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The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address - Transnational Literature and National Language

by Naoki Sakai

Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. «It is possible» says the doorkeeper, «but not at the moment». Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: «If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers». «Everyone strives to reach the Law», says the man, «so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?». The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: «No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it». Franz Kafka

In talking about transnational literature, it may appear not too much of a surprise to start with Yôko Tawada, who, as a poet, novelist, and performing artist, writes and recites in multi-lingual medium – often trilingual mixture involving German, Japanese and English - in many places in the world. When I think of transnational literature, undoubtedly she is one of the authors who come to mind. But it is not simply because she is exceptional as a writer/performer involved in multi-linguality that I hold her at such a high esteem. I do not want to characterize her literary accomplishment in terms of her deviation from the normalcy of national literature. In short, I am hesitant to propose that she is an exception or even aberration for her involvement in the genre of transnational literature. Rather, national literature is a derivative of transnational literature, and we cannot think of national literature that is not transnational literature at the same time. National literature can be distinguished from transnational literature only as long as it can be maintained that the unity of a national


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language has been given or at least possible. What Tawada’s work stages is this essential intermingling of the national literature with its others. So let me begin my speculation about transnational literature by reading what she wrote on and in the multitude of languages. In one of her essays on translation, The Gate for a Translator – Celan reads the Japanese and then…,1 she imposes what I want to call “an optic” on a series of tropes that she introduces to discuss what takes place when some poems by Paul Celan are translated into Japanese. (This extraordinary essay by Tawada on Celan resonates with many classical texts, but Kafka is particularly relevant, so I introduced the beginning and ending passages from his very famous parable Before the Law, without knowledge of which it might be difficult to follow her essay). As a matter of fact, this optic is not easy to apprehend in the first place, partly because, even though the word “optic” refers to the regulated economy of luminous refraction and reflection, it is in effect about the way in which literary tropes are organized in her argument. Were it not for the adoption of this perplexing narrative tactic, it would be almost impossible to render so convincingly the unexpected combination of an ideographic grapheme and the translatability of Celan’s poetry in Japanese. According to Tawada, a translator is somebody who looks into the other side from this side. The translator’s position is preliminarily determined in the trajectory of this look, a look embodying a sense in the sense of direction and corporeal movement within the configuration of what Roman Jakobson called “shifters” from “here” to over “there”, from “me” to “you”. Yet what creates the primordial demarcation of this side from that side is best summarized by a gate, a construct that marks an opening rather than a divide or border. What is decisive in Tawada’s discussion of translation is that the gate should be a figure operating as the leading trope in translation in general, but particularly in the translation of Paul Celan’s poetry into the Japanese. The gate is more of a perspective, a passage of light than an entrance or a divide. It suggests a transitory movement rather than indexing a stationary location. It symbolizes an optic, a system of refraction through which light traverses. Hence, at the outset, I want to indicate the working of a special optic in her essay. As a point of focus in her narrative, the gate is not a literary device in general; it is, first of all, a calligraphic figure, a grapheme that functions within the paradigmatic gamut of graphic potentialities. Here, we must be 1

Y. Tawada, The gate for a translator – Celan reads the Japanese and then…, in Katakoto no uwagoto, Tokyo, Seido-sha, 1999, pp. 137-149.

