Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Between Je and Moi: Staging the Heteroglossia of Immigrant Autobiography

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Between Je and Moi: Staging the Heteroglossia of Immigrant Autobiography

Article excerpt

In his work on discourse in the novel, Mikhail Bakhtin defines the aesthetic value of literature as arising from the dialogical interdependence of two equal and separate consciousness: that of the author and that of the character, each taking on a distinct spatial/temporal form ("Author" 87). In literature the author occupies the place of the I, whereas the character takes the place of another, as determined by the author's external position to it (14). The device of heteroglossia--a conflicted co-existence of distinct narrative voices within a unified literary utterance-makes this tension of author/character relationships visible. Characterized by "a diversity of social speech types" and "a diversity of individual voices, artistically organized," heteroglossia defines the authorial utterance and the character's speech as a territory for many voices to interfere and compete within ("Discourse" 262). By analogy, I argue, Bakhtin's theory of heteroglossia and his view of the author/character interdependence can illuminate the complexity of an authorial utterance in autobiographical solo performance, in which the voice of the author, the voice of the performer, and the voice(s) of the character(s) are simultaneously diversified and intertwined. The product of a certain social and cultural environment, a performance text of an immigrant artist's autobiography reflects the "internal stratification present in every language at any given moment of its historical existence" ("Discourse" 263); yet through the performative gesture of telling one's personal story on stage, a delicate balance between the performer's identity and her artistic work is suggested.

As my example, I turn to the work of Mani Soleymanlou, a Quebecois theatre artist of Iranian origin. I focus on his theatrical trilogy, Trois. Un spectacle de Mani Soleymanlou, which premiered at the Festival TransAmerique in June 2014 in Montreal. (2) The published script (2014) documents the author/performer's attempt to reconstruct the process of making and performing this solo on the page (hence subtitled "un spectacle de Mani Soleymanlou"). It also traces the ontological and fictional difference between the author, the character, and the performer on stage in order to reveal the fundamental devices of an autobiographical solo performance. (3) In Trois, the actor appears in the multiplicity of the author/character/ performer relationships, as:

a) Mani Soleymanlou--a Montreal based artist of Iranian origin;

b) Mani Soleymanlou--a creator (Bakhtin's author) and a performer of the immigrant solo play; and

c) Mani Soleymanlou--a fictional narrator, who tells the story of Mani, le personnage principal.

Spoken in French, English, and Farsi, in its performative and dramatic heteroglossia, Trois reflects the translingual practices of immigration, based not necessarily, as linguist Suresh Canagarajah argues, on the interlocutors' grammatical ability but rather on their "performative competence, that is, what helps achieve meaning and success in communication" (32).

The translingual practice occurs in what Canagarajah calls contact zones of communication, which appear in those spaces of contact where "diverse social groups interact" (26). Such contact zones can be found both on the streets of the multicultural Montreal and on stage, when the languages that make up an immigrant artist's lingo meet and interact in the performative gesture of communication: the communication that happens in the fictional world constructed by this artist and the communication that takes place between the stage, the multi-lingual performance space of the actor, and the audience.

As a political and artistic manifesto, Trois. Un spectacle de Mani Soleymanlou demonstrates how the translingual practices of immigration determine the artistic, the political, and the interpersonal contact zones of communication, in which this immigrant artist functions. …

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