Digesting the foreign. Food and Eating in the works of Tawada Yōko
From Firenze University Press Book: Food issues 食事
Francesco Eugenio Barbieri
Japanese writer 多和田葉子 Tawada Yōko is today one of the most renowned examples of transcultural writer in the international literary scenario. Born in Tokyo in 1960, she obtained a degree in Russian literature from the prestigious Waseda University. After her degree, she left Japan and traveled through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In 1982 she arrived in Germany, where she still lives nowadays. At first she settled in Hamburg, a city where she remained until 2006, and then she relocated to Berlin. In these years she continued her studies with a MA and a PhD. Alongside her academic research, she started writing prose, poetry and theatrical pieces, first in Japanese and then, as she became progressively confident with the language, in German.
Critics agree that Tawada’s migration experience is totally different from the case of a relocation that is motivated by financial or political purposes: she did not leave her home country in search for a better life or better economic conditions. On the contrary, her migration is somehow related to an intellectual dimension, the circulation of ideas, and a natural curiosity for different worlds and cultures. For this reason, her writing production in German (the language of her “host country”) is radically different from what falls under the definition of “Gastarbeiterliteratur”, or “Literature of the Migration”. Tawada’s work, written in the two languages, is what we can define a literary case not only in her native country or in her adoptive one, but also on a more global scale of literary circulation. In one of his most recent publications, world literature scholar David Damrosch defines Tawada as a “contemporary global writer” (Damrosch 2020, 9).
This is evidenced not only by a rising commercial success, but also by a steadily increasing number of studies, articles and books from Japanese, European and American scholars worldwide, which established what I would define a proper “Tawada-phenomenon” spreading among contemporary literary critics. Additionally, we could define her work as the result of a curiosity that is first of all intellectual and ethnological. It is a personal research that is located in a space that is not national anymore, but rather global, in order to meet and, when possible, merge different cultures and forms of expression. In my opinion, this is the main aspect that differentiates her from the German “Migrant literature”, especially if we consider the peculiar characteristics and themes of her writing. Tawada herself defines her literature as “exophonic”.
She heard the term “exophony” for the first time in 2002, during a symposium in Senegal organized by the Goethe Institut in Dakar, to which she had been invited as a writer who used German for her literary production (Tawada 2012a, 3). She perceived the term “exophony” as something with a more omni-comprehensive meaning in comparison to terms like “creole literature” (クレオール文 学) or “migrant literature” (移民文学). In her opinion, exophony (エクソフォ ニー) can be defined as a “general state of being outside the mother tongue” (母 語の外に出た状態一般を指す). Suga underlines how the exophonic dimension of Tawada consists in her use of the foreign language, in this case German, for daily interactions and creative purposes: indeed, exophony is the basis of her poetics (Suga 2007, 26–7).