The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address


attentive to the fact that Tawada is reading Celan’s poems and the Japanese translation of them by Iiyoshi Mitsuo as texts. We are forcefully made aware of the visual and tactile aspects of textuality. This is to say that she collects – she mentions the German verb lesen to remind us of what she is in the process of doing - and assembles bits and pieces of graphic fragments to make a certain sense out of these two juxtaposed texts. Instead of evoking other sememes - what are recognized as the smallest units of meaning in Semantics - or a seme – a paradigm among a set of sememes limiting the polysemy of sememe – this figure potentially invokes other graphemes, in contrast to which it is identified paradigmatically as a graphic figure, and is associated with other characters or kanji (hanzi). The gate is a graphic figure 門(figure 1), which may be pronounced “mon”. It is a bit like the alphabetic letter V. It is a whole letter, but it is also a part of another letter W. Thus, the graphic figure 門 is differentiated from and contrasted to other graphic units or characters such as 山, 仁、非. But it is also a component of characters, a grapheme smaller than a character, often referred to as mongamae, so that it is possible to construct other characters containing this grapheme, 闇、閃、間、閾 and so forth (figure 2) by combining different graphemes, 音、人、日、或 to 門 (figure 3) respectively. In isolation – not forming combinations with other characters and deprived of possible syntactical placement – the latter set of four characters might well mean “sound”, “man” or “people”, “the sun” or “day in contrast to night”, and “some” or “general indexing of this or that”. Neither in their phonetic values nor lexical meanings, does the first set of the four characters correspond to the second set, 闇、 閃、間、閾 which mean respectively: “darkness”, “lightning”, “in-betweenness”, and “threshold or limit”. It is in this abundance of gate characters and gate graphemes that Tawada sees the translatability or afterlife of Paul Celan’s poetry into Japanese. The Japanese translation of Celan’s poems in fact discloses what is latent in the original, precisely because translation facilitates what could not be figured out in German. By placing Celan’s poetry in the neighborhood of the ideographic economy, the translator shows that a potential surface of inscription actualizes itself when different fragments are pieced together. On the surface thus reconstructed, a figure that had hitherto been unrecognizable is now legible. It goes without saying that, as Tawada notes at the end of this essay, this is nothing but what Walter Benjamin called “the translatability of literary work”. What translation discloses, in repeating the original in difference, is the pure language that only exists as impure noise in the original. In reference to Benjamin, Takaaki Morinaka, poet and another outstanding translator of Paul Celan, argues that translation takes place as ´a repetition of that which has been already operative in potentiality


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within the original language, which shatters its putative coherence, as it were, folding back its border onto its insideª.2 Here, the first task of the translator is not merely to discover sememes across languages; rather it is first of all a grammatological enterprise, in which the translator liberates poetry from the restricted economy of grammaticality. To follow Morinaka’s reading of Benjamin, the translator must discover what has already been operating in the original, which nevertheless cannot manifest itself because of the assumed unity of the language in which it is written. In this respect, the task of the translator is akin to that of the poet, in the very sense in which Yôko Tawada is one. Here, we have to confront the problem of what is marked as the domain of grammaticality, the assumed organicity of what constitutes a language as a countable. Hence the question – what does Morinaka suggest by «folding back its border onto its inside?». Before going back to the trope of the gate, let me explore what is at issue in the putative unity of a language, in the very possibility that a language can count like oranges or nationalities, and unlike water or vacuum; one, two, and many. I want to consider the way in which we represent a national or ethnic language as a countable, derive the unity of a community from the figure of a language, and thereby assume difference between one national community and another as a relationship of externality. Supposedly a language exists outside another language, but it seems simply preposterous to believe that, without a certain mediation, languages can be mapped onto the cartographic plane of global geography, for language is an assemblage of activities of people who are not fixed to a location but are persistently dislocated. Therefore, what must be taken into consideration is this: in what register we come to assume this relationship of outside that separates one language from another, thereby establishing a language as something we can count. How do we imagine the unity of a language? How do we render the putative unity of language commensurate with the coordinates of cartographic representation? How we represent the figure of a language is interminably woven into the way we imagine a nation. A plurality of peoples inhabits the world, and frequently the world is presented as a common space where differences among peoples are manifest. Each people is a group, so differences among peoples are not entirely reducible to differences among individuals. In order to differentiate the plurality of peoples from the plurality of 2

