A tale of two tongues: self-translation in Sekiguchi Ryōko’s poetry

Costa, Emanuela

Literary self-translation is a practice that has gained increasing scholarly attention in the fields of postcolonial, transnational studies and translation studies, following the rise in the number of bilingual and plurilingual writers over the twentieth and twenty-first century. In the Japanese context, a growing body of research on works by authors who write in more than one language is now calling for an acknowledgment of how bilingual literature has been “shaking” the foundations of modern Japanese literature, as Komori (1998) suggests, by breaking the equation between nationality, ethnicity, national language and culture that had been developed during the nation-building process in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In this paper, I analyze the work of Sekiguchi Ryōko, a contemporary poet based in France, who writes free-verse poetry in Japanese and self-translates it into French. In the first part, the paper examines a poem included in the collections Hakkōsei Diapositive (Japanese) and Calque (French) to illustrate how Sekiguchi conceives self-translation as a process that destabilizes the categories of original and translation. Addressing questions of authenticity and fidelity, Sekiguchi seeks to explore the creative potential of translation as a means to reconsider one’s affiliation to the mother tongue. In the second part, the paper focuses on Sekiguchi’s multilingual public readings, arguing that they offer alternative ways of thinking about translation, communication and linguistic identities, for they stress the need to foster an understanding of languages as historically positioned systems, but also encourage readers to step outside normative linguistic paradigms.

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