Academic journal article German Quarterly

Representations of Public Spaces and the Construction of Race in Yoko Tawada's "Bioskoop der Nacht"

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Representations of Public Spaces and the Construction of Race in Yoko Tawada's "Bioskoop der Nacht"

Article excerpt

Yoko Tawada's short story "Bioskoop der Nacht," from the 2002 collection überseezungen, represents a kind of dual departure. on the one hand, it features a narrator/protagonist who voyages to another country in order to learn the language spoken in her dreams; on the other hand, departing from the thematic trend in tawada's oeuvre, the unfamiliar cultural/spatial context in which the text is situated is neither european nor Japanese but rather south african. With the exception of "Bioskoop der Nacht" and the short works in the "Nordamerikanische zungen" section of überseezungen, the vast majority of tawada's Germanlanguage writing is situated in a German, or at least a european, frame of reference with regard to cultural and intellectual history. the status of "Bioskoop der Nacht" as a thematic outlier may explain the short shriftit has received in secondary scholarship-to date, relatively little has been published on this lengthy text. Dutch translators Brandt and schyns's "Neu vernetzt: yoko tawadas 'Bioskoop der Nacht' auf Niederländisch" is one study that thoroughly outlines the politico-historical context the text is referencing, with particular focus on the development of afrikaans since the seventeenth century, during which time it has come to reflect a pastiche of different linguistic and cultural traditions, and the function the language serves in the narrator's dreams. Carlotta von Maltzan's 2012 "Magie der sprache: yoko tawada zu südafrika in 'Bioskoop der Nacht'" examines aspects of the text's (magical) language play with respect to its shifts from German to afrikaans, while also providing some historical, political, and social contextualization for the text's references to south africa. yasemin yildiz's "tawada's Multilingual Moves" and her chapter on tawada from the 2011 Beyond the Mother Tongue: The Postmonolingual Condition examine the function of afrikaans in this text as complicit in the author's attempt to investigate new lines of multilingual and transnational identity formation. Within this specific context, yildiz stresses that in spite of its connection to south africa's apartheid and racist past, afrikaans is in fact a language of heterogeneity, belying the idea of racial purity historically espoused in white south africa. finally, in "travelling without Moving," Christina kraenzle briefly refers to "Bioskoop der Nacht" in order to explore the possibility of maintaining multiple linguistic and national identities without necessarily declaring belonging within one or another, noting also how such plurality is met with skepticism by others. Notwithstanding this small but enriching field of tawada scholarship, given "Bioskoop der Nacht" 's explicit representations of skin color, race, and racial categorization and separation within the politico-historical context of both apartheid south africa and Japan, the following literary analysis insists that this text also needs to be read with the construction of race as a primary locus of inquiry.

In "Bioskoop der Nacht," south africa serves as a specific historical, political, linguistic, and cultural context for the narrator's engagement with race as a legal construct that determined national belonging during the apartheid era. in addition, south africa also operates on a more universal level akin to Barthes's Japan in Empire of Signs-namely, as a free-floating stage for the author to represent and interrogate racial interpellations and race as a performative category, rather than accept it as a biological given or, in its more modern form, as the naturalized marker of cultural heritage and a sign of incompatibility between social groups. By examining a selection of textual examples from "Bioskoop der Nacht" through a theoretical lens informed by critical race studies, theories of racial performativity, and whiteness studies, this article demonstrates how tawada represents public spaces as integral in the construction, conceptualization, and segregation of populations based on their assigned race, even when members of a particular racial category have historically, linguistically, culturally, or spatially little to no connection to fellow group members. …

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