Event Highlights: Writing Between Languages and Cultures – A Reading and Conversation with Yoko Tawada

April 22nd, 2014 in Event Highlights

On April 15, 2014, the Centers for the Study of Europe and Asia at Boston University hosted Yoko Tawada. Tawada was born in Tokyo in 1960 and moved to Hamburg when she was twenty-two, where she received a PhD in German literature, and then to Berlin in 2006. The event was moderated by Anna Zielinska-Elliott, Senior Lecturer in Japanese at Boston University and a translator of modern Japanese literature into Polish, and introduced by Peter Schwartz, Associate Professor of German & Comparative Literature at Boston University.

Peter’s introduction prepared the audience to hear from an extraordinary women who writes in both Japanese and German and has published several books—stories, novels, poems, plays, essays—in both languages. Her lecture began by connecting languages and emotions. She brought up the interesting thought that feelings speak a different language than we do, and that feelings cannot be artificially produced but can be artistically represented by changing tempo and volume.

This lecture was unique in that it did feel like a conventional lecture but rather an introduction to a new perspective by artistic means. Yoko Tawada infused her talk with stories that brought insight to Japanese and German culture, as well as a beautiful and phonetically intensive Japanese poem. Her use of artistic explanations allowed the audience to really understand what it is to write between languages and cultures. One of the most interesting parts of this talk was when Bettina Brandt was asked to read the English translations of a couple of poems while Ms. Tawada sat and held up different Japanese characters for each poem. This was the most intriguing part of her talk due to her lack of explanation of the poems, which allowed the each person in attendance to formulate their own interpretations of the translation, language, and characters.

The lecture was followed by a conversation that began with the two moderators posing introductory questions. During the conversation Yoko Tawada was asked questions

You cannot express emotion through language, emotions are in the letters or what she calls the body of literature and musicality of the words. She was also asked about the characters that were used earlier in the lecture, Tawada explained how the characters were a tool to process the text and something to “take home”. As the conversation ensued Tawada also elaborated on the process of translating her own work from German into Japanese and the opposite, and how it is not her concern what others think of her work but rather just working with the language as a basis and structure.

Overall, Tawada’s lecture was incredibly insightful for writers who hope to break the bounds between language and literature.

Co-sponsored by Centers for the Study of Europe and Asia at Boston University, the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, and the Japan Society Boston.

–Aneri Desai, BU ’15


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