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Voicing Rupture: Ethical Concerns in Short Prose and Lyric Texts by Yoko Tawada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Áine McMurtry
Affiliation:
King's College
Emily Jeremiah
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in German at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Frauke Matthes
Affiliation:
Lecturer in German at the University of Edinburgh.
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Summary

InStimme eines Vogels, delivered as the first of her poetry lectures at Tübingen in 1998, Yoko Tawada comments on the particular status—and strangeness—of the human voice when speaking another language. Suggesting that the human subject spits out foreign words as though they were birds, Tawada underlines the tension between the materiality of the foreign sentences with their clear contours, on the one hand, and the odd displacement of the voice in a different language, on the other. Published under the title Verwandlungen, the three Tübingen lectures explore literary and linguistic metamorphoses, and particularly focus on those that occur when the human subject engages with another language, when dislocation is felt particularly acutely. Tawada's reflections on the ambivalent status of the foreign voice lead her to conclude: “Wer mit einer fremden Zunge spricht, ist ein Ornithologe und ein Vogel in einer Person.” To consider the ethical concern driving Tawada's expressive project, this chapter takes as its starting point her identification of the linguistic outsider's voice as a vehicle of both material immediacy and critical detachment. This essay is not concerned to explore ethics as a branch of philosophy, but to examine Tawada's ethically committed aesthetic practice and her experimentation with the position of the bilingual subject as a means of refiguring cultural hierarchies and binary oppositions. Focusing on literary representations of the voice as a phenomenon distinct in Tawada's writing, I do not suggest that the texts are predominantly concerned with ethical tensions and moral dilemmas. Rather, I understand ethics more broadly as a set of moral principles relating to issues of social responsibility and human justice. These issues are intrinsically bound up with the linguistic figuration of the subject and its relationship with its others.

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Edinburgh German Yearbook 7
Ethical Approaches in Contemporary German-Language Literature and Culture
, pp. 159 - 177
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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