Theses Doctoral

Inimical Languages: Conflicts of Multilingualism in British Modernist Literature

Hayman, Emily

Twentieth-century British literature bristles with words and phrases in foreign languages, fragmentary residues of conflicts between the English-language text and the national languages and cultures that surround it in this era of war and instability. This project addresses the form and function of these remnants of foreign language - what are here called "multilingual fragments" - analyzing and contextualizing them within the historical use of foreign languages in British discourses of national identity and international politics over the course of the twentieth century. Within modernist literature, phrase- and word-length fragments of translated and untranslated foreign language reveal texts' deep engagement with the political conflicts of their time on the level of the letter, enabling authors to express a variety of political ideologies, from the liberal or cosmopolitan to the reactionary or jingoistic. At the same time, these fragments' inherent contrast between foreign language and English context interlace the text with points of rupture, exposing authorial manipulations of language and disrupting any single-minded ideology to reveal ambivalence, ambiguity, and nuance. This study historicizes and expands the long-held conception of multilingualism as a central aspect of modernist commitment to formal innovation, and provides a more comprehensive context for understanding large-scale experimental works. It argues that it is specifically through the disruptive effects of small-scale multilingual fragments - traces of foreign language so slight that they are at once easily overlooked and subtly influential - that modernist texts engage in complex interventions on issues ranging from wartime xenophobia to debates over class, women's rights, immigration, and the afterlife of empire.
This project's attention to word- and phrase-length fragments of multilingualism through a series of case studies reveals a more specific, historicized understanding of what Rebecca Walkowitz has influentially termed twentieth-century literature's "cosmopolitan style": first, in demonstrating the centrality of both canonical and minor, extra-canonical authors in the development of new, internationally-oriented multilingual techniques, second, in exposing the breadth of ideologies and complex political discourse that such techniques can facilitate, and finally, in demonstrating how writers use multilingual fragments to reveal the inherent hybridity of all language. This historical and wide-ranging study contributes to current critical discussions in four major fields: twentieth-century British literature, world literature, translation studies, and women's and gender studies. Contrary to past conceptions of modernist multilingualism as benignly aesthetic, exclusionarily elitist, or unilaterally liberal, it demonstrates that multilingualism can be applied in the service of a range of ideologies, and that the inherent instability of fragmentary multilingualism further complicates expressions of political allegiance or affiliation. Further, it expands our understanding of what constitutes "world literature" by making the case for fragmentary, small-scale multilingualism as a vehicle which transports the concerns of world literature - border-crossing conversation, "gaining in translation" - into texts produced in and for a national readership. Finally, it draws together the canons and concerns of world literature and women's and gender studies in order to make the case for marginalized female and homosexual figures as major innovators of multilingual usage, deliberately manipulating multilingual fragments to disrupt and protest the political status quo.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Cole, Sarah
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014