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Languages of Exile

Migration and Multilingualism in Twentieth-Century Literature


Edited By 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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Part I Identity and Ethics: Three Anglo-Slavic Prose Virtuosi


Ulf Olsson Evil Freedom: Linguistic Confusion and Convention in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent ‘You revolutionists’, the anarchist Professor accusingly states, ‘are the slaves of the social convention’, provoking his fellow activists. ‘One must use the current words’, the anarchist activist Ossipon counters. The group of anarchists is gathered in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, 1907, discussing what the consequences of a recent bombing might be for them.1 However, their discussion is neither free nor open, but fraught with tensions produced by linguistic corruption. The problem that Ossipon is facing is that he seems to be sharing a conventional view of the bombing – ‘it’s nothing short of criminal’ – and the currency of words is, precisely, a question of convention. But convention, then, is the enemy of anarchism, and should, at least according to the Professor, be refused. This linguistic problem of the relation between language, convention and what must be called political ethics, is a central aspect of the exilic experience represented in the novel. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the United Kingdom was still a liberal society; if not welcoming to political refugees and exiles, the British at least tolerated them: Britain ‘saw herself still as a country whose shores were open to the oppressed of all nations’, as Norman Sherry put it.2 1 Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, ed. Bruce Harkness and S.W. Reid, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Joseph Conrad (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 57 and 59. Further...

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