M. Takaaki, Being and Ashes, Kyoto, Jinbun shoin, 2004, p. 154.

The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address


human individuals, we often rely upon categories for collective identities, such as family, kin, race, nation, ethnos, and culture. The most commanding category for collective unity in the modern world is found in language, so that the language is represented as expressing the primordial union of a people. If one human body is somewhat a marker of human “individuality”, the image – or figure, trope, or schema – of a language gives the sense of an individual or indivisible collectivity. Yet, on what grounds is it possible to claim that the image of a language is autonomous and self-oriented? I want to claim that primarily what is given is not an image of a language but the image, figure, trope, or schema of languages; the locale where languages are identified is never contained in a language. The identification of a language is possible only in an heteronomous encounter. Differences among peoples precede the union of a people, just as translation comes before the identification of a language. After this brief detour, let me return to the optic in the article on translation by Yôko Tawada. She explained that the series of characters containing the grapheme ìmonî provide a perspective through which one can look into the Japanese language. This is not a trope whose function in literary figuration can be easily apprehended. “Looking into” suggests the on-looker standing outside and peeping inside, yet one tends to presume that these characters are already inside the language, so that they do not mark the exterior surface of the language unless the surface is somewhat folded into the inside. Are these characters part and parcel of the Japanese language? Or rather do they constitute the language’s interior? I think that this is the first instance of many to illustrate that words are indeterminate as to their nationality. At the level of the smallest units, for instance, a word is indeterminate with respect to what language unity it belongs to.3 The construct gate captures this instability, uncertainty and perhaps autonomy of the word in respect to nationality very well. But, we are now confronted with an apparent contradiction. How can I insist that there is no such thing as the interior of the language spatially enclosed from its outside on the one hand, while on the other Tawada says that Celan looks into the Japanese language in the Japanese translation of his own poetry? The grapheme “mon” invokes an optic because the trope of “looking into” provides an opportunity of seeing beyond an optical illusion or the dominant optic of the national language, the optical illusion of a language 3

Sememe, the smallest unit in Semantics, always indicates its multinationality for this reason.


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forming a spatial enclosure. It allows us to see languages beyond the relationship of externality in which the plurality of languages is allocated. It has been generally accepted that the Japanese writing system consists of two principles. One is the principle of phonography, according to which the basic phonemes or minimum combinations of phonemes are expressed in terms of graphic signs. These signs are usually called “kana” and, in modern Japanese, there are basically two kana groups, each of which includes some 50 symbols. So all together some 100 kana are used in modern Japanese society. Another principle is ideography, according to which a one-to-one correspondence between phonetic components and graphemes is not assumed. The number of these ideographic signs is large, perhaps in the order of 10,000 or more, although less than 2000 are used frequently today. Ideographic signs are usually referred to as kanji (hanzi). There are many problems about the ways in which Japanese writing has been analyzed and classified, but we will not spend time on these until later. Instead of addressing Japanese notation in general, let me pinpoint the duality inherent in the ideography of the Japanese language. The grapheme 門, which Yôko Tawada cited in her article, falls into the class of kanji or ideographic signs. Therefore, it may well be pronounced “mon”, but it could be “kado”. In its phonetic value, it is multi-valent. In one of Tawada’s Japanese poems, the interplay of polysemy and polygraphy that is inherent in the coexistence of phonography and ideography is deployed to maximum effect. The case in point is the homonyms of the verb “kaku” (figure 4) that can be written 書く、欠く、掻く、描く、and so forth (figure 5). The most common way to differentiate these homonyms kaku, kaku, kaku, and kaku, exactly the same in pronunciation, is to compose these verbs as combinations of two characters, kanji and kana, that is, combinations of ideographic signs and phonographic signs, thereby destabilizing the phonocentrism of the linguistic nationalism. Thus, she is successful in mobilizing the ambiguity of kanji and kana, which is best appropriated by the figure of the gate. Any poetic figure that works eloquently is a testimony to historicality, and the figure of the gate casts a piercing light on the history of languages. In the eighteenth century, some grammarians discovered the organizing formula of the Japanese syntax precisely in this internal heteronomy. For instance, Motoori Norinaga, the leading grammarian and literary historian of the eighteenth century, established his own terminology, according to which the ideographic and the

