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Travelling without Moving: Physical and Linguistic Mobility in Yoko Tawada's Überseezungen


Travel and translation constitute the primary focus of Yoko Tawada's literary production. Many of Tawada's German-language works are travel stories that consider the models of subjectivity enabled by travel across spaces and languages. This essay considers how her works investigate the interconnectedness of mobility, geography, language and identity, and how - in more recent works - travel between languages becomes not a side-effect but a substitute for travel through space. Tawada argues that as modern technology alters our perceptions of space and as travel becomes increasingly uniform, travel between places may become less distinct. It is instead in travel through language that the most compelling journeys take place, where the subject may be transported, or, more properly, translated into another system of sounds and significances. Tawada shows that while the physicality of motion can go missing in some modes of travel (e.g. airplane travel), linguistic journeys are intensely physical, requiring, and increasing, a bodily relationship to language. Crossing from one linguistic territory to another, the speaking body is doubly transformed, both through a renewed sense of the bodily exertion inherent in speech acts and through a recoding of the body in the foreign language. In such a model, language can take on the qualities of space. This essay considers how, for Tawada, languages become sites through which the individual can move, locations where identity can reside, or bounded spaces that can demarcate belonging or exclusion. Tawada suggests the notion of a world without borders is fallacious: her focus on language and territoriality presents a world where linguistic boundaries remain intact and regionalisms and nationalisms flourish.

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