Multilingualism and Post-Anglophone Fiction

At the turn of the last century, Linda Hutcheon sounded a call to “rethink the national model” of literary history. Nearly two decades into this century, the nation has ceased to operate as the only or necessary container for literary history. There are now many other political and topographic containers, as well as various language containers. Walkowitz considered the future of the linguistic model by turning to works of contemporary fiction that operate at the edges of language. These works are generating new expressions of multilingualism, or what the francophone scholar yasser elhariry has called “infralingualism”: the historical and conceptual sedimentation – rather than the separation – of languages. It is no longer clear where languages begin and end, and where they belong. Infralingualism generates intralingualism: variations within languages and the experience of overlapping or doubled languages, such as words that seem to be English and Spanish at the same time, or phrases that count as Anglicized Italian and Italianate English, all at once. In contemporary fiction, experiments with orthography, typeface, and design are dramatizing the visual culture of words, histories of language contact, and the apparatus of literary circulation. Visual information often blocks verbal information, introducing readers to versions of multilingualism that reduce or disperse what seems to be a single language. Walkowitz argued that contemporary migrant and postcolonial writers are breaking with twentieth-century traditions by producing works that are “post-anglophone.” Blocking the experience of English opens readers to other languages and to the presence of other languages within English. For these writers, linguistic provincialism is a necessary condition of literary cosmopolitanism.


Rebecca L. Walkowitz is Professor and Chair in the English Department and Affiliate Faculty in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University. She is the author of Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation (2006) and Born Translated: The Contemporary Novel in an Age of World Literature (2015), which received an Honorable Mention for the first annual Matei Calinescu Prize from the MLA and has been translated or is forthcoming in Danish, Polish, Hungarian, and Japanese. She is also the editor or coeditor of 8 books, including A New Vocabulary for Global Modernism (2016). Professor Walkowitz is coeditor and co-founder of the book series “Literature Now” and has served on the executive committees of the American Comparative Literature Association, the Society for Novel Studies, and the Modernist Studies Association, for which she served as President in 2014-15. She has served as Wolfgang Iser Lecturer at the University of Konstanz, Visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and she will return as a faculty member for the Institute for World Literature in July 2019. Her current book project, “Future Reading,” focuses on the concept of the anglophone and the representation of world languages in contemporary writing. Her web site is here.

This event will be chaired by Prof Adriana X. Jacobs (Oxford). Karolina Watroba (Oxford) is the graduate respondent.