Comparative Literature and Polylanguaging
Often in Comparative Literature we speak of “national literatures” and assume there is a correspondence between a nation and a language. We think about translation as moving text from one language into another, and migration as moving from a place where one language is spoken to a place where another language is spoken. There are theories and ideologies that undergird all of this kind of thinking. But what if we start, instead, from the point of view that the link between a nation and a language is itself an ideological production that corresponds less and less well to our contemporary reality and may always have been inadequate in some way? We will start to pose these questions by reading Tolstoy’s Hadji Murat, followed by Eva Hoffman’s remarkable 1989 book, Lost in Translation: Life in a New Language. We will include some recent critical literature by ethnographers, anthropologist, and linguistic anthropologists on what is sometimes called multilingualism, or polylanguaging, or superdiversity. Then we will ask the question: What would a form of literary prose be that would grapple with the problem of polylanguaging? Novels by Henry Roth (Call It Sleep), Patrick Chamoiseau (Solibo Magnificent), and Amitav Ghosh (The Hungry Tide) will help us pursue this question. At the end of the semester, by reading Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence Is My Mother Tongue, we will focus in on the particular problem of the experience of sexuality in relation to polylanguaging in extreme contemporary circumstances.