English is not the world’s most spoken language. Still, it is one of the most powerful, influential and hegemonic languages, considerably organising the spheres of literature, academia, global economy, etc. According to Mufti, the English language could rise to dominance because, in the course of modern histories of globalisation, it has assumed ”an aura of universality and transparency” (16), which allows it to fulfil various mediating functions. As a seemingly ”neutral or transparent medium” (Mufti 16), English has also become the global language of literature, which pervasively ”mediat[es] world literary relations” (Mufti 17). Backed by the pre-eminence of Anglo-American publishing houses, texts written in English usually travel much further and faster than, say, texts written in Arabic, Mandarin, or French.
To counter such ‘Anglo-globalism’ and the historically mediated invisibility of standard English, more and more literary texts draw on a multilingual poetics, i.e. a poetics that brings together multiple linguistic influences, traditions and conventions. Indicating that languages only come into being through processes of mixing, adapting and exchange, multilingualism rigorously points beyond ethnic, territorial and / or national limits and reveals unexpected and politically occluded histories of contact and kinship.
In this seminar, we will discuss selected multilingual texts by, e.g., Derek Walcott (poems), Louise Bennett (poems), Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea), Junot Díaz, Ocean Vuong, and analyse how they represent the contact and conflict between various languages. Close readings will be combined with historically sensitive interpretations of language politics. We will also discuss how multilingual texts circulate across different contexts and relate to multiple readerships.