Speaking Foreign: Conrad and Modernist multilingualism

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Abstract

Conrad's literary polyglossia has received surprisingly scant attention. Where it has, for example, in Sylvère Monod's “Joseph Conrad's Polyglot Wordplay,” discussion tends to focus on Conrad's own linguistic facility. More generally, his literary multilingualism is read as one trope among many, such as palimpsest, unreliable narration, and intertextuality, which contribute to a larger modernist aesthetic of multivocality. Lord Jim and “The Waste Land” might be seen to typify this model. In this essay, however, it is argued that Modernism's multilingual voices often also indicate rather more precise issues in the cross-cultural communication networks of the period. Drawing on the political paradigms of Derrida's Monolingualism of the Other (1998), I demonstrate how Modernists used multilingualism to construct and to challenge national and regional identification. Restored to this context, Conrad's fiction can be seen to mobilize multilingual characters as a way of exposing the limits of nationalist ideals and identities. In resituating Conrad's own uses of multilingualism, particularly in Under Western Eyes and Nostromo, this essay argues that his relatively discreet use of foreign language in these two political novels follows a broader contemporary literary discourse in which multilingualism is used to more than aesthetic and realist ends.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-28
JournalStudia Neophilologica
Volume85
Issue numberS1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2013

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