The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address


phonetic components were respectively called tama (玉), jewels in the necklace, and o (緒), thread linking jewels in the necklace, differentiated from one another as syntactic categories (figure 6). While jewels were indeed rigid and inflexible, a thread linking isolated stones provided the unity and the flexibility of the necklace as a whole. At the most elementary level, tama is the stem, and o the conjugational suffix of a verb, adjectival or adverbial. In this respect, they correspond to nominal and non-nominal. But the differentiation could not be limited to morphological classification of words. The development of Japanese grammar in the eighteenth century is interesting precisely because some scholars discovered the Japanese language through the acknowledgement of the internal heteronomy of ideography and phonography. Seeking the pure origin of the indigenous language, they had to face the historical reality that the languages they were born into had been contaminated by foreign intruders from the outset. Furthermore, the foreign contamination had already constituted the Japanese language to such an extent that the Japaneseness could only be recognized as an addition to its foreign core. The study of the Japanese syntax of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries brilliantly highlights this constitutive anxiety, which led these grammarians to the determination of what differentiates the Japanese language from its others. Since I offered my analysis on this elsewhere,4 I will not go into details here on how Confucian studies, the study of language, the development of Kokugaku – or National Studies – and the transformation of speech genres contributed to this discovery of the Japanese language. But let me issue a disclaimer: the grammarians’ suspicion that the Japanese language was fundamentally contaminated did not arise until they began to insist upon the radical heteronomy of ideography and phonography, the uses of kanji (hanzi) and kana, in a systematic but entirely new manner. Only when they sought the pure origin of the Japanese could they come across the crushing fact that the native and the foreign could never be distinguished from each other. Accordingly, their search for the Japanese language was accompanied by the anxiety that it could never be discovered as such. Investment in the national language and the discovery of its irredeemable contamination were simultaneous. Perhaps, until the eighteenth century, the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the Japanese Voices of the Past – the Status of Language in Eighteenth-century Japanese Discourse, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1991 (Korean translation forthcoming from Green Bees Publishers). 4


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archipelago had not been aware of the existence of the Japanese language as a unity, even though they came across many irregularities that could not be expressed in the medium of classical literary Chinese or kanji. For these early modern grammarians of the eighteenth century, what differentiated the Japanese language from Chinese was that, in order to read the text in Japanese, they had to add phonetic markers or kana that did not exist in the lexicon of classic literary Chinese. Such an ordinary verb “kaku” is a testament to this precise reason. Kaku can be ‘“o write”, “to lack”, “o scratch”, or “to draw” and its inherent polysemy is manifest when it is made to correspond to different ideographic signs. Ideography serves to classify and order the confusing field of sememes. The basic formula they came up with was the basic structure of Japanese syntax: a combination of the Chinese character(s) and phonetic units which cannot be expressed in Chinese characters. In other words, the coexistence of something foreign (kanji) and something native (kana) is the organizing principle of the Japanese language. But it was not a juxtaposition or conjunction. It was rather an inclusion of a foreign object into the native element. It was a frame or framing up process. To use Morinaka Takaaki’s expression, the border of the Japanese language was «folded back onto its inside». Now you can understand why I saw an anticipation of this formula in Tawada’s optic of the gate. This formula introduced by the grammarians of the eighteenth century5 illustrated that every conjugational form retains the border of the foreign grapheme and Japanese sememe, that every Japanese conjugational word has a trace of foreign intrusion, so to say. In other words, just like the construct 門, it is an opening into some different realm, an opening that inserts dislocation or a temporal differential into the syntactical unity of predication. At the risk of oversimplifying, I argue that this internal dislocation, not entirely dissimilar to the empirico-transcendental doublet of modern subjectivity,6 can be found not in the periphery of some self-enclosed image of the Japanese language but in its core, in its basic function. And they conceived of the conjugational ending as an overarching enclosure or framing of the object that was foreign. In the early 19th century Suzuki Akira elaborated upon this syntactic formula to develop the two concepts of tama and o into shi and ji respectively. Then, in the twentieth century, Tokieda Motoki synthesized the Japanese grammarian’s insights with that of transcendental phenomenology to introduce the box-in-box formula. 6 The term ´empirico-transcendental doubletª was introduced by Michel Foucault to elucidate the analytic of finitude in the Order of Things, New York, Random Books, 1970, pp. 303-343. 5

