcend the divide between “English” and “Foreign Languages,” which becomes manifest annually in two separate hotels at the Modern Language Association meetings. We addressed questions of translatability, circulation, reception, and recognition, regarding world literature today in a broader horizon, nonetheless maintaining a focus on specific linguistic nuances.

The following questions for discussion were circulated in advance:

  • How do monolingualism and multilingualism collide (and collude) in literary composition?
  • Is there a necessary relationship between the translingual experience and the body? (e.g. tongue metaphors abound in both writers’ works: “tongue dance,” “tongue extraction,” “portrait of a tongue”)
  • How does deterritorialized language embody connections to place and space? How can we learn to think “beyond the language of the land” (Şenocak)? (e.g. language as a measure of citizenship, current political resonances such as language tests for immigrants in several European countries)
  • Does cosmopolitanism adequately address multilingual subjectivity? When is cosmopolitanism vernacular? Does cosmopolitanism mean something else in Europe than it does in the US?

This event was held on Friday, April 18, 2008 at UC Berkeley.

Sponsored by the UC Berkeley German Department, the Multicultural Germany Project, the Goethe-Institut San Francisco, the Institute for European Studies, the Cultural Forms in Transit Group, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies