Beyond “Transborder”: Tawada Yōko’s Vision of Another World Literature

Victoria Young

Abstract


This article presents a critical examination of “transborder” literary approaches that seek to renegotiate the position of Japanese fiction within the world. The concept of transborder fiction has emerged in recent decades as a means of breaking down the boundaries of Japanese literature that assume agreement between the nationality of a writer and the language of her text. However, as it takes its cues from David Damrosch’s influential study of 2003, What is World Literature?, which suggests that literature gains in value in translation, transborder literature betrays its desires to promote Japan’s national literature in a globalising literary context. This more critical view reveals that despite their calls for greater literary diversity, transborder approaches exhibit problematic tendencies that threaten to erase the multiple flows of language and intertextuality already extant within modern Japanese fiction and turn its eye away from history. This critique is focalised through the writing of Tawada Yōko, whose prolific output of literary works and essays in Japanese and German appear to epitomise the image of transborder writing, and yet which frequently challenge these assumptions. Both the book-length essay Exophony (2003) and the Japanese novel Tabi o suru hadaka no me (2004) offer prescient critiques rooted in history that expose moments of rupture, asymmetry and untranslatability, which an emphasis on border crossings threatens to overlook. However, by choosing to peer through those gaps, guided by the latter’s Vietnamese narrator, these texts also incite hitherto unseen connections between Tawada’s Japanese fiction and the world.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jll.2021.181



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