Un/crossing language cracks: exophonic practices and realities/Sillonner pour dé/former les brèches langagières: pratiques et existences exophoniques
Un/crossing language cracks: exophonic practices and realities
Post-Scriptum’s annual conference
Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada, April 8-9, 2021
Conference organized by Flora Roussel and Miriam Sbih
In a globalized world in which one is constantly connected with others in a positive and/or
negative way, and thereby can be pushed to merge with others, in particular those who are
given a majority based on oppression, and a voice within this homogenizing tendency, one
can also – and sometimes even does – use the tools of the others to resist assimilation,
refuse a unique identity that would be defined in terms of nation, culture, and language.
Writing identity and thought in the depth of a precise reality requires this crossing, this
mediating through language. The re-appropriation of a language, the close contact of which
was synonymous with oppression, violence, and identity wrench, then comes as no surprise.
Is it not a question of actualizing a first step toward forgiveness, in such a way that the
trauma’s effluvia stop forcing an injured memory into silence, or is it rather a choice of
putting the violence of an enemy language under one’s yoke? In this complex nexus one
might wonder as to the place of bodies. In fact, the globalization of identity that praises a
transnational and fluid persona might also contradict a territorially and politically fixed
national persona that is still conveyed by societies and politics. How can bodies feel the
encounter of such a trans/national framing that too often aims to strip one of that which
builds them*? Which tension can one observe, express, convey from these mutually
Language is at the center of this questioning: it helps in shaping, unshaping, reshaping
contexts in which one is willing to or is forced to, evolve. This way of expression, which
can be so diverse, confusing, yet unique, conflictual, suggests exploring the practice of
exophony, that is, the act of writing in a foreign language. This creative writing endows
one with the tools to continuously resist points of convergence and also divergence. For it
relies on writing beyond the mother tongue (Yildiz, 2012), exophony can be considered as
a postmonolingual practice that highlights “the struggle against the monolingual paradigm”
(ibid.: 4; emphasis in the original). Exophony appears as a way of resisting the
nationalizing language construction and temporal dimension, both of which fossilize
certain terms and conceptualizations. Inasmuch as “exophony refers to the general state of
being outside one’s mother tongue” (Tawada, 2003: 3; our translation), it endeavors to
displace personae, things, spaces, times (ibid.: 36), and so, to help them in evolving outside
of static places. Literature obviously plays an important role into expressing this dialogue.
However, while this dialogue can bear fruits and enable a sort of hybrid encounter, it can
also turn into a monologue, that is, an argument falling on deaf ears. That is not to say that
literature’s goal should solely rest on supporting a homogeneity out of heterogeneous
elements. Rather one should note how literature is often the cradle of discussions that
reflect these tensions, which feed societies and politics. The practice of exophony then
appears as a space that is favored, in order to observe a recapture of power, an
unprecedented turnaround of places that are linguistically fixed.
Numerous movements have fueled these discussions around identity, nation, culture,
language. On the one hand, one could think of the guest worker literature
(Gastarbeiterliteratur) that blossomed in Germany since the 1950s and described the
working and living conditions and experiences of immigrants of the first generation. On
the other, one can also recall the concept of Weltliteratur developed by Goethe as a means
to counter so-called national literatures, a concept that influenced the theorization and
practice of transnational literature. Further, one can consider exophonic writing from
postcolonial and decolonial contexts. In fact, if silence is often the first response to shivers
felt by authors that experienced having forcibly had to forget themselves*, some authors
purposely make the decision of seizing and turning around imposed colonial codes, so as
to make use of them in order to tell that which they always hid in layers of silence. Reappropriating
the imperial language and employing it against itself, refusing it in a way,
by revealing that which it threatened once and always. One can also note the opposite
phenomenon, that is, this effort of getting one’s language back through the very same
words that tore it away from oneself, is brought up to present despite the unavoidable limits
of the colonial language. In States of the Body Produced by Love (2019), the poet and
intellectual Nishi Ramayya recounts, for instance, having re-learn Sanskrit, “armed” with
an English colonial dictionary (1899).
