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Reviewed by:
  • Yöko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere
  • Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit (bio)
Yöko Tawada: Voices from Everywhere. Edited by Doug Slaymaker. Lexington Books, Lanham, Md., 2007. xi, 174 pages. $60.00, cloth; $24.95, paper.

For a long time, the notion of "Japanese literature" propagated in dictionaries and encyclopedias was straightforward, reminding us of the sweeping generalizations in Nihonjinron literature of "the Japanese" with their pre-supposed identity of ethnicity, language, culture, geography, and nation. "Japanese literature" (kokubungaku, or "national literature") was seldom defined at all. Scholarly works on literature, of course, paint a more complex picture, such as Konishi Jin'ichi's introductory reflections on what to consider under the term in his monumental History of Japanese Literature, in which he problematizes the monoculturality as well as the monolingual nature of the notion.1 Yet the common view held in and outside Japan remains relatively simple, suggesting that the issue concerns literary texts written in Japanese by ethnic Japanese, being Japanese nationals, set mainly in Japan. While this is not the place to discuss the implications of this simplistic and distorted image, the observation may serve as a starting point for introducing a recent publication on Tawada Yōko, a writer with distinct profiles in Japan and Germany and thus a figure who thoroughly disrupts the neat categorizations common for "Japanese literature."

Tawada's biography links her to both countries and cultures. Born in Tokyo in 1960, she studied Russian literature at Waseda University and [End Page 129] has lived in Germany since 1982. In 1987, her first book was published in Germany in a bilingual format, giving the Japanese original and the German translation on opposite pages. Other books in German followed, first as translations by Peter Pörtner, her German voice, so to speak, and eventually including original German sections authored by Tawada. Since her 1992 collection of essays Das Fremde aus der Dose (Canned foreign), she has also published whole books originally written in German. Shortly after she began to publish Japanese works in Japan, she was awarded the Akutagawa Prize for her story Inumukoiri (published in English as The Bridegroom Was a Dog) in 1993. Tawada now writes and publishes in both German and Japanese and has established herself as a writer belonging to two "national literatures." According to her web site, she has received nine prizes and awards in Germany and five in Japan, as well as the Max Kade Distinguished Visitorship at MIT, underscoring her literary weight in both cultural scenes. So far, however, Tawada has been a topic for critical discourse in Germany more than in Japan. This book is therefore a timely venture.

Six essays in the volume deal with Tawada's German literature, three are dedicated to her Japanese texts, while two cover both. It may come as a surprise to read in Marjorie Perloff's foreword that German and Japanese make "a very special combination" for Anglophone readers, as "they are, after all, the twin languages of the enemy in World War II" (p. viii). She does not signal whether this "special combination" is more than contingent and, to this reviewer's knowledge, neither Tawada's writings nor German or Japanese reactions have followed this direction. Doug Slaymaker, in his introduction, observes that "Tawada is not simply a writer with a mirror existence in two different languages, but a writer very different in Japanese than in German" (p. 1). Her texts, he continues, confound traditional comparative approaches because of their persistent themes such as multiple identities, spectral nations, leaky boundaries, porous bodies, polyphonic languages, and fragmented spaces (p. 1), connecting them with basic conditions in the globalized age. Slaymaker sketches these with notions such as exilic, ethnic, migrant, and diasporic as well as "in-between place," "crevasse," and "alternate space" in brief references to authors such as Arjun Appadurai, Emily Apter, Azade Seyhan, Hélène Cixous, and Charles Taylor.

While this provides some idea of how Tawada's existence and writing fit into a more general discursive space, the editor says little on the organization of the contributions, which have no discernible order or principle. They begin with a lecture by Tawada titled "Tawada Yōko Does...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 129-133
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-15
Open Access
No
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