The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address


In the twentieth century, Tokieda Motoki, who taught linguistics at Seoul Imperial University and later at the University of Tokyo,7 adopted this insight in his Studies of the Japanese Language (Kokugogaku), and developed a sort of phenomenological linguistics in terms of the Tokugawa grammatical categories, shi and ji.8 Tokieda relied upon Suzuki Akira, early nineteenth-century philosopher of language, and applied a morphological distinction between two groups of words, shi and ji (figure 7). One group, shi, consists of nominals, the stems of the adjectival and adverbial that express the concepts objectively, whereas the other group, ji, includes morphemes and sememes indicating conjugation such as the endings of verbs, adjectivals and adverbials or particles, which carry no syntactical function unless they are added to shi and thereby modify it. Shi expresses a concept signifying a thing, event, or state of affairs in the modality of objectification or conceptualization. In contrast, ji neither objectifies nor conceptualizes; it expresses the speaker’s involvement in its subjective immediacy, so that Suzuki called this group “voices of the heart (kokoro no koe)”. Shi and ji are not merely morphological categories. Tokieda argued that the defining structure of the Japanese language can be found in the specific form in which shi is enveloped or framed by ji. Since the shi that is framed by ji can be further framed by ji, the phrase composed of shi and ji can be repeatedly enveloped by ji. This is what Tokieda called the box-in-box formula (irekogata kôzô) and in theory can be applied infinite times. In this regard, it is necessary to draw your attention to two aspects: First, ji serves to fold the form of shi and ji in upon itself. Ji is perhaps defined approximately by comparing its syntactical function to predication in judgment. Here I do not have time to do justice to the complexity of the linguistic discussion on Japanese syntax, nor am I prepared to list a number of necessary reservations in offering such a comparison. Please allow me to give an approximate and schematic comparison to the form of predicative judgment in English.

Let us not overlook the fact that, while Tokieda was definitely not an ethnic nationalist during the period of Japanese imperialism, he was a linguist with strong nationalist tendency. He contributed much to the integrationist language policies of Japanese Empire when he taught at the Seoul Imperial University. I will not touch upon this important issue in this paper since I will discuss his linguistics with respect to his imperial nationalism elsewhere. 8Tokieda Motoki, Kokogogaku Genron Tokyo, Iwanami Shoten, 1941. 7