These literary contexts that pertain to the development of exophony point to a refiguring
of bodies. Writing in a foreign language (e.g., Aki Shimazaki, Assia Djebar, Leanne
Betasamosake Simpson), writing in both their* mother tongue and a foreign language (e.g.,
Yoko Tawada, Emine Sevgi .zdamar, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala), or even writing in
different foreign languages, the author echoes this discussion around identity and bodies,
for they* are also conveying experiences lived, imagined, fictionalized that reflect the
globalized world and its problems. What is the place given to bodies in this relation
between nation, culture, and language? What role does exophony play in this? How are the
tensions around identity rendered and can exophony entirely display them?
Post-Scriptum wishes to engage with exophony, so as to question its practice and its
conceptualization as well as to enter into a discussion of identity and bodies with regard to
nation, culture, language, gender, migration, etc. Proposals can focus on (but are not limited
to) the following topics:
• Exophony, Indigenous Literature, Postcolonial/Decolonial Literature:
• Exophony, Indigenous Literature, Postcolonial/Decolonial Literature:
Which exophonic techniques can be developed in an act of re-appropriating the oppressors’
What does the imposition of using the colonial language involve in the process of
thinking and decolonial writing?
• Exophony, Exile, Migration, Nation:
What kind of possibilities and tensions does the act of learning to live in another language
than one’s own provoke?
How can exophony allow one to rethink notions of extraterritoriality and of being
considered as a foreigner? Is the ‘free’ migration from one language to others possible?
• Exophony, Silence, Trauma:
Which effects of and accounts to trauma can one observe from the representation and
documentation of this same trauma through the language that caused it?
How can exophony hijack a coerced silence that often acts as the first response to forcibly
having had to forget oneself and one own, particular cultural identity?
• Exophony, Feminism, Queer, Gender:
How can exophony help in subverting normative injunctions on bodies? How can it
confront or be confronted with, norms with regard to gender for instance?
How can exophony by way of defamiliarization of/creation with the foreign language
unveil and shed a new light on, questions of gender, as well as deconstruct certain
notions/definitions fixed by language?
• Exophony, Creative Writing, Translation:
Which sort of intertwining between exophony, creative writing, and translation can one
observe? How does the exophonic practice question the act of translating?
What does the notion of untranslatability entail?
• Exophony, Limits, Tensions:
In what way can exophony reiterate bias, norms, or stereotypes? Where are the limits of
exophony? Which tensions can be seen from and in the practice of exophony?
Can the linguistic condition of the exophonic author, who frees themselves* from the
political and social context, be an act of disengagement?
We welcome proposals from research and creative research, and by undergraduate,
graduate, and postgraduate students, Ph.D. candidates as well as post-docs and professors.
We accept talks in French or English. Each talk will be allocated 20 minutes and each
participant will be given time for questions from the audience.
Potential participants must send their 300-word proposals by November 9, 2020 at:
email@example.com. Proposals must be sent in two distinct files: in the first file,
you must include the title of your proposal and the proposal text itself. In the second file,
you must include your name, your institution, your email address, a short biography, and
the title of your proposal. Proposals will undergo a blind review by the reading committee.
Please note that travel and accommodation will be at the expense of participants. No
participation fee will be charged.
• November 9, 2020: Deadline for submitting a proposition.
• December 3, 2020: Final decision of the committee.
• April 8-9, 2021: Conference in Montreal.
“They/their/them/themselves” followed by * is used as epicene pronouns, and thus is
RAMAYYA, Nisha. States of the body produced by love, London, Ignota, 2019.
TAWADA, Yōko. Ekusophonī: bōgo no soto e deru tabi [Exophony: Traveling Outward
from One’s Mother Tongue], Tōkyō, Iwanami shoten, 2003.
YILDIZ, Yasemin. Beyond the Mother Tongue. The Postmonolingual Condition, New
York, Fordham University Press, 2012.