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Languages of Exile

Migration and Multilingualism in Twentieth-Century Literature

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Axel Englund and Anders Olsson

Languages of Exile examines the relationship between geographic and linguistic border crossings in twentieth-century literature. Like no period before it, the last century was marked by the experience of expatriation, forcing exiled writers to confront the fact of linguistic difference. Literary writing can be read as the site where that confrontation is played out aesthetically – at the intersection between native and acquired language, between indigenous and alien, between self and other – in a complex multilingual dynamic specific to exile and migration.
The essays collected here explore this dynamic from a comparative perspective, addressing the paragons of modernism as well as less frequently studied authors, from Joseph Conrad and Peter Weiss to Agota Kristof and Malika Mokeddem. The essays are international in their approach; they deal with the junctions and gaps between English, French, German, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and other languages. The literary works and practices addressed include modernist poetry and prose, philosophical criticism and autobiography, DADA performance, sound art and experimental music theatre. This volume reveals both the wide range of creative strategies developed in response to the interstitial situation of exile and the crucial role of exile for a renewed understanding of twentieth-century literature.

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Axel Englund and Anders Olsson Introduction: Twentieth-Century Ruptures of Location and Locution

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This volume deals with the relation between literature and exile in the twen- tieth century: it addresses the situation of writing in between languages, and the specificity of the literary works to which that situation has given rise. The experience of expatriation was a defining factor for a vast number of modernist and postmodernist writers and left indelible marks upon the literature of the last century. If the exiled writer must necessarily confront the fact of linguistic dif ference, literature can be read as the arena where such confrontation is played out aesthetically. Literary writing, in other words, becomes the point of intersection between native and acquired language, between the indigenous and the alien, between self and other, in a complex bi- or multilingual dynamic specific to the situations of exile and migration. To be an expatriate writer is to be constantly faced with a gap in one’s language and identity, to exist in a state of in-between, which, as the phenomenon of exile literature has come to prove time and again, is often as aesthetically fertile as it is bewildering and dif ficult. The strategies for turning such dif ficulties into creative potential are many: some writers continue to work in their mother tongue, which is nevertheless altered or inf luenced by the alien context; others take the leap into another language, in part or completely, and thus bring the experiences of their own language across into a foreign one; others yet mix multiple languages in their work and...

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