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Suppose there is a sentence9 expressing a predicative judgment as follows. A) This rose is red. Since the enunciation of this sentence must necessarily be carried out by some agent, it should be possible to re-state the sentence by specifying the subject of enunciation, for example, as in the following: B) I say [this rose is red]. But, once this sentence has been enunciated, it should also be possible to re-state the sentence by repeating the same procedure as the specification of the subject of enunciation is also an enunciation. C) I say [I say [this rose is red]]. “I say” can be replaced by “I feel”, “I doubt”, or even “I think”. Or it can be replaced by “I hope you will say”, “I am sure he said”, and so on, since the types of shifters other than pronouns and certain verbal and adverbial constructions are available in the Japanese syntax.10 In example (A), the implicit positionality of the speaking subject is not illucidated or objectified, and the addition of ìI sayî in (B) discloses the locus of the synthesis of a judgment in (A) by bringing into presence the function of apperception. Now, one can see what Tokieda wanted to bring about by borrowing the terms shi and ji from Tokugawa linguistics. He sought to understand how Japanese syntax articulates the synthetic unity of apperception in subjectivity. Although he never dealt with Kant’s transcendental criticism directly, the problematic that guided Tokieda to the box-in-box formula can be traced back to the initial formulation of modern subjectivity in Kant. Let me refer to the very famous statement in Critique of Pure Reason. «It must be possible for the “I think” to accompany all my representation».11 While in Japanese, the apperceptive function is couched in the form of shi – ji (figure 8), shi and ji take a reversed form of combination: ji – shi (figure) in English. If the form of Japanese syntax might be schematically expressed in the figure of the box-in-box in which a smaller box is ensconced within a larger one, the parallel in English would be an arcade within which a smaller gate is located. It goes without saying that Yôko Tawada’s graphic figure of the A cautionary disclaimer: in this article I allow myself to use some basic terms such as “sentence” and “judgment”, but this is a tentative compromise on my part. The theoretical exposition I present here will eventually destroy the validity of these philosophical and linguistic concepts. 10 Of course, it does not mean the relative positions of addresser, addressee, reporter, observer, and so on cannot be expressed in the Japanese language. Tokieda paid much attention to the system of the honorific for this reason. 11 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Norman Kemp Smith trans. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1929, p. 153 [B131]. 9

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gate captures a fundamental feature of the Japanese language, the very heteronomy between the saying and said, inherent in the enunciation of Japanese words. Secondly, it is necessary to never overlook the historical context in which the pair of terms shi and ji were developed. As best illustrated in the Japanese reading of literary Chinese (kanbun kundoku) that has developed over many centuries since the eighth century, shi and ji were initially associated with the Chinese characters and that which could not be expressed by them. Today we take for granted that Japanese notational symbols are summarily classified into the ideographic signs of kanji and the phonographic signs of kana. But, this classification used in the Japanese writing system is particular to modern Japanese. Until the eighteenth century, however, kana was not opposed to kanji; kana was a category indicating the adhoc characters, paired to mana, the authentic characters. The paradigmatic principle of the seme, within which kana and mana were in opposition, had nothing to do with the phonetic value associated with notations. Kana and mana were essentially calligraphic categories; mana meant a Chinese character properly or authentically drawn – the passive saying of the verb kaku – whereas kana implied a Chinese character hastily drawn or its short hand. What sustained this opposition of mana and kana was calligraphic generic difference, between the square and the grass styles. It is only with the arrival of a certain phonocentrism – I called this rupture of discursive formation «the stillbirth of the Japanese as ethnos and language»12 – that the mana and kana opposition shifted from a calligraphic register to another one marked by the absence and presence of phonetic values in notations, a register of paradigmatic differentiation between ideography and phonography. In this phonocentric discursive formation, it became possible to search for the mythic origin of the Japanese ethnos and language as an uncivilized peoplehood without writing, and as a language of pure orality respectively.13 Yet, as soon as they confronted the reality of the languages in which they lived, they could find the essence of the Japanese language only in the very structure of heteronomy of ideography and phonography. In so far as the mana and kana opposition was mapped onto the opposition of shi and ji, the apperceptive function in which Suzuki Akira saw See my Voices of the Past – the Status of Language in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Discourse, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1992. An exemplary argument can be found in Kokui-kô (An inquiry into the meaning of the country) and Goi-kô (An inquiry into the meaning of the word) by Kamo Mabuchi (1697 – 1769). 12 13


