In the Postmonolingual Condition: Karin Sander’s Wordsearch and Yoko Tawada’s Wordplay
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/T771009761
The last two decades have seen a rapid increase in multilingual cultural productions in many different contexts. Frequently, the multilingual make-up of these literary, cinematic, musical, and artistic works has been celebrated as an expression of cultural heterogeneity, pluralism, cosmopolitanism, and hybridity. This essay, however, argues that the meaning produced by and through multilingualism is not always so clear-cut and instead of simple celebration calls for critical analysis. It specifically argues for the importance of recognizing the existence of a monolingual paradigm that first emerged in eighteenth-century Europe and that still inflects the way that subjects, communities, and modes of belonging are imagined and institutions structured. The term “postmonolingual,” which this essay introduces, hence describes the tense co-existence of a still dominant monolingual framework tied to the nation-state, on the one hand, and (re)emergent multilingual practices, on the other. The analysis of two differently multilingual texts engaging with globalization exemplifies these tensions in opposite ways. A reading of the 2002 conceptual artwork Wordsearch: A Translinguistic Sculpture by German artist Karin Sander demonstrates the persistence of the monolingual paradigm even in a cultural product drawing on many languages. Yoko Tawada’s writing, here specifically her 2004 essay “Schreiben im Netz der Sprachen” (“Writing in the Web of Words”), in contrast, offers a critically multilingual perspective that undercuts monolingual assumptions even as the text at first does not appear to use multiple languages. Understanding the postmonolingual condition thus requires attention to the particular forms that multilingualism takes and to their potential entanglement with monolingualism.