The work of the bilingual author Yōko Tawada, who writes in both Japanese and German, has frequently been taken up by commentators as a critical intervention from “the East” as a subversion of the domination of “the West.” As an exophonic writer, that is, one who writes outside of her first language, translation has become a keyword in Tawada scholarship and yet has relied upon the presumption of the German language as a foreign object to the Japanese author. Here the article follows Tawada’s critical writings on translation and the German-language poet Paul Celan to show how her creative strategies develop from her engagement in Celan and the ways in which this is brought into her Japanese-language work. Rather than reading “phonetic” writing as though it were ideographic, the author demonstrates that the distinction between phonetic and ideographic unravels in a form of translation Tawada discovers in Celan and that she terms “Augen-Übersetzung” or “translation with the eye.” Taking Tawada’s avant-garde experiments beyond the East/West divide, this article demonstrates that Tawada’s work demands rethinking reading, writing, and knowledge itself, as the conceptual integrity of ideas and terms ultimately rests uneasily on the orthographic object with which Tawada so astutely plays. In so doing, it contributes to discussions of avant-garde experimentalism in concrete poetry, poetry between script-systems, and contemporary discussions of translation.

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