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“the voice of the heart” (kokoro no koe) had to remain parasitic, as a derivative of the foreign intrusion of the Chinese civilization. The Japanese grammarians of the eighteenth century may well have sought the original unity of the Japanese in the interior of the language at the level of the words and the nominal, but what they discovered in spite of themselves was an opening to the foreign; it was an open passage overarched by a gate; it was already open so that it was incapable of distinguishing the interior from its exterior. The passage to the foreign was already “folded onto its inside”. And in their search for the core of the Japanese language they only discovered the historical trace of contamination. I think that this brief observation permits me to state this much. It is impossible to find the unity of a language at the level of words. One has to go up to the higher syntactical level, and even higher, to semantics, in order to assert the unity of a language to which a word is supposed to belong. One has to move from the nominal to the overarching synthetic function. The belonging of a word to a language and its nationality is not a matter that is empirically determinable. The optic operating in Tawada’s article brilliantly illustrates the indeterminacy of national language. For, the unity of language is like a regulative idea. It organizes knowledge, but it is not empirically verifiable. Immanuel Kant introduced the term “regulative idea” in his Critique of Pure Reason. The regulative idea does not concern itself with the possibility of experience; it is no more than a rule according to which a search in the series of empirical data is prescribed. What it guarantees is not the empirically verifiable truth but, on the contrary, «forbidding [search for truth] to bring it[self] to a close by treating anything at which it may arrive as absolutely unconditioned».14 Therefore, the regulative idea gives only an object in idea; it only means «a schema for which no object, not even a hypothetical one, is directly given» (my italics).15 The unity of language cannot be found in experience because it is nothing but a regulative idea; it enables us to comprehend other related data about languages ´in an indirect manner, in their systematic unity, by means of their relation to this ideaª.16 It is not Critique of Pure Reason cit., p. 450 [A 509; B537]. Ibid. p. 550 [A 670; B 698]. 16 Ibid. 14 15

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possible to know whether a particular language as a unity exists or not is existent. Rather it is the other way round: by prescribing to the idea of the unity of language, it becomes possible for us to systematically organize knowledge about languages in a modern, scientific manner. To the extent that the unity of national language ultimately serves as a schema for nationality17 and offers the sense of national integration, the idea of the unity of language opens up a discourse to discuss not only the naturalized origin of an ethnic community but also the entire imaginary associated with ‘national’ language and culture. A language may be pure, authentic, hybridized, polluted or corrupt, yet regardless of a particular assessment of that language, the very possibility of praising, authenticating, criticizing or deploring it is offered by the unity of that language as a regulative idea. However, we all know that the institution of the nation-state is a relatively recent invention. Consequently, we are led to suspect that the idea of the unity of language as the schema for ethnic and national communality must also be a recent invention. How should we understand historically the formula of “many in one”, the plurality of languages that are external to one another but coexist in one humanity, when the unity of language has to be understood as a regulative idea or schema for an object in idea? For Kant, a regulative idea is, as I mentioned, explicated with regard to the production of scientific knowledge; it ensures that the empirical inquiry of some scientific discipline would never reach any absolute truth, and is therefore endless. Every scientific truth changes as more empirical

Fukuzawa Yukichi translated the English term ìnationalityî into “kokutai” in the early Meiji period, in the 1870’s. Later “kokutai” was used to express the sovereignty of the Japanese Emperor System. By “kokutai”, Fukuzawa meant «a portion of mankind» that «are united among themselves by common sympathies which do not exist between them and any others – which make them co-operate with each other more willingly than with other people, desire to be under the same government, and desire that it should be government by themselves or a portion of themselves exclusively. This feeling of nationality may have been generated by various causes. Sometimes it is the effect of identity of race and descent. Community of language, and community of religion greatly contribute to it. Geographical limits are one of its causes. But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents; the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past». J. S. Mill, in Utilitarianism, on Liberty, Considerations on Representative Government, London and Rutland, Everyman’s Library, 1972 (originally 1861), p. 391. In his Outline of the Theory of Civilization, Fukuzawa includes the above almost verbatim in his exposition of “kokutai”. 17


Naoki Sakai

data are accumulated. Furthermore, let us note that Kant also qualifies the regulative idea as a schema, that is, image, design, outline, or figure, not exclusively in the order of idea but also in the order of the sensational. Thus far this much is evident. From the postulate that the unity of national language is a regulative idea, it follows that we do not and cannot know whether a national language such as English and Japanese exists as an empirical object. I would never deny, however, that it can exist as what Michel Foucault termed “a historical a priori”. The unity of national language enables us to organize various empirical data in a systematic manner so that we can continue to seek knowledge on the language. Moreover, at the same time it offers not an object in experience but an objective in praxis towards which we aspire to regulate our uses of language, as the theories of translation in German Romanticism testify. It is not only an epistemic principle but also a strategic one. Hence, it works in double registers: on the one hand, determining epistemologically what is included or excluded in the very data base of a language, what is linguistic or extra-linguistic, and what is proper to a particular language or not; on the other hand, indicating and projecting what we must seek as our proper language, what we must avoid as heterogeneous to our language and reject as improper to it; the unity of a national language as a schema guides us as to what is just or wrong for our language, what is in accord or discord with the propriety of the language. Thus my argument seeks the consequences of the language’s pluralist origins in two directions: the first is a historical analysis of a schematism by which the image of languages was reorganized in modernity. The national language comes into being through this particular operation of imagination. The second is the question of culture, and of its subordination to the schematism of national languages. Culture is often modeled after the image of a national language. By now what I have been trying to elucidate with regard to transnational literature should be evident. I am not proposing the genre of transnational literature against that of national literature. National literature is a derivative of transnational literature, and can enjoy the status as an original only for those who believe that the unity of a national language has been given or at least possible. But, what would have happened to Tokieda’s attempt to define the character of the Japanese language if such a demand for a schema could never be met? What happens to transnational literature if we know the gate 門 is always open for us?

The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address



The author proposes a reflection on the interconnection between national literature and trans-national literature provocatively affirming that national literature can only be understood as trans-national literature. His position is supported by the idea that national literature can be perceived if, and until when, the unity of a national language is strongly kept. The author focuses his criticism on this unity to emphasize how it is always a construction. The artistic and translation practice, with the theorization of such an artist as like Yôko Tawada, who writes and plays in multilingual forms – involving German, Japanese and English – offers Sakai a good starting point to explore further his innovative idea of language as an open organism, always in translation, never uniform, always contaminated and in dialogue. In other words language does not exist as a uniform organism that reflects the nation and the national literature but it is always mobile, a movement of contamination between languages, a dialogue which implies a radical change of perspective in order to be understood. L’autore propone una riflessione sui nessi esistenti tra letteratura nazionale e letteratura transnazionale che inverte provocatoriamente i termini nei quali si è soliti porre la questione, arrivando a sostenere che la letteratura nazionale non può essere pensata se non come letteratura transnazionale. Questa posizione è sorretta dalla convinzione che la letteratura nazionale può essere pensata come tale soltanto se, e fino a quando, si mantiene salda l’idea dell’unità di una lingua nazionale. Ma proprio su questa unità l’autore porta la propria attenzione critica, evidenziando come essa sia sempre una costruzione. La prassi artistica e traduttiva e la teorizzazione di un’artista come Yôko Tawada, che scrive e recita in forme multilingi, spesso creando tessiture testuali che coinvolgono il tedesco, il giapponese e l’inglese, offre a Sakai un ottimo punto di partenza per approfondire la propria innovativa concezione della lingua come un organismo aperto, già da sempre in traduzione, mai unitario, sempre contaminato e in dialogo. In altre parole non esiste la lingua come organismo unitario che rispecchia la nazione e la letteratura nazionale, ma un insieme sempre mobile e in movimento di contaminazioni tra lingue, un dialogo che per essere compreso necessita di un cambiamento radicale di prospettiva.

The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address  
The Grammatology of Heterolingual Address  

Before